Friday, April 15, 2011


I am fascinated by the fact that an idea can spring up as far a field as ancient Egyptian and Mayan pyramids. Discounting alien engineers, the idependent invention of an idea is simple at its core; it simply seemed like a good idea at the time. Is the same principle possible for potters, born only a year apart and living within 100 or so square miles of each other? I honestly think so and in this case I am talking about Tsukigata Nahiko and another potter who was seemingly on the same pathway, Murata Juko (Tetsuo) (b. 1922).

Like Tsukigata, Murata’s pathway started early on in pottery. He sought out potters he could study with that would help him answer his questions about clay and the Mino tradition in particular. Early on he worked with Kato Kobei V whose heritage connected the old style Shino and Mino tradition with the burgeoning revival of the Momoyama aesthetic. From there he went on the study with 20th century legend, Kato Tokuro. From Tokuro, he would have learned the essentials of technology, firing and the many facets of Mino pottery; Shino, Oribe, Seto-Guro, Ki-Seto, to name a few. After leaving the workshop of Kato Tokuro, he finished his education with the tutelage of Kato Hajime. Whatever questions about aesthetics and technology that may have remained, he would have found answers with Kato Hajime. Hajime, designated Ningen Kokuho, was a master of form and surface. He mastered whatever he set after and was as adept in Persian blue with underglaze gold all the way to Bizen ware. I can not imagine three greater teachers to prepare one for the real world of making pottery for a living.

So, he left the realm of study and set up a pottery and built his kiln. His pathway, like Tsukigata, leads him to explore the nature of Shino and its relationship with iron, among other things. In time, using a liberal blend of iron and Shino glazes, coupled with the natural ash deposits of his wood firing, he arrived at his Juko-Shino. The Juko-Shino wares he made are classified as kiln change Shino (Gama-Yohen Shino) and in many cases; the surfaces are heavily coated with ash, in a tamadare style cascade.

Where Tsukigata and Murata differ is in the nature of their pieces and the depth of the surface. Murata’s works tend to be more on the conservative side and along the lines of proven archetypes. His surfaces also have a bit less depth than Tsukigata, partially, I believe, because Tsukigata took on glazing and firing with every ounce of his being. Murata’s glazing and subsequent firings fall on the more conservative side and possibly end up more intimate and less aggressively masculine in appearance. Throughout his career, Murata exhibited widely and was published in a wide variety of books on tea utensils and/or chawan specifically.

Illustrated is a large Juko-Shino (Gama-Yohen Shino) chawan by Murata Juko. This chawan is a wonderfully rounded piece with a thick, translucent feldspar Shino glaze coving the exterior with vivid areas of iron glaze accenting the surface. The exterior also has areas of a thin layer of natural ash glaze coating the Shino like a thin coat of glass. The interior has a thicker layer of iron with iridescence where the glaze has pooled at the bottom. All in all, it makes for a rich visual surface that coats the well conceived form and steps away from our usual concept of Shino. Potters like Murata Juko, Tsukigata Nahiko, Kumano Kuroemon and others, push our concept of Shino into a whole new realm, this chawan is no exception.