I have always been interested in the history of the pots that I admire and study, that is to say, the historical context of how they came in to being, the creative spirit and the times that drives the potter. I am also fascinated by the history, the path the pot takes from its inception to the present day and with a number of pots, the provenance is well documented while other times, almost nothing is known about how it got to this moment in time. Over the years I have tried to play pottery detective and find out as much as I could about specific pots. From time to time, I would piece together provenance with catalogues that would arrive and shed some light on various aspects of the piece. Given the sheer number of pots an average potter creates, I am constantly surprised at the number of pieces that I have been able to identify through inclusion in both books and catalogues.
I guess I should get to the point and mention that about two months ago, I came in contact with a large and bold faceted vase by Shigaraki veteran, Kohyama Yasuhisa. As soon as I saw the piece, I had this sense that it was special and took the opportunity to email Kohyama-san to ask about the piece. A couple of days later, I received a response from Nakamoto Wakae, Kohyama's assistant detailing what sensei had remembered about the piece. He knew it was from the early 1970's but didn't have any additional info at that time. Now, two months later, I receive another email with a bit more information regarding the vase and a very important photo. The photo shows Kohyama-san and celebrated calligrapher, Toko Shinoda (b. 1913) who is this year celebrating her 100th birthday, in the back corner of the photo the large mentori-hanaire is shown. This picture is from the 1973 Tokyo Mitsukoshi exhibit in which a number famous figures attended his show; including Shinoda, Hamada Shoji and Kato Tokuro. Kohyama-san had, prior to this exhibit worked with Toko Shinoda in helping her produce a large architectural mural and in turn, she came to see his works from the first anagama built and fired in the Shigaraki Valley since the middle ages.
About the pot, at over 17" tall, the massive octagonal pot has a rather dramatic presence and commands its space with a distinctly positive authority. The rough and coarse surface is littered with feldspar bits melting out of the clay while the playful blend of fire color and various ash coatings articulate the pot and define the myriad of marks created during the faceting process. The mouth terminates in the trademark style of Kohyama-san and the lip is defined by a direct and spontaneous cut that since this pot was made, has been perfected over countless pieces. On the shoulder of the pot, there is a resisted shadow of clay color (botamochi), surrounded by ash from where a small round pot, a guinomi possibly, was fired to make best use of the limited space in the anagama kiln. I can not thank Kohyama-san enough for sending along the picture and information as it helps put the piece into context. I find it extremely satisfying to be able to reveal the history of some of these pieces but I am constantly aware that doing so has little to do with just dedicated footwork, is as often times absolute serendipity as it is anything else.
(Photo by Takeshi Fujimori courtesy of Kohyama Yasuhisa)