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Clayland   1      2      3      -      PRINTER VERSION

Published in American Craft, 51(6), Dec 1991/Jan 1992.

When I first went to Shigaraki in 1974, I was a student at Kyoto University of Fine Art. The bus ride through the mountains along the picturesque Daido River was breathtaking and gave me the feeling that I was leaving behind one way of thinking about pottery and entering another. As the bus approached the valley that holds the villages that now constitute the town of Shigaraki, I caught my first glimpses of the large climbing kilns that dotted the hillsides, some abandoned but others spewing plumes of black smoke. Even in the town itself, I would stumble on these enormous kilns, tucked behind courtyards filled with drying pottery and the unassuming workshops that produced it. As I walked the narrow winding streets, the sense of history was pervasive, powerful and impossible to ignore.

A few months later I moved to Domura, a small, rural village near Shigaraki. One of the first to welcome me was the Shigaraki potter Shiro Otani. When I started to design my kiln, Otani took me to visit potters who had anagama, among them Seiho Ogawa, who offered not only to give me the bricks I needed, but also to deliver them. It was this sort of kindness, I learned over my four-year stay, that was typical of the people of Shigaraki. I always felt welcome.

When I heard about the plans and scope of the Ceramic Cultural Park, I was excited about the potential it held for the town. As explained to me, the idea was to create a place where people from all over the world could come to study, live and work. The ultimate goal, it appeared, was to make Shigaraki famous globally as a center for ceramic art and industry.

The park is a by-product of Japan's economic success. It was made possible by a program that the national government instituted to distribute money from its trade surplus to the prefectural (state) governments. A number of prefectures used their grants to build museums; one opted to create a kind of social security fund to insure that all the elderly from the prefecture would have adequate care. Shiga Prefecture decided to spend its money on building an educational complex centered around its most famous attraction, Shigaraki pottery.

The opening of the park was celebrated by a festival with a distinctly international flavor that began on April 19 and ran until May 26. The theme was "Discuss, Create and Stimulate— Towards a Ceramics Renaissance". It started with a meeting of the International Academy of Ceramics, coupled with an IAC symposium sponsored by the park. A few weeks later, a second, daylong symposium organized by Otani was held, in which Louise Cort, a curator at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery and Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC (and the author of Shigaraki, Potters' Valley, the most definitive history in any language yet written on the subject), Val Cushing, professor of ceramic art at Alfred University, and I participated. Besides the symposia the festival included demonstrations by potters from Indonesia as well as Shigaraki, by a group of 10 ceramists from Michigan (Shiga Prefecture's sister state), and by the ceramics world superstars Viola Frey, Jun Kaneko and Federico Bonaldi. There were also exhibitions of "International Contemporary Ceramics", tableware by famed Shigaraki ceramists of the past, and works made by the mentally handicapped. This had all sounded wonderfully progressive to me, and I was excited to see how the experiment was proceeding. I was totally unprepared, though, for what I found.

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