“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.” --W.B. Yeats
My introduction to functional ceramics was through Stillwater, Minnesota potter Warren Mackenzie and the regional potters associated with him. I learned to make functional pottery for everyday use. It wasn't until my first visit in 1993 to the town where I was born, Sakai, Japan, just outside of Osaka, that I learned that the 16th century tea master Sen No Rikyu was also from Sakai, and had lived very close to my Japanese relatives’ neighborhood. After realizing this, I knew I had to learn more about tea ceremony and the ceramics used in it. When I was eventually introduced to my teacher, Tatsuzo Shimaoka, by Warren Mackenzie, I was enabled to study tea ceremony and tea ware more directly. During my three year apprenticeship with Shimaoka, who was a National Living Treasure in ceramics, one of my duties was to take care of the garden around his 17th century tea house, which included things like raking the tea house garden and cutting charcoal by size according to the season, for the tea fire. Tea ceremony blurs the distinction between art and folk craft in a good way. In Asia, craftsmen are held in as high regard as artists. In any case, the potters who made tea ware were always considered craftsmen and they often worked under the guidance of tea masters. In our time, both the craftsman and the educated artist can reside in one individual.
When my apprenticeship came to an end, I took a trip to visit my mother's family, as a graduation celebration. I learned from my relatives, that before WWII, our family had such a tea house in their tea garden in Sakai, and it was frequented by tea master Sen No Rikyu over four hundred years ago. I realized that my working class family had once had a historic connection to the tea ceremony and Sen No Rikyu. Also my birthplace had a close connection to Korean pottery in medieval times because it was the only port in Japan that provided Korean stoneware to the rest of Japan. Korean pottery is not only important to tea ceremony, but it was also important to promoters of folk pottery: Shoji Hamada, Bearnard Leach and Warren Mackenzie. I have been invited to be a guest artist at the Mungyeong, South Korea Traditional Tea Bowl Festival the last four years. I have extended my knowledge of tea ware in the Korean tradition by visiting with Korean potters, tea masters and zen monks in the mountains of Korea.
One of the special advantages Japanese culture has in the area of the appreciation of the arts and crafts, specifically in the area of ceramic appreciation, is the legacy of connoisseurship that is cultivated by tea ceremony practitioners. What the tea ceremony makes so apparent is the importance of use, and the value of the collector in completing the creative life of functional pottery. Because of the many Asian communities in Minnesota, tea culture is a way to make connection with these diverse communities, which all share a tradition of tea culture, but are often not connected to one another. Because tea appreciation is becoming more popular in our larger community, it is also a way to share Asian culture with the community as a whole.
The German philosopher Max Scheler called man Homo Faber, “Man the Maker.” Human beings are not content with only being consumers. We like to see some positive results from the life we live. Where functional pottery is concerned, use is a way for people to become a part of the creative process. Pottery is a way to bring the basic elements of Nature: Air, Earth, Water and Fire, into our lives. Its use allows us to be present and appreciate beauty in a primal way.