It has been said that Toshiko Takaezu may have been the first potter to successfully close a pot. This seminal decision removed her work and ceramics as a whole, from the realm of craft and functionality, to that of fine art. Her closed, vertical vessels have become her hallmark. Continually drawing inspiration from the natural world and a combination of Eastern and Western techniques and aesthetics, Takaezu has crafted a signature vocabulary of ceramic forms. For the most part, her earlier works are wheel thrown, but as she began to envision larger forms, she incorporated hand built techniques in order to transcend the restrictions of the wheel. Her painterly application of glazes acts as a dynamic, visual counterpoint to her meticulously crafted shapes. In regards to her affinity for the clay medium, the artist asserts, "One of the best things about clay is that I can be completely free and honest with it. And clay responds to me. The clay is alive and even when it is dry, it is still breathing! I can feel the response in my hands, and I don't have to force the clay. The whole process is an interplay between the clay and myself and often the clay has much to say." (1)
Many of her pieces remain unnamed; however, she sometimes titles her works according to their varied fonts of inspiration including the astronomical lore of Egypt, West Africa, and Greek & Roman mythology. Her work is represented at Grounds For Sculpture by the Three Graces--a trio of forms that gently swell from their individual cylindrical bases. The turning lines from the potter’s wheel that are still visible in these cast bronze versions reveal the process of their creation and highlight the rhythmic, formal unity between the sculptural elements. The human scale and voluptuous form of each of the Three Graces, coupled with their title, invite figurative interpretation; while the varied patinas refer to their natural surroundings. This piece is part of a series of larger works by the artist. Since her retirement from the faculty of the Creative Arts Program at Princeton University in 1992, where she had taught for twenty-five years, Takaezu took advantage of her larger studio space, bigger kilns, and increased time to experiment with new ideas on a larger scale. "At this point I'm making bigger pieces, over five feet high," she revealed, "about 10 years ago I decided, if I don't make those big pieces now, I'll never do it. I like the idea of going around the piece and glazing--it's almost like dancing."
Born in Hawaii in 1922, to Japanese immigrant parents, Takaezu initially worked at a commercial clay studio and pursued her interest in ceramics at the University of Hawaii, under the tutelage of Claude Horan. In 1951, she continued her studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Bloomfield Hills, MI. At the Academy she met and befriended Finnish ceramist, Maija Grotell, who became her mentor. Following, in 1955, Takaezu traveled to Japan where she studied Buddhism and the techniques of traditional Japanese pottery which continue to influence her work. Upon her return to the United States, Takaezu accepted a teaching position as head of the Ceramics Department at the National Cleveland Institute of Art in Ohio. She received the Tiffany Foundation grant in 1964, which afforded her the opportunity to establish a studio in Quakertown, NJ and to devote her time to her artwork.
Toshiko Takaezu’s work is included in numerous collections all over the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Contemporary Crafts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York City, NY; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; the Baltimore Museum of Art in Maryland; and the National Museum of Bangkok, Thailand, among many more. Takaezu continues to work in her studio and gardens in Quakertown, New Jersey. Recently, a solo exhibition of her work was featured at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, entitled The Poetry of Clay: The Art of Toshiko Takaezu. She is the recipient of various honors and awards such as the Gold Medal of the American Craft Council, the Human Treasure Award from the University of North Carolina, several honorary doctorate degrees, and has been named a Living Treasure of Hawaii.
(1) Quoted from The Penland School of Crafts Book of Pottery, New York: Bubbs-Merrill, 1973, p. 145.
Three Graces, 1994
cast bronze; three elements, each about 70" x 23" x 23"
Courtesy of The Sculpture Foundation, Inc.
Photo: Ricardo Barros.com