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Jury is Back on Mashiko Exhibition

 for The Japan Times (Nov. 25, 2000)

Mashiko is a name that many of you are familiar with, I'm sure. It is the name of a town in Tochigi Prefecture, as well as an internationally recognized pottery style made famous by the late Hamada Shoji. Today hundreds of potters reside there, and many come from around the world to study or pay their respects at Hamada's home, now a museum.

Those potters who can't make the pilgrimage nonetheless have a chance to win the Hamada Shoji Prize, the highest award in the annual Mashiko Ceramics Competition. The juried exhibition can be viewed at the Togei Messe Mashiko Gallery until Dec. 3, 2000. 

This year marks the third competition and entries were received from 21 countries besides Japan -- 435 from Japan and 72 from overseas; all in all, a total of 689 pieces, of which 101 made it into the exhibition.  

The panel of judges (eight in all) included one living national  treasure (Shimaoka Tatsuzo), the director of the Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of Ceramics (Hasebe Mitsuhiko) and Hamada's son (Hamada Shinsaku). 

Pieces by Nakajima Katsudo

Prize-winning bowls
by Nakajima Katsudo

The Hamada Shoji Prize went to Nakajima Katsudo for his set of six ash-glazed bowls with a ring design, one quite large and five small. The tone of the yellowish-amber glaze deepens as it moves inward and imparts a feeling of warmth. Nakajima states in the catalog, "I wanted to present in bowls the beauty of tones of color that ash glaze produces through becoming fluid during firing." He has succeeded. The flawlessly thrown set epitomizes the simple and functional designs that Mashiko and Hamada are known for.

Yet they appear almost industrialized; technique seems to be everything. It's a trap that some potters fall into -- selling their souls for the perfect process.

As one judge said, "I can see that he has worked hard to achieve his current craftsmanship, but he has no room for improvement in this particular style. I hope that he will boldly step out in a new direction for further growth." 

Piece by Nobuhiko Kaneko

"Flowering" by Nobuhiko Kaneko

That's where the second major prize of the exhibition comes in. Named after the late innovative genius Kamoda Shoji, this year's Kamoda Shoji Prize went to Nobuhiko Kaneko for his "Flowering" objet d'art. The black clay has the look and feel of ancient Chinese kokuto black-stemmed cups. A harmonious tension fills the space between the towering forms; one judge compared them to a "pair of guardian kings at a Buddhist temple gate." I didn't find them fierce-looking at all, though, but tame in their simple postures and blushing tops. 

Ten other potters received the Judges' Special Prize. Standouts in this category were Ban Kajitani's neriage (marbled or mosaic ware) jar, Yugoslavia's Velimir Vukicevic's almost illusionary "The King," and Kamio Ogata's "Vertigo" slab plate, which lives up to its  name -- don't stare at that one for too long. 

Among other winners I particularly liked A Do's "Box," with its two flowers appearing like ghosts out of a black backdrop. Kazuyo Hiruma's very intriguing "Memories of the Earth" is a large undulating form in sedimentary reds and browns that looks as if sheets of washi paper were layered one upon another. England's Dorothy Feibleman entered an angelic-looking piece titled "White Wings," as fragile as an egg shell with a myriad of subtle designs infusing it. I also liked the large bowl with geometric lines swirling within the motionless dark rim by Toshio Sakamoto. 

Piece by Monika Patuszynska

"Tea for One"
by Monika Patuszynska

Many of Japan's juried exhibitions are long-established, with histories going back decades. Mashiko at last has entered their ranks and the exhibition will surely become a major event for ceramists around the world. 

Togei Messe Mashiko Gallery is located at 3021 Mashiko. For further information, call (0285) 77-7555.

The Japan Times: Nov. 25, 2000
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