One of the things I love most about woodfiring is the element of surprise that the kiln environment brings. So when I’m not woodfiring, I am gas firing, and still looking to incorporate that element of surprise and magic into the process. There is one glaze that I love to work with which brings this quality… Shino. It was originally created in Japan and is characterized by a milky, snow white appearance. It tends to be in a class of its own, and is known for its unpredictability. It can crawl, craze and pinhole, which can add to its unique flavor. For these reasons, it became sought after by Japan’s tea masters and connoiseurs. Shino has many faces. The American shinos can look quite different, usually ranging in orange, red and white. I have found that some Japanese potters, when seeing an American shino piece, say “Shino? That is not shino!” It has taken on a lot of different faces. The pots shown here are glazed with only two shino recipes. The appearance can vary greatly depending on the humidity in the air, the way it’s applied, how thick or thin, and of course the kiln atmosphere, which can surprise with luster or carbon trapping. Here are some of my new shino pieces….
Here are some of my new pots, just fired in Shigaraki. For this firing I made beer, tea, and sake cups. They are all handbuilt (which was completely new for me, as I have always used the electric wheel). All of the pots are the same clay body – a blend of Shigaraki clays, and there is no glaze, only the natural ash effects from the fire.
These sake cups were scattered all around the kiln. Different places in the kiln result in very different surfaces on the pots. They are all the same clay body with no glaze. Fire, ash, wind, and time left their marks.
The first snow of the season arrived while I was at John Dix’s studio in Sasayama. Next to his studio is a quaint little forest shrine…. the first stop before beginning the week long kiln firing.
It was a real picturesque winter scene around the studio…. where there is a beautiful tea house and wood kiln.
Before the firing began, a special calligraphy was painted by Shiro san, sake was offered, prayers were made to the gods for a successful firing, and then the match was lit……
It was a smooth firing, 24 hours a day, lasting for a whole week…. and the kiln was opened in the New Year!
Here are some of the results of John’s pots…. some beautiful flame markings, nice ash surfaces, and some special hikidashi pots which were pulled red hot out of the kiln in the middle of the firing. John has produced some remarkable pots using this technique.
I was very happy to be able to fire some pots in John’s kiln. I used some Shigaraki clay for the first time and made a bunch of guinomis (sake cups). I tested some with shino glazes, but left many unglazed to see the firing effects on the raw clay. Here’s the collection…..
The colors in Kyoto right now are stunning. Here are a few shots of the bright red maples and yellow gingkos around some of the temple grounds.
It’s a great time to travel off into the countryside and check out the fall scenery. So I went off to Tamba Sasayama to visit an American potter, John Dix. It is a beautiful part of Japan, with traditional thatched-roof farmhouses and lots of beautiful nature.
John Dix has a lovely country studio with a thatched-roof tea hut and gallery of some of his pots. He has been living in Japan for the past 20 years or so and makes some really beautiful pottery.
Here are some photos of some of his great woodfired pieces that are all around the property.
It was a great visit to Sasayama…. and with good company. This last photo is with John Dix, Dr. Dirk Noyes and his son Gavin Noyes, who is also a great potter who studied in Shigaraki and lives in Utah (check out his pots at www.gavinnoyes.com).
I recently returned from one of my favorite places to visit in Kyoto…. the home of Kawai Kanjiro, who was a master craftsman. He and a few others started the Mingei (folkcraft) movement in Japan. As a reaction to the increasing industrialization and how it contributed to the loss of beauty and good craftmanship in everyday objects, they felt that a resurgence in good craft was needed in society. And so they dedicated their lives to producing good work for the people, naturally imbued with spirit and beauty. His home, which he designed, is now a museum, and it shows some of the great and humble work he created in his life.
Kanjiro put his heart and hand into creating sculpture, furniture, calligraphy, and pottery. He never signed his pieces, which in itself is a signature of the Mingei movement. Rather than place the importance on the individual craftsman, instead they focused on the form and feeling, which would be their greatest signature.
Just returned from a day trip to Shigaraki, one of Japan’s oldest and most famous pottery towns. Besides being famous for beautiful wood-fired pots and massive storage jars, it’s also well known for the Tanuki, a mythical creature who drinks a lot of sake. Shigaraki is starting to feel more like Tanuki Town than an ancient pottery village. They are just everywhere…..tribes of them…. carrying around their little sake bottles.
Pottery is a natural part of the landscape here… you can see many installations, even at the local shrine. Also every home seems to have the sign of a potter inside.
Walking along, I find many old kilns, some deserted but many still producing. These are the traditional Noborigama kilns of Shigaraki. There are hundreds all over town.
Once you get on the back roads, the pottery village feel is still very much alive….
There is definitely an eclectic mix here, from funky installations to the big ol’ sake jugs, but this last image of the wood-fired flower vase is an example of the real style that makes Shigaraki famous.
It’s a beautiful time of year in Japan…. especially in the countryside where the rice fields have been harvested and the bundles of rice are hanging up to dry.
I’m back in Miharu, staying in the little hut at Sensei’s studio. The morning glories and gingko are in full effect…..
We fired off the smokeless kiln….
The flames danced around the pots for around 30 hours. Here are some of my vases and sake bottles that came out, showing the flame markings really well. Thank you Sensei! See you next time!