Design Vision…Knowing Your Own Mind

As a follow-up to my Provenance column on kasuri over at Cloth & Kind, I want to show more photos of one of the featured spaces, the apartment of a friend here in Tokyo who has an incredibly clear personal decorating vision. Eclecticism and constant change are the reigning monarchs of the design world, so every now and then it is nice to have a very different vision – in this case a specific and coherent viewpoint, a vintage Japanese lens so to speak – to compare with. Many people don’t have the rigor to be this consistent – I know I certainly don’t – but there is a peacefulness that comes with it.

I’ve shopped with and for this friend and I always know what will appeal to her. Authenticity and patina, along with a certain roughness of finish and a palette of browns, ochres, and greys, with variety picked out in texture. The photo below was meant to feature the homespun kasuri futon cover (purchased at Kawagoe), but it also highlights a very few pieces of an enormous collection of modern Japanese pottery, much of it bought up in Mashiko, the famous pottery village. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t think to photograph the insides of her cupboards – that may have to wait for some other post. Most everything else was accumulated at shrine sales around Tokyo and she is unabashed when I pick something up and say “this has your name on it!” She knows her own mind.


Heading back out to the entry way to start the tour properly, the tone is set for the entire space as you walk in. Everything shows its age, from the vintage silkworm basket hanging on the wall, to the abacus and sake jug on the rustic cabinet.  And here we see the beginning of one of the motifs in this space – the juxtaposition of squares and rectangles with circles, which the owner uses over and over again to great effect.


As I was there to photograph the kasuri futon cover, the rest of the photo shoot was a bit ad hoc, so excuse wires and everyday items that would normally be put away or out of sight.  The truth is, seeing spaces as they are really used is more authentic anyway.

The television wall has a great collection of Japanese baskets including a big old rectangular silkworm tray.  I continue to think big baskets are a great trick for TV walls – they balance the large dark expanse of the equipment while posing no heavy threat to it. The owner is an insatiable collector of baskets, second only perhaps to pottery – she cannot resist them – adoring their texture and lightness. The use of baskets throughout the apartment is another constant motif.


A corner of the living room gives pride of place to a beat up old tansu and a beautiful still life of finely woven basket mounted with a single branch. The limited color palette, augmented only by bits of natural green and a little blue, with texture for interest, is yet a third motif in the space.


Another vignette repeats the patterns, small cabinet, fine baskets and branches and a sweet bird print tucked into a silver leafed cherry wood frame.


This arrangement on the kitchen counter has lots of my favorites, including a glass senbei canister, a vintage sieve, some old signage and more pottery.


It’s not only in Japan that the owner is so consistent. Not at all surprising to discover that she has a historically accurate and incredibly well-preserved 1830s home in Connecticut. From the outside you would never guess that parts of the house are an addition as they worked to keep a natural roofline, the kind that develops with additions over the years. The interiors blend the old and the new by using antique flooring and antique beams salvaged from an old barn found elsewhere in Connecticut. The old part of the house has all the original wide board flooring, beams, and horse hair plaster walls. The house itself is filled with Americana of the period, antique cupboards, dry sinks, blanket chests, quilts, crocks, and yes – pottery – lots and lots of pottery, but in this case classic American redware and yellowware.


Adore this winter photo but I am looking forward to seeing it this summer! And whenever it is that she moves back, I’m even more interested in seeing the dialogue between the old Japanese and American pieces. I think it will be a lively conversation.

Caught in a Net…Ami Pattern on Porcelain and More

One of my favorite “so ancient and simple that it’s modern” Japanese motifs is ami or fish net pattern. I’ve been tracking blue and white porcelain pieces here at shrine sales and antique shops for years, like this beautiful sake cup washer and hire (like a small hibachi from a smoking set). The sake cup washer has a very linear version of the pattern, while the hire looks almost Middle Eastern in its curvilinear painting, reminding me of these floor tiles! The pattern is common, but rare at the same time, so I always notice it when I see a piece. Not an unexpected motif if you think about how much life in Japan revolves around fish!

Unlike the rounded pieces above, these rectangular dishes show the star-like pattern at the center of the nets and the larger of the dishes even has an open and loosely linked rendition, versus the tighter nets.

Here on this small dish the net is softly and irregularly painted.

Imagine my surprise when ami cropped up in a slightly different form at a recent ladies luncheon with the renowned Japanese food expert Elizabeth Andoh that focused on the art of mixing dishes and plating food.  Out came a rustic but elegant Mashiko pottery plate in the fish net pattern in a glossy copper and verdigris. She called the pattern ajiro, but I think that is actually more of a traditional herringbone style basket weave and that this too is ami.

Just a week or so later, I finally got to visit the Mashiko pottery festival myself, which I haven’t been to in years! I came across a few examples of that same style, perhaps even the same potter to my eye, including this huge spectacular vessel. From my lack of posts lately you can tell life has got me by the ankle and isn’t letting go, but I hope to write more about my experience there soon.

Shortly after that I came across this formal lacquer ware version from my friend Mizue Sasa’s shop Okura Oriental Art – haute couture fish net!

Fish net pattern can be found on much more than just dishes, whether stylized in sashiko embroidery as well as realistically patterned directly in textiles and art. There are a few very famous ukiyo-e featuring actual nets, but I quite like this one by Utagawa Yoshiiku, called  “A Parody of Goldfish with Actor’s Expressions.” It seems the public in the day would have recognized these fish faces for whom they were meant to represent. I quite like that the title is written against a background of fish net.

While I can do without the silly faces on those fish, all this talk (writing?) of fish and fish nets has got me thinking about another project I am working on, the 2013 ASIJ Gala Quilt. Using a background of vintage blue kasuri (the Japanese version of ikat) pieced in a neat but kinda boro style, we are planning on appliqueing a grouping of koi.

The koi will be varying shades of orange and white silk shibori (tie-dye). Here’s a first glimpse of a mock-up to whet your appetite.

We had been talking about some water pattern quilting but now I am thinking that perhaps we want to use the fish net motif, picked out in white quilting thread.  Just loving this idea! What say you Julie Fukuda and Kendra Morgenstern?

Related Posts:
After the Earthquake…Help Rebuild the Kilns at Mashiko
Guest Post…Visiting the Mashiko Pottery Festival
The ASIJ Quilt…Summer Breezes: Furin in the Rock Garden
Coming Full Circle…A History of the ASIJ Gala Quilt

Guest Post…Visiting the Mashiko Pottery Festival

For my first ever guest post, Dalia Gold reports on a shopping excursion to the famous Japanese pottery town of Mashiko. The destruction of the kilns after the Great East Japan Earthquake was featured earlier on the blog here and updates on the situation here

The forecast called for and delivered clear, sunny skies for my first trip to the legendary Mashiko pottery festival. I’d been waiting almost a year for the day to arrive, having heard stories about rows upon rows of pottery stands.

Originating in 1966, the fair is now held twice a year – in the fall and spring – and draws approximately 150,000 people and 400,000 people, respectively. Last spring, the Great East Earthquake destroyed the ancient kilns used for generations to bake the clay works. Donations and support came from around the world to help rebuild the kilns and November 4, 2011 marked the second pottery fair after the devastation. More than 500 artisans displayed their work, including many from Mashiko and areas beyond, as well.

Much more information about the history of Mashiko pottery can be found at:

I expected to be overwhelmed and had brought a small, wheelie suitcase, as I’d been advised, to store my purchases as I strolled. I had no particular agenda nor strategy for the expedition. I only knew that I didn’t want to leave thinking, “Why didn’t I buy that when I had the chance?”

The vendors at the beginning of the fair had mostly functional, primitive pieces. I bought these small bowls, finished in Nuka White (rice husk ash) glaze and paired them with these funky, unfinished green chargers.

As I moved deeper into the stalls, I found myself drawn to pieces featuring spouts, irregular shapes and almost anything white.

I think these oval pieces may be intended for ikebana, but I bought one to use as an everyday fruit plate.

Loved the simplicity of, and so purchased, both of these, which look great with the fruit bowl.

Though I didn’t buy one, I love the utilitarian grater featured in these spouted works.

As with so many things I’ve seen in Japan, the elegant simplicity of some displays rivaled the artistry of some of the goods being sold.

Other collections for sale besides pottery included glass, incense and shoes.

Given the huge piles of rubble within, I think these warehouses may be the sites of some of the kilns which were destroyed, although they had certainly been cleaned up from last spring,

After exhausting myself among the stalls, I finally arrived at the main street, where many finer pieces of art were for sale. The glaze on this vase looks as if there are layers of mosaic tiles beneath the smooth surface. The photo doesn’t do justice to the gorgeous tones of blue, grey and green held within.

My wheelie bag was full, and I had a couple of shopping bags draped over my arms as I returned to the parking lot before heading home. I’d been true to aim – not to leave any beloveds behind – and yet, I already knew I would need to return next year.

Artist Spotlight…Updates on the Higuchis, Mashiko Pottery Rebuilding and PaperGlueBamboo

It becomes two months soon on that day. The season comes round as if nothing had happened, and the flowers are in full bloom in our garden. The petals of the wild cherry tree begins to scatter like snowing, it means the last chapter in spring here.
-Kimiake and Shin-ichi Higuchi

Kimiake and Shin-ichi Higuchi are working towards rebuilding their studio. In that light they have uploaded photos of many of their works for sale to their website Proceeds will be used to fund the rebuilding. They report, “the builder started constructing several days ago.  They said that they have difficulty to obtain the necessary materials because many production plants also received serious damages by the tsunami, so that the completion of the studio is delayed more greatly than the schedule. We will work over the idea of the work while enjoying gardening for a while.”

Meanwhile, over in Mashiko, there was a great turnout for the annual spring pottery festival. Although about 20% fewer people attended than last year, it was still many more than predicted and visitors were buying strongly. “I felt many customers came and bought our works to cheer us up, ” said Tomoo Hamada, and “by the autumn pottery fair, well-heeled potteries here will have rebuilt their kilns.” The Mashiko Pottery Fund is still taking donations and the money raised will be crucial to getting the kilns going again.

I had the pleasure of meeting potter Ken Matsuzaki at the Mashiko group exhibition at Gallery St. Ives last month. Here you can see him standing where his kiln used to be after cleaning the broken mess from the earthquake. This is where he will rebuild it.

And this is his pile of broken shards…

Gallery St. Ives currently has an exhibition of work by Clive Bowen and Masaaki Shibata running until the 22nd of May. More information and photos can be found on their Facebook page.

Artist Lisa George of PaperGlueBamboo has been doing her share to help, donating 100% of all proceeds from sales of her ikkanbari and Tsukiji shopping baskets to the Red Cross and All Hands.

Unfortunately, she won’t be visiting Japan this spring, so online orders are the way to go. Shipping in the USA is easy and there is still time to have things arrive here in Japan for sayonara parties. Visit her Etsy shop and remember all proceeds are being donated to Japan relief charities. And the big news is that it looks like she may be returning to Japan in the autumn!

I had meant this post to be published on the 11th of May, but I have been waiting for more updated information. Please excuse the delay.

Related Posts:
Shattered Glass…A Small Tribute to the Work of Kimiake and Shin-ichi Higuchi
After the Earthquake…Help Rebuild the Kilns at Mashiko
Artist Spotlight…Lisa George and the Modern Art of Ikkanbari at PaperGlueBamboo

Image credits: 1 & 2. via Kimiake and Shin-ichi Higuchi, 3. via mohri63,  4 & 5. Ayumi Horie, 6. Lisa George

After the Earthquake…Help Rebuild the Kilns at Mashiko

“In Mashiko, nearly all the Nobori kilns fell down, and Mashiko’s firing is
about to go out. We, potters, cannot help being shocked because the kiln is the soul of us.
We cannot turn off this fire in “Mashiko, the Sacred Place of Mingei”,
“Mashiko, Town of Handcraft”, which Shoji Hamada established. We must keep
the smoke coming out of chimneys in Mashiko.”
Ken Matsuzaki

Around the world, Mashiko is almost a synonym for Mingei, the “art of the people” or “folk craft” movement started in the 1920’s in Japan by Sōetsu Yanagi, Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai. It was the potter Hamada who centralized Mashiko as the place for the production of these “functionally beautiful” pots, bowls and cups. The earthquake on March 11, 2011 has devastated the town, the kilns and the museums. Artist Ken Matsuzaki quickly sent out an appeal for help, worked with the Mayor of the town and NPO’s to establish the Mashiko Pottery Fund. In the USA, tax-deductible donations to the Mashiko Pottery Fund are made via Mudflat Studio, as they are serving as the fiscal sponsor. Long ties also bind the Leach Pottery in Cornwall to Mashiko as it was founded in 1920 by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, and as a result, they were also early to launch a Mashiko Earthquake Appeal.

Locally, Gallery St. Ives in Setagaya is holding a Mashiko Earthquake Appeal exhibit from today, Saturday, April 16th until Sunday, May 8th in support of their own Mashiko relief fund. The Gallery is open 11-6, from Wednesday through Sunday.  The five person exhibit includes work by artists Ken Matsuzaki,

Ken Matsuzaki via Pucker Gallery

Tomoo Hamada,

Tomoo Hamada via Pucker Gallery

Euan Craig,

Euan Craig via Oakwood Ceramics

Minoru Suzuki

Minori Suzuki via Rakuten

and Yuchiko Baba.

Yuchiko Baba via Selfridge Ceramic Art

Since the earthquake I have been following Euan Craig’s emotionally riveting account of his family’s life changes on his blog Euan The Potter. He writes, “Houses can be repaired or rebuilt, kilns too. Pottery can be replaced, remade. Stuff doesn’t really matter. We’ll manage somehow. My family, my loved ones, are safe and sound. They sleep in the next room as I write this to you. I thank God. We are the lucky ones, and my heart and prayers go out to those who are not.” I am hoping to meet him as he, Ken Matsuzaki and Minori Suzuki will be at the exhibition on Sunday the 17th.

On the internet, the handmade community has geared up as Etsy potters have set up mudteam4mashiko and participating artists are donating 100% of the proceeds from their sales to the Leach Pottery fund. Additional potters are donating proceeds to the Red Cross and other relief agencies. Other non-pottery artists are also collecting funds from sales for earthquake relief charities. Searches such as “”earthquake relief” on Etsy yield over 3000 handmade items for sale. One of my favorites for sale is this Namaste bowl by an artist named Antonia. It has one of my favorite yoga sayings, “The divine in me bows to the divine in you,” which is the literal translation of namaste and a sign of deep respect. It is exactly how I am feeling about the Japanese people right now. Their courage and patience in this last month have been so truly extraordinary that it defies my ability to write about it.

I urge everyone to donate a little (or a lot!), whether you donate directly to the many funds set up or do it while shopping!

Tokyo Jinja

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