Bizen Pottery

Meet the artist:

KATSUBE

We are very proud introducing Mieko Katsube, daughter of YU KATSUBE, scion of a multigenerational potter's family. Yu Katsube made his own name creating outstandingly beautiful pieces of Bizen ware. He was a true believer in " tradition witnessed by his adherence to the ancient forms and decors. He became highly renowned and his pottery is very sought after by collectors and many aficionados of Bizen ware.

Yu Katsube unfortunately died at a relatively young age due to cancer but not before spending some decades teaching, encouraging, critiquing and working side-by-side with his talented daughter Mieko.

Such teaching, coupled with an incredible natural talent, produced our lovely potter, Mieko. Since being on her own, she has continued to perfect her artistry and also has developed her very own style. Mieko is very committed to using only 100% Bizen originatinp clay giving her a leg up on competing potters. She indeed is very fortunate that her father Yu had the foresight a very long time ago to set aside a large quantity of the Bizen Clay for himself and his daughter. This clay is now perfectly cured and probably soon may the only true Bizen clay left.

Being somewhat removed from the typical high stepping artist's life, Mieko prefers to spend her days working in solitude and likes to display her art in simple surroundings, such as the Mokkaido Potters Guild Shows and make it available to a broader public in some well established department stores.

Take a look at some of her work, do give us a call with your questions and let us help you select you very own Bizen Pottery piece for your daily use or for treasuring as a rare and uniquely personal artifact.

Mieko loves to create a very special, one of a kind pieces just for you and we will gladly give you all the details how to obtain such a treasure.

Please do call Kayoko who represents Mieko in the United States.

Bizen Pottery

Introduction to Japanese BIZENWARE pottery :

Pottery making dates back thousands of years. Vessels from dried clay were introduced several thousand years ago from Greece, to Italy, to China, Korea and Japan.

In Asia, some of the world's first pottery was being found in Japan. The high quality, durable, artistic type of pottery however, is of more recent age. Prior to the fifth century, most pottery was fired in what we today refer to as 'low heat fired' pottery. Whereas this type of pottery was quite sturdy it nevertheless was not very waterproof, inelegant and mostly simply made for daily use. Larger pottery was filled with food grains and sealed with wax lids for later use.

'The Six ancient kilns of Japan' relates directly to the six initial sites producing ceramic ware since the KAMAKlJRA area. (1185-1333). Bizen pottery, in fact, was in production almost 1,000 years ago and, in fact, may be THE original kiln site where this type of pottery was (and is) being produced. To this day, Bizen is still a very busy ceramic production center located in Japan's OKAYAMA prefecture. This prefecture is located almost halfway in between Hiroshima and Kyoto.

Chinese and Korean traders introduced around the 7th century a new type of pottery technology to Japan. A wood-fired different type of kiln, tunnel shaped, commonly known as the 'ANAGAMA' kiln was the more common one. Fahrenheit: (1,400+ C.) Another, different kiln, not as frequently found is called the NOBORIGAMA or climbing kiln. Both, these kilns reach interior temperatures of 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

In order to reach these super high temperatures sappy pine wood of the species 'red pine' became the burning material of choice. A direct result of these high temperatures is the 'GLASSIFIED' pottery commonly referred to as "YAKISHIME" ware. Unlike the low-heat fired pottery, Yakishime ware is waterproof; yet slightly more brittle.

BIZEN WARE, as mentioned before, is named location specific where it is being crafted and from where the raw materials are being sourced.

Bizen ware, due to its clay sources and due to it being removed from other kiln sites, has developed its very own unique look, style and appeal. Not surprisingly Bizen Clay has become exceedingly rare. Of all the clays this one is the hardest, most compact one and it results in a very strong, long lasting pottery ware.

Said look is a direct result of the different mud types found in the volcanic geology of this area. The mud is very rich in iron and therefore the finished products commonly display spectacular coloring.

Preparing the raw materials:

As we mentioned, the BIZEN area produces much volcanic clay. The clay is bcing dug up from rice fields as well as fiom mountain side depending on the potter's preferences. The potters also refer to several different sub types. Next to the Bizen clay the more common ones are referred to as SHIGARAGI and YAMATUTI clays. The potter uses the latter ones in smaller quantities together with the bulk clay in order to create the preferred clay blend for his works. However, before any of these clays can be used for making the final blend, they need to be left outside for some two years to dry which, as you can imagine, results in quite a bit of shrinkage and loss of materials.

After the blending of the chosen types of clays has taken place, the concoction now has to be filtered to remove any remaining small stones and other undesirable impurities.

Filtration being done, water is being added to create the clay's mud- like consistency that can be used by the potter to be formed into the desired shapes by hand or on a potter's wheel.

Now we can talk about the firing of the product but, first, we have to place all of the finish formed raw clay items on wooden planks in a protected area for 2 months of drying. Firing the items without drying them would result in pottery much too brittle for daily use.

Preparing the kiln:

'This is a very laborious process taking several days. The locally sourced red pine wood has been split and dried. Much of it has been turned into charcoal for the reason we soon see.

After the kiln has been cleaned from the last firing with all residue removed, it is being stoked with red pine wood and fired up. It takes a couple of days just to reach an initial 600 F. temperature. Having reached said temperature, we now can add charcoal and slowly watch the interior heat climb to the desired temperature of close to 1,300 F. This will take some 8-12 days more.

Now, the kiln can be filled with the goods to be fired. The length of the firing process depends on the quantity and the sizes of the products. During the firing process the kiln remains under constant watch. This is a 24 hour process as the interior temperature has to remain constant. As you will soon see, there are several glazing ingredients applied, some of which we have listed below.

Before we can even think of removing any of the pottery from the kiln we have to let it cool down for as long as one week. These are some of the most common ones:

Glazing techniques

HIDASUKI:

Rice straw is being applied to the pottery prior to it being fired. This addition, combined with the intense heat results in reddish-orange streaks shining all over the surface.

GOMA

At the high temperatures during the firing process, the outer surfaces of the pottery begin to melt. Ash from the red pine tree is now being applied and, as it binds with the melting surfaces, the potter's desired look is being created.

BOTAMOCHI

As the name indicates, it refers to a Japanese rice cake, favored for use in tea ceremonies and now consumed as a snack. To accomplish the desired round shaped outer decor, a fire-proof mud called SENBEY is being applied in a circular pattern where it forms to Botamochi-style look.

YOHEN

This style is most commonly used for decorating larger vessels. (Decorative Sake bottles, for example.) For this purpose, the plain pottery is being placed on the kiln's floor together with wood-ash and small charcoal particles which then result in forming beautiful, intricate patterns.

Why the popularity of Bizen ware?

Subtly Elegant
Artful
Timeless
Soothing

Bizen ware can best be described as SUBTLY ELEGANT, ARTFUL in its SIMPLICITY, TIMELESS in its appearance and SOOTHING to its owner.

It represents a piece of history, a history that has not changed over many centuries. It is often displayed to represent simple aesthetic beauty not tied to any time frame, artistic period, or art style. However, it truly becomes a treasure when enioyed and appreciated in daily use.

It is with great pride and joy that we do offer you a selection of Bizen ware for your personal collection and appreciation. Please do not hesitate to ask us any questions you may have.

                   

   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
    Mieko Katsube  
   
  and her mother Sachiko  
   
 
 

© 1998 contemporary tansu