"Food Drink Flower" 7

Ceramics Exhibition Grows from Japanese Roots

The diminutive Japanese lady often passed the bearded American guy in the clay studios of the Anderson Ranch Art Center. Soon, the two potters began to acknowledge one another with a smile and a slight bow.

Next, they began to talk about their craft, about East/West cultural differences, about hand-made ceramics. Since both artists draw on the legacy of Japanese pottery, a history that reaches back more than 12,000 years, there was much to explore. Many conversations, many cups of tea and several years passed as an artistic partnership began to flower.

About a year ago, Frank McGuirk had the temerity to ask Fumiko Nagai about assembling a two-person show with him. She agreed and, as seemed appropriate, their mentors, Takashi Nakazato and Doug Casebeer, were asked to endorse the idea. The mentors’ support led to a discussion about a “theme” for the still-to-be-arranged exhibition. Initially, McGuirk suggested an East-West theme, including both utilitarian work and some sculpture from each artist. After giving this notion some thought, Nagai flatly declared: “I make pots for food drink flower.”

This declarative statement pretty much ruled out sculpture! It also implied that the show’s cultural content would be inherent in the work—an idea very much in keeping with the spirit of Japanese ceramics.

Japanese Inspiration and Technique

Over the millennia, Japan developed a great variety of superlative ceramic styles with associated throwing, glazing, decorating and firing techniques. Japan officially reveres its artists, supporting them and designating the most distinguished as “Living National Treasures.” So it should come as no surprise that Japan continues to be a source of learning and inspiration for ceramic artists worldwide.

The development of Japan’s ceramics might well have stopped at utilitarian and purely decorative ware had it not been for the tea ceremony. Beginning in 16th century, the Zen-influenced tea ceremony created a taste for rustic, simple, asymmetrical pottery. These same aesthetics are much in evidence in the works shown in  “Food Drink Flower”, a major exhibition that opens at the Carbondale Clay Center on January 6.

“Food Drink Flower” features the works of both Fumiko Nagai and Frank McGuirk, but also draws deeply on the work and inspiration of the two mentors who have been most instrumental in teaching Nagai and McGuirk.

Meet the Potters’ Mentors

Takashi Nakazato, Nagai’s teacher, was born in 1937 in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, Japan. He is the fifth son of Taroemon Nakazato. Taroemon was the twelfth of a long line of master potters in the Nakazato family, all direct descendants of master potters who made wares exclusively for the prefecture’s Matsuura lords until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. After studying pottery-making in his father’s workshop, the 24-year-old Takashi was awarded the grand prize in Modern Pottery by the Japan Pottery Association. His works are highly prized for their light, sensitive shapes and luminous use of glaze. A chawan (tea bowl) by Takashi Nakazato can fetch hundreds of thousands in yen.

Douglas Casebeer, McGuirk’s teacher, is the associate director of the Anderson Ranch Arts Center. As Anderson Ranch’s Artistic Director of Ceramics, he also chairs its Artists-in-Residence Program. Casebeer teaches, lectures, builds kilns and exhibits his art worldwide. He received his BFA and MFA degrees in ceramics from Wichita State University and Alfred University in New York.

Meet the Potters Themselves

Fumiko Nagai makes functional ware such as dishes, cups, bowls and vases by throwing clay on a Japanese-style kick wheel. She first trained as an apprentice to Takashi Nakazato, and from 2012-15, she worked as Takashi’s assistant. Nagai and Nakazato have traveled across nine countries to participate in workshops and demonstrations and to make their own ceramic pieces. Fumiko graduated with a degree in liberal arts from International Christian University in Tokyo. She now works most of the year in her own studio in Japan.

McGuirk is a full-time studio potter who works in his private studio near Carbondale. McGuirk completed the full undergraduate curriculum in Ceramics at Colorado State University and worked as a potter in the 1970s. Frank then went on to earn a PhD in psychology in 1974. In 2006, he realized a long-held ambition by returning full-time to ceramic work. He makes hundreds of utilitarian pots each year. Many of McGuirk’s recent works are displayed in private and corporate collections. Many of his ceramic pieces are functional, but some pieces are sculpture, inspired by architecture. Frank has also taught ceramics at the Carbondale Clay Center in recent years.