Toshiko Takaezu (1922 – 2011)
Toshiko Takaezu, distinguished American ceramic artist and teacher, was born in Hawaii in 1922. She is celebrated as a driving force in the development of the modern ceramic art philosophy that seeks to elevate the product of a potter’s craft from utilitarian vessel to fine art.
The sixth of eleven children, Toshiko Takaezu (pronounced Toe-SHEE-ko Taka-YAY-zoo) was the daughter of Japanese immigrants who emigrated from Okinawa to Pekeekeo, Hawaii. Her art training began in the early 1940s with Saturday painting classes at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. During these early years, she worked with commercial ceramic firms producing press mold pieces. It was through this work that she met Claude Horan, founder of the ceramics program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. On Horan’s encouragement, Takaezu enrolled at the University – the first step in her formal artistic training.
In 1951, Takaezu was accepted to the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of the Arts in Bloomfield Hills, MI. In her third year, she accepted the position of teaching assistant to Finnish ceramic artist Maija Grotell. An excellent teacher with a knack for experimenting with glaze, Grotell had a profound influence on Takaezu’s work. So did the study of Zen Buddhism and traditional Japanese pottery techniques in Japan in 1955.
Takaezu’s clay pots evolved from functional vessels to abstract sculptural “forms” (as she called her works). An affinity for painting led the artist to create her first ‘closed form’ works, as these vessels provided a larger surface on which to apply glaze. This became her signature: vessels with nearly closed-off tops, just open enough to allow gasses to escape during the firing process.
Throughout her career, Takaezu continued to experiment. She threw squat ball-shaped vessels that she called “moon pots”; vertical forms, low and high; and ceramic “tree trunks”. In many of her later works, the artist closed the top of her vessels, removing the vent from view by placing it at the bottom of the form. Some pieces were finished with a clay bead inside, creating a rattling sound when jostled.
Takaezu was a renowned teacher who worked in academia throughout her life, at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Princeton University, where she taught until her retirement in 1992.
Toshiko Takaezu approached art as she approached life, with a reverence for the natural world. For her, the practice of creating clay vessels was closely tied to everyday life. “In my life I see no difference between making pots, cooking, and growing vegetables,” Takaezu once said, “They are all so related… I get so much joy from working in clay, and it gives me many answers in my life.”