Like Northeast Georgia, the Echizen region of Japan has been home to generations of potters. But while regions like Mossy Creek can claim a 200-year tradition of wood-fired ceramics, the artisans of Echizen have been producing distinctive pottery for more than 800 years.
Some of the best works representative of Echizen potters will be on display Sept. 20 through Oct. 20 at the Mason-Scharfenstein Museum of Art at Piedmont College in Demorest.
The show is curated by Chris Kelly, chair of the Department of Art at Piedmont, and Preston Saunders, associate professor of art at Bridgewater State College. The museum is located at 567 Georgia St. in Demorest, and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Titled “The Heart of Echizen: Wood Fired Works by Contemporary Masters,” the show focuses on a diverse group of potters working in Echizen today.
“Developing a theme for a cohesive show originally proved difficult,” Kelly said. “Today’s potters in Echizen are remarkably different now than they were throughout the majority of Echizen’s ceramic history. Then, potters fired their ceramic work in community wood kilns out of necessity; now, most potters have their own wood kiln and firing with wood is an aesthetic choice.”
In order to explore the diversity found among potters in Echizen, the curators chose a variety of potters. Juroemon Fujita IX made traditional utilitarian pottery, continuing techniques and reproducing surfaces in his kiln passed down for eight generations, Kelly said.
Naoki Izumi moved to Echizen because of its rural setting and long tradition in wood firing. Yasumi Hattori feels the wood-fired surface complements the forms she creates for use in the Japanese tea ceremony. Kuroemon Kumano fires his kiln to uncommonly extreme temperatures.
What makes the Echizen pottery especially prized is that many of its potters continue the use of extremely high-temperature, wood-fired kilns called anagama kilns. They typically use no glaze on the pots, relying on the ash from the fire to melt into the clay, producing earth tones of grays, greens and browns.
The ash also produces unique textures on each pot that can vary from baby smooth on one side to sharkskin rough on the other, depending on how the pot was exposed to the heat.
The Heart of Echizen is the third exhibition focusing on Echizen ceramics to travel to the United States. Support from The Japan Foundation and the town of Echizen helped make the exhibition possible.
Kelly has traveled frequently to Japan, often with groups of Piedmont College art students, to study the traditional methods. He spent a year working with the late Juroemon Fujita VIII, a potter recognized by the Emperor of Japan as a “Cultural Treasure,” and his son, Juroemon Fujita IX, also a respected Echizen potter. There he learned how the master potters controlled the ancient kilns by varying the type of wood, temperature of the fire, and length of firing to create pots that are in museums around the world.