Sunday, August 5, 2012

Learning How to Make Arita Pottery

I would hardly consider myself a craftsman. I'm not especially creative or artistic either. However during a recent visit to Japan a colleague brought me to the town of Arita, located in the Nishimatsuura district, Saga Prefecture of Japan. Arita is known for producing Arita porcelain, a traditional handicraft art for over 400 years. Thus, pottery and porcelain from this area is not only very famous but highly valued. It was a rainy Sunday, so we explored the town of Arita in detail. While there I had the opportunity to meet a porcelain master who gave me a lesson in making pottery. 
I watched the pottery master as closely as I seemed fairly simple, I thought. It didn't help that he only spoke Japanese and I didn't. Not one to shy away from a challenge I sat down at the pottery wheel. He motioned for me to wet my hands in the basin. I placed my hands around the base of clay, and put my foot on the pedal to activate the wheel...
...soon a form began to take shape before my eyes. I was fascinated by the process of how it worked. My hands nervously slid inside the cone that had formed. The master made hand motions to explain what I should be doing. He was speaking but of course I couldn't understand so I relied on his hand gestures to take my cues. Soon I realized that I had clay splattered on my shirt and jeans, so they brought an apron for me.
I resumed a position at the wheel, but had lost my momentum.  The master stood and showed me how to make the rim of the shape more narrow. I wasn't even sure what I was making, it just turned into a cup. I wondered if the master was laughing inside about my poor pottery skills, but I was having fun anyway.
Soon it was time for the next lesson. I thought it might be interesting to make a rice bowl. The porcelain master seemed impressed at first, as a bowl formed quickly. Feeling over confident I tried to get fancy and squeezed the wet clay too hard, while the wheel was spinning. Soon my bowl changed before my eyes into a floppy, wobbly ribbon edged blob. I panicked. The master smiled, and leaned in with his hands and fixed it for me in no time at all.
He was exceptionally patient, and very helpful. Despite the fact that neither of understood the verbal language we spoke, we seemed to communicate enough that I could follow his direction. I learned about the right speed of the wheel, the importance of keeping your hands very wet, and how the pressure of your fingers and palms can create various shapes. It was really quite interesting actually.
By the time I finished my lesson, I had created these items: a dish, bowl, cup and vase. When I saw them all together I was surprised at what I had created. I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn't a total failure at the pottery wheel, and that the porcelain master didn't throw me out for making such a mess.
Then it was over to the painting table area. The master wanted me to try my hand at painting something. He brought a small plain dish that had been made previously. From the same type of paint used 400 years ago, I used a very fine-tipped artist brush to create a design on the dish. I decided to paint a ship design. As mentioned at the beginning of this post I am hardly an artist but I did my best with this design.
Here is the finished design I painted myself...a ship in the sea. As you will notice the paint is black on a white dish. When I left the master explained they would put all my pottery items in the kiln to properly dry. My dish would be glazed and dried as well, and when it was finished the black paint would appear blue when totally dry. In approximately 30 days it should all be complete. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished items. When they arrive I'll take photos and post them on this blog. Without a doubt it was a gratifying and rewarding experience; not to mention a huge honor to be taught Arita style pottery from local porcelain master. It was an experience I shall never forget.


lime said...

what a wonderful experience. thank you so much for sharing it with us. a patient teacher makes all the difference doesn't it? it inspires confidence when we falter in our efforts. i'm impressed with your results and i think your little ship is sweet.

Rick Rockhill said...

Thanks Lime, it was fun.

Jean(ie) said...

That truly was an artful and life-giving moment for you. Is it okay that I kinda teared up at your tale? It's happy tears... those moments are SO self-affirming and so purposeful.

you are blessed my dear... truly blessed. :-) I'm glad you shared it.

Elise said...

Thanks for the Photo, Beautiful Japanese Art,
There is this Art Gallery Yakimono in Paris, showing nice pieces.
Yakimono Paris


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