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Two master potters showcase skills for Rock Creek ceramics students
Photos and Story by James Hill
It was so quiet you could hear a trumpet tool drop.
In October, More than 60 students and two dozen guests from the Oregon Potters Association (OPA) were fixated on two visiting ceramics artists from Japan for the college’s International Art Demonstration. Deep in the ceramics studio of Rock Creek Campus’ Building 3, Shuichi Ogata and Kazunao Azuma mesmerized their audience by demonstrating time-honored Japanese pottery techniques.
The master potters from Sapporo are members of the Hokkaido Potters Society. Azuma has worked with his wood-fire kilns since 1981 while Ogata has molded clay for more than 45 years. The two told their long and intriguing stories through interpreter Ken Pincus and through their hands as they sculpted spinning clay on throwing wheels for everyone to see.
Students can’t get enough
“I thought it was amazing their level of confidence being able to perform in front of a large group of people,” said ceramics student Lori Hicke. “They showed how Japanese pottery is different from America’s. And watching them work was interesting. I learned new techniques and I’m a wheel-thrower like them. We really appreciated their willingness to share their culture with us.”
For students like Hicke, it was an all-day affair. They got to attend a slide presentation in The Forum that explored how the visiting potters built their kilns, a workshop on hand-building techniques and tool-making, and a demonstration on wheel throwing and glaze applications. At the end of the day, participants shared tea with the potters, drinking from pottery tea bowls brought from Japan, and bowls made by PCC students. Ogata and Azuma brought more than100 pots from Japan for students to examine and enjoy.
“This was very valuable to me,” said Nathan Paddock, a ceramics student and lab technician, who is transferring to the Oregon College of Art and Craft next year. “In the Forum slideshow, there was a lot of valuable information for me, particularly when they covered the differences of their kilns and how they fire them. That’s a lifetime of knowledge; a culmination of their learning and a commitment for the rest of their lives. For them to share that with us was really valuable.”
Sister city partnership benefits college
It was a rare opportunity for PCC to have such respected Japanese potters visit. Born from Portland’s sister city relationship with Sapporo, Japan, the Oregon Potters Association and the Hokkaido Pottery Society collaborated on a ceramic show in 2009 featuring 20 Oregon potters in an exhibit at Sapporo’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Rock Creek ceramics instructor Donna Cole and instructional support technician Jim Johnstone participated in the joint exhibit. PCC’s International Art Demonstration was a chance to repay the effort.
“This was doubly exciting because of the cultural differences,” Johnstone said. “Everyone, including myself, walked away excited about something new they had learned, and wanted to try. Donna Cole has worked tirelessly to organize this event so our students and community would have the opportunity to attend this truly international experience.”
Cole, who has worked as a ceramics instructor for more than 20 years at Rock Creek, was part of the PCC contingent that found funds to bring the two potters up from Sheridan where they were taking part in an anagama kiln firing. The Rock Creek event was co-sponsored by the OPA and Rock Creek Potters Guild, a student club that funds learning activities through sales and grants from student government.
“These group efforts allow us to provide enrichment opportunities for our students that we just wouldn’t otherwise be able to have,” said Cole, whose ceramic artwork is influenced by the Japanese style. “Visiting artist workshops at PCC offer opportunities for our students to learn about techniques and aesthetics of artists from cultures other than their own. The result in the classroom is significant as students gain new perspectives from which to make their own creative work.”
Demonstration highlights natural approach
Traditionally, potters in Japan allow naturally occurring materials, including small rocks, in their clay bodies that create natural effects on the fired pottery, Cole advised. She said the finished result looks as though the pottery simply emerged from the earth and is a much different look than pots made with the refined clay and glazes that are often used here. The master potters fire their pots for several days in large wood burning kilns, where the flames carry wood ash that eventually falls onto unglazed surfaces to create special glaze effects, Cole continued.
“There are differences in how the pots are fired and how the clay is made, and the perception of beauty between our cultures.” she added. “In Japan, there is so much emphasis on the natural and on nature. All aspects of pottery in Japan are considered, from clay to process, to surface and the form. It all comes together in a quiet harmony with nature.”