Kawai Kanjiro

Kawai Kanjiro
Kawai Kanjiro­ (1890 - 1966) born in Yasugi, Shimane, and was a Japanese potter and a key figure in mingei (Japanese folk art) and studio pottery movements, which included Bernard Leach, Hamada Sho­ji, Tomimoto Kenkichi, Munakata Shiko, Serizawa Keisuke, and Shimaoka Tatsuzo, among others.

Becoming interested in pottery as a child by watching a nearby farmer who made pottery in his spare time, Kawai-san knew by the age of 16 that he wanted to become a potter. Kanjiro­ graduated from the Tokyo Higher Polytechnical School in 1914 and worked briefly at the Kyoto Research Institute for Ceramics. Hamada Shoji, whom he first met in Tokyo, followed Kawai to Kyoto, where the two are said to have conducted over 10,000 experiments on glazes. Disillusioned with what he felt was an unnecessarily excessive focus on studying theory at both schools, in 1920 he built his own kiln in Kyoto (a climbing kiln "noborigama") "the Shokeiyo, with eight chambers, began the "Kawai Factory" and began to give exhibitions.

Kawai was trained in the use of chemical glazes and gained wide recognition for their use while still in his early twenties. But he was ultimately dissatisfied with this early work and, thanks in large part to a chance encounter with Yanagi Soetsu and Hamada Shoji, turned instead to natural glazes, to nature, or "to the science that precedes all science - and a return to nature was my salvation". He is widely regarded as a master of glazes, especially of warm red copper (shinsha or yuriko - one of his trademark colors), rich brown iron (tetsu-yu), chrome and cobalt (gosu).

As a potter he sought to combine modern methods of manufacture with traditional Japanese and English designs. He was also an artist, calligrapher, sculptor, writer and philosopher. As a man who respected the dignity of simplicity and collected the works of poor craftspeople from all over Asia, he admired "ordered poverty" and had a profound love for the unpretentious men of the soil and made their simplicity a part of himself. His pots come in many asymmetrical shapes and show expressionistic techniques such as tsutsugaki (slip-trailed decoration), ronuki (wax-resist) or hakeme (white slip).

Kanjiro refused all official honours, including the designation of Living National Treasure, and his pots were unsigned. His pieces are on display in the Folk Art Museum of Tokyo and each year, the Takashimaya Department Store had an exhibition of his work in their Tokyo and Osaka shops. In November 1953, Kawai-san had one of his biggest exhibitions. It was at the Korin Kaku in Tokyo and over 500 of his pieces were shown.