A Master Artist Returns to Ceramics Studio

by Ceramics

Despite the sweltering heat, over 30 local artists and curious souls alike found their way to the Ceramics Studio this past Wednesday evening. It was the third time master kiln-builder and Japanese artist Kusakabe Masakazu had visited the Harvard Ceramics Program, and yet he was still brimming with information to share during his 3-hour lecture and presentation on his work and his unique, sustainable wood-fired kilns.He began the evening by demonstrating "fast-drawings" on rice paper, which he then graciously bestowed on his eager observers. The drawings were composed of traditional, rapid lines that formed smiling angels, serene landscapes and folklore faces. He turned to drawing, specifically guardian angles, during his battle with cancer. He even signed a participant's book (that he authored) with his ink and brush, instantly making that particular edition priceless. On display were vessels showing the effects of his sustainable kilns: the mottled and pocked surfaces barely relinquishing a shimmer of color, a surface prized and unique to wood-fired ceramics.He then moved his diligent audience to the wheel where he proceeded to throw many a teabowl while explaining his thought process on why a bowl should never be "perfect." He claimed, "We are not perfect—mistakes happen. If you hold your two hands together to form a circle, you'll see that it's impossible to make a perfect circle, so why should the bowl be perfect?" He used few tools and handled his bowls bravely, bending the sides to better conform to the hand, or letting a side sag or crimp when it so desired.Once his demonstrations were complete, he began a visual presentation featuring his home, work, inspiration and many of the smokeless kilns he has built around the world. At one point he flashed to a picture of the 1,000-year-old Usuzumi Sakura cherry tree in Motosu, Japan, the branches being so old and fragile that large, wooden posts were erected for support. Its obvious beauty, delicate fragility and bountiful blossoms are a source for his art. After explaining some of his other passions, like star-gazing, it was clear to see how his mind flits between the subjective and philosophical nature of art, and the science it requires to engineer a kiln such as the Green Fire kiln built by Harvard Ceramics Program and Noble and Greenough School.Kusakabe's website is a great way to view his art, learn more about his kiln designs and read about his thoughts. If you'd like to visit the Harvard/Noble Green Fire during this week's wood-fire workshop, then stop by the Noble and Greenough School this Sunday between 1-4 pm. Click twice on the collage below to enlarge and scroll.