Moon Balls and Secret Poems

In the sixties, while trimming the top of one of her closed forms, Toshiko Takaezu accidentally dropped a piece of clay into the interior. She could not retrieve it. After the pot was fired, she discovered that this errant bit of clay added the dimension of sound to her vessel. She liked this and was inspired to wrap small wads of clay in paper and purposely enclose them within the inner space of her works, thus making sound an important part of each piece.

She is also rumored to have left poems inside her enclosed forms, poems that cannot be read until the pot is broken. It almost doesn’t matter if she actually did this or not, the notion of it, the mystery, intrigues. I can’t imagine purposely breaking one of her pieces for a poem, but I can imagine, if you own one of these works, always having in the back of your mind that one day you might. The pot is thus imbued with possibility, yet another dimension. And should a disastrous accident happen turning a treasured piece into shards, there, at least, is a poem-gift as compensation for the loss.

The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence edited by Peter Held, Curator of Ceramics at the Arizona State University Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center is a celebration of Takaezu’s work. Takaezu is widely known for her big forms, especially her moon balls, large, organic orbs, often shown in clusters in a field of grass. There is something both child-like and profoundly confident about these orbs. Upon seeing them, anyone who has made two small pinch pots and put them together (and who has not, even amongst people who do not work in clay?) will immediately imagine herself making giant ones. But of course, it is not quite that simple.

The Art of Toshiko Takaezu offers thoughtful essays, wonderful photos, many of them full page, a chronology, and a tribute. We discover the outlines of her life: growing up in Hawaii, moving to the mainland and studying with Maija Grotell, leading to her exhibitions and teaching years at Princeton. We learn that she also wove; worked with bronze: and created evocative paintings on canvas. And we are repeatedly told how quiet she was, how private. Perhaps it is for this reason that there are few photos of her in the studio, and almost no information about her working methods, her glaze making, or her kilns. “Usually with glazing, I like to be alone,” she says, “Glazing is a personal thing.”

The book comes from the University of North Caroline Press, which also gave us the lovely A Chosen Path: The Ceramic Art of Karen Karnes last September. Takaezu died March 8th of this year.

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