Shoji Hamada                                                                                                                                    

  

Hamada Shoji

1894 – 1978.  The best known potter of the 20th century, born in Tokyo, Japan.  In 1955, Hamada received the honorable title of “Living National Treasure.” It is the highest award achievable in the Japanese arts and awarded to a very select few who have demonstrated mastery of their craft, and strongly influenced the preservation of the ancient arts that traditionally provide richness and beauty to the lives of its people.

While heavily influenced by the folk pottery of Japan and Korea as well as English slipware, Hamada would not consider himself a folk artist. His focus was the production of utilitarian pottery. However, his superlative knowledge of glaze and his mastery of a wide range of application techniques were his genius and his signature.  His decoration was dynamic and expressive, bold in its spontaneous execution of creative energy.  He is recognized as one of the great abstract expressionists of the 20th century.

Hamada did not receive his training in the traditional manner of apprenticeship; rather he graduated from Tokyo Technical College in 1916 then entered the Kyoto Municipal Institute of Ceramics where he met his lifelong friend and senior Kawi Kanjiro.  Together they produced 10,000 glaze tests!  Hamada befriended the English potter Barnard Leach and in 1920 went to Cornwall, England, to help him set up the famous Leach Pottery studio at St. Ives.  He returned to Japan in 1924 and made his home in Mashiko, Japan

In 1926, Hamada, along with Kawi Kanjiro, Bernard Leach and philosopher Yanagi Soetsu, formed the “Mingi” (Folk Art) movement which spread through the west and the rest of the world. The movement countered the desire for cheap, lifeless, mass-produced industrial ware and promoted the value and the virtues of  “The Unknown Craftsman,” the ordinary craftsman whose unpretentious work spoke to the spiritual and practical needs of life.

In 1962 Hamada became the head of the Japan Folk Art Museum in Tokyo established by Yanagi, and in 1968 he received the Okinawa Times Award and Order of Cultural Merit from the Emperor. In 1973 he received an honorary Doctor of Art Degree from the Royal College of Art, London, England. The year after, Hamada Shoji’s Mashiko Reference Collection Museum was completed, four years before Hamada’s death in 1978.

 

Ken Turner

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