Hamada Shoji (1894-1978)

Slab press molded ‘henko’ bottle vase
Salt glaze over cobalt blue pigment
22.5 x 16.5 x 9 cm
8⅞ x 6½ x 3½ inches
Unsigned
Aside from the colors particular to raku ware, which Hamada produced only in his very last years, cobalt blue is perhaps the color he used least frequently over the length of his career. The color was not typically found in Hamada’s adopted Mashiko village and not suited to the red clay often used there. Hamada wrote that he had considered the color too harsh until, on viewing 15th century Rhennish ware on his travels in Europe, he saw how it could be subdued by salt-glazing. The salt-glaze technique is notoriously hard on kilns and prone to failure, but once he had a taste for it Hamada dedicated a kiln to the practice and embraced the challenge. He said:

“There are many hazards in using salt glaze, for salt will attack the bricks of the kiln itself, cause materials from the ceiling of the kiln to drip down on the pots, and by penetrating the body, cause bottles to bend and stick to one another. However, it is because the risks are great that I have found great stimulation in using this technique. After forty years of making pottery, one can become too comfortable, and it is the very challenge of this primitive method, with all its possibilities for failure, that has proved an exhilarating experience for me.”

Shoji Hamada. 1966. Edited by Soetsu Yanagi. Page 7. Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun.

Even so, Hamada used the color blue sparingly. It often appears as a bright accent on tea bowls or sometimes, in what has been considered a special hallmark, alone on works such as this bottle vase, our favorite of Hamada’s molded forms.
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