b. 1894 Tokyo
d. 1978 Mashiko, Tochigi Prefecture
Active in St. Ives (Cornwall, UK), Mashiko, Okinawa
What is left to say about Hamada Shoji? The single most famous Japanese potter, he is the one through whose art, teaching, and demonstration thousands upon thousands of non-Japanese first grasped the depth of Japanese ceramic art. Bernard Leach, with whom Hamada maintained a lifelong friendship, was first struck by the elegant, confident script of the young man who sought his counsel. Decades later Leach said that Hamada was the only individual whom he had never once seen angry or upset. Indeed, Hamada’s art displays a rare confidence and equanimity. In clay he did what he wanted, and what he wanted was to make pieces that stood on their own alongside the food and flowers they were meant to accompany.
As a collector, curator and creator, Hamada always saw into things themselves. He filled several museums with objects of unassuming beauty. As a young man he built a small studio/compound in Mashiko, fixing his livelihood on the use of local materials and the local agricultural cycle. With few exceptions in the next decades Hamada’s kiln was fired thrice yearly, producing a body of work of remarkably consistent quality. His cups, bowls, vases and other works are rarely but a pleasure to view and hold and, especially, to use. At the same time, his exceptional pieces are among the most compelling of any produced in the twentieth century: clear expressions of his personal and aesthetic ideals; dense condensations of environmental knowledge gathered over generations; and formidable reminders of the possibility that remains for a creative humanity in the midst of nature.