Essay: Jirobo - Famous Ceramic Mugs/Cups

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Jirobo - Famous Ceramic Mugs/Cups

Jirobo is one of the first Raku ware tea drinking bowls that were created by Chojiro. Though there is no available dating for the piece, Tanaka Chojiro was alive from 1516-1592. His work was chosen as the new style that should be used in the traditional tea ceremonies of Japan in the late 1500s. Sen no Rikyu was the Tea Master for the Japanese Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

What you may notice about Raku ware is that it is uneven in appearance and it has a rough hewn look. The beauty of Raku ware was in the unfinished appearance, as it was supposed to represent simplicity. Redware and earthenware mediums were both used to produce this piece, both have a high sand content. It is glazed with a lead glaze. There is no other decoration or pattern, and it was molded entirely by hand and carving tools, there was no use of a wheel, as is the traditional way to make Raku ware. It was fired at low temperatures and taken from the fire while red hot to cool, which not only keeps the clay from fully hardening, but also creates a porous appearance on the piece.

This piece shows the Soeki nari (Soeki shape), which was the favorite of Sen no Rikyu. This shape sits on a narrow base with a generous well at the bottom of the vessel. The vessel then squeezes just slightly inward at the mid-point, and rounds outward again before the lip, which is slightly curved inward.

The back of the box that this tea bowl belongs in has an inscription written by Senso Shohitsu (1622-1697), youngest son of Japanese Tea Master Genpaku Sotan (1578-1658), who was the son of Sen no Rikyu. The inscription states that Senso received this bowl from his grandfather Rikyu. The box also bears the name of the piece.

To me this piece speaks volumes. The simplicity of the work combined with the deep set roots of the practice of the tea ceremony is exciting in a primal and familial way. When you can look back on such a tradition and find a piece that is essentially a cornerstone to the development of Raku ware as a cultural contribution, it's like inhaling air from the time of the ancients. When you look on this piece, you are looking at a tea bowl that was created by the father of the Raku style. This piece was created by the master of Raku for the Tea Master that made the style famous since the 16th century. This tea bowl was used by the very authority that wrote the rules of the tea ceremony for the time, and then he passed this bowl down to his grandson for the future members of his family.

This is not just an art work, nor is it just a ceremonial landmark, it is a piece of hand formed history that sits humbly in a glass case, a giant, though merely 8.4cm tall. The Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan holds this treasure safe for the future to see what the past has given us as the masters of Raku today still pay homage to their creator by functioning in the very same workspace with the very same tools that were essential to Chojiro hundreds of years ago.

As far as personal aesthetics goes, though I would not use such a piece in my own home to entertain, I can certainly appreciate the quiet and simple beauty in such a piece. In using the most simple ingredients to make the most simple vehicle to carry out the ceremonies has the same unspoken elegance of a plain biscuit with gravy. it's like visual comfort food.

Wide Mouthed Jar - Famous Ceramic Vessels

The Japanese Jomon vessels were very robust and had a solid structure, but they were definitely overshadowed by the Yayoi works that came about from 300 BC - 300 AD. These structures were more refined and attractive. The jar "Wide Mouthed Jar" that is on display in the Fukoka Art Museum, Japan, as part of their Important Cultural Property collection, is a fine example of the work of the Yayoi period. The shape is that of the abacus bead, and it is constructed of earthenware that is colored with red pigment.

The piece is of the Suku type produced in Kyushu, and it was excavated from Katsumoto-cho, Iki District of Nagasaki Prefecture. This piece is at the height of the style and was one of the best examples produced. When first observed it may seem that it is a very simple piece, but on closer inspection you see that there is so much more.

There are three flanges on the central area and there is one on the lower neck that brings together the entire composition. It has a generous belly, a narrow neck, and an extended rim that curves out from the neck. It has been brushed with a bamboo knife that is designed similarly to a spatula to achieve the vertical stripes. Overall though the piece is quite ancient, the work is very stylish and refined, and though the dark veins that travel through the piece are no doubt attributed to it's age, it gives it the appearance of overall life in the piece.

This is a first century work, it stands 42.4 cm high, and seems to exude a sense of refinement. It is a very attractive work that you would not expect to see from the hands of someone that operated over two thousand years ago. This work has shown me that you cannot underestimate the aesthetic qualities and cultural maturity of an ancient civilization simply because you cannot fathom the complexities of their culture.

Potters may have had several more obstacles to overcome in the creation of the pieces that they produced, but that did not mean that they would suffer at the hands of ignorance and laziness. The work that I have seen coming forth from this period is not just startling to my own perception of ancient civilizations, but I also find that it is enticing my hunger for more information concerning the histories of the cultures that produced these works. One does not need to know the people that produced a work to know that it is beautiful or that it speaks to them, but they do need to understand the people that delivered the piece in order to understand the technical hurdles and the meaning of the pieces on a cultural level.

It will never cease to amaze me that persons could turn out home use vessels such as these that we will honor as a piece of art until it returns to the dirt that it was constructed from. It really makes you realize that we are perhaps the most lazy society to have ever operated on this planet. When you consider that great works of art, the pieces that we are awestruck by in the museum, are the same pieces that the artisans created for household aids, it puts being annoyed that you have to go to the store to replace your Corningware on a whole new level.

Pastoral Vase with Lid - Famous Ceramic Vase

The Pastoral Vase with Lid is part of the Smithsonian collection in the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. It was created by Adelaide Alsop Robineau in 1910. Robineau is a noted American art potter, outstanding for her creativity and productivity. She was a china painter and a teacher, and this piece is of carved ceramic. She also was the first editor of Keramic Studio, a publication for china painters.

Robineau had her first child in 1900, and she had three by 1906. In that same period of time she learned how to work with clay and began showing her pieces in porcelain in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, which lead to her porcelain being sold by Tiffany & Co. In 1905.

This pastoral vase was made while she was that the University City Pottery in University City, Missouri. She was there for an 18-month tenure. The University was part of the American Woman's League which promoted voting rights and education as well as other rights for women in the 1900s.

This very handsome and highly detailed piece does not seem to lend to daily use, but rather to have been created for the sake of art. There is no doubt that Robineau was a very talented craftsperson and artist. One would think by the level of detail illustrated on this piece, which is covered in ornate carvings of small flower shapes, would have taken an artist of any level several years to complete, but her stay at the university was only eighteen months.

Personally, I always find it very inspirational to find a piece that has been developed sometime in the past century, as I feel that these sort of "new-school masterpieces" translate into hope that there is art still present in our… [END OF PREVIEW]

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