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Japan: Earthquake, Tsunami, Pottery & Disaster Relief

Ceramics shop owner checks his wares. It is heartbreaking to see such beautiful pieces reduced to shards.

Natural catastrophes can strike at any time. People faced with such calamity were going about their daily business moments before. What has happened and is happening is almost unimaginable. Japan’s earthquake has been upgraded to 9-points on the Richter scale and there have been more than 300 aftershocks. Given the earthquake, the tsunami, and the dire food situation, the death toll is expected to exceed 10,000 in just one region and untold thousands are missing. Hundreds of thousands are homeless and over one million are without transportation in the downtown core, as Tokyo’s transit system was halted. As of yesterday afternoon, PST, the temperature in Tokyo was 4 C/39 F and throughout Japan millions are without electricity. In addition, more than 200,000 have been evacuated from the area near the damaged nuclear reactors. We live within the Pacific Ring of Fire and we aren’t nearly as advanced as the Japanese in earthquake preparedness. Save for the technological advancements the Japanese have made and the sea walls that were built, tens of thousands of people would have been killed. Yesterday, I posted about two new books by Japanese ceramists. In many ways, there are few things that are as mundane as ceramics. We drink from ceramic mugs, cups, bowls; eat from ceramic bowls or plates, and use porcelain spoons. It is no coincidence that many new reports about the earthquake and tsunami also touch upon ceramics. Japan and ceramics, two words that are very nearly synonymous. I started thinking of all of those anagama kilns, those vats of celadon glaze, finished and unfinished pieces. I decided to look at experiences with the quake. I was not trying to experience things vicariously or making light of a nation’s misery. Things can often be best understood when put in perspective and hearing about people’s movements, listening to them talk, makes us feel more compassion and empathy. “First the earthquake, then the disaster.” Nothing could be more true. Therefore, please consider donating to the disaster relief organizations listed after the following quotations.

“‘I have no idea how I’ll get home,’ said an 18-year-old woman waiting outside Ginza subway station. She described how ceramics shattered around her in a department store when the huge quake hit mid-afternoon.” — ABC

“Earthquakes of a large magnitude do not necessarily cause the most intense surface effects. The effect in a given region relates to the geological conditions. For example, an area of sand or clay would suffer a greater impact than an area of granite.”   — Global News

“Not yet accounted for is local ceramic artist Kelly Cox, who is backpacking on an island off the coast of Japan.” — MPR

“Tiffany Chong, a British Columbia native living in Kunitachi, Japan, said she was in a pottery class when the ground began to shake. ‘We all ran outside to get to an open space and crouched down,’ she said in an email. ‘The ground was rolling as if we were on a boat in choppy water. I kept looking up at the telephone poles with all the electrical wiring and hoping they weren’t going to fall on me.'” — National Post

“The earthquake smashed one of my wife’s nicest pieces of pottery, but that’s the worst it did to us.” — CBC

Furimono occurs when kiln materials fuse to pieces. At high temperatures when the ash deposit is molten, pieces of ceiling brick may fall onto the pieces and fuse. This may occur during an earthquake or when a kiln is old and worn.” — Japanese Wood-Fired Ceramics

“The students are all art students at CSU. The group was studying ceramics in the foreign country. CSU spokesman, John Lester said the students have even been able to do a little social networking during the chaos.” — WRBL

“Inside her apartment, pottery, glasses and other items were thrown from the shelves and damaged.” — Georgia Strait

“As the earthquake and tsunami ripped through Japan, my thoughts turned immediately to my friend, Buddhist priest Shiho Kanzaki, who makes exquisite wood-fired pottery in Shigaraki. He is fine, thank goodness, but devastated by what’s happened to his country.” — Huffington Post

“A ‘beautiful fish’ his teenaged daughter, Julia, made in pottery class snapped in two.”  — Sault Star

‘I’m so sad. I hope,’ said Atsuko Nakanishi. She has tried calling her 86-year-old mother, Hide Kumaga, who lives in a senior center in Japan, but there is no phone service. ‘I didn’t talk to anybody,’ said Nakanishi, a sales clerk at Utsuwa-No-Yakata (‘House of Pottery’), in Edgewater, New Jersey, who admits she is ‘very worried about it.’ A moment later she shares a note of optimism: ‘I try to call tonight. I hope she will be safe.'” — CNN

Should you feel motivated, here are some international aid organizations that are helping with the crisis in Japan:

  • On your cell phone, text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation help earthquake and tsunami victims. Canadian, US
  • SAVE THE CHILDREN — text JAPAN to 20222 to donate $10. Canadian, US
  • GLOBAL GIVING — text JAPAN to 50555 to give $10 or donate online.
  • SALVATION ARMY: text ‘JAPAN’ or ‘QUAKE’ to 80888 to make a $10 donation. USA, Canada
  • Convoy of Hope : Donate either online or via text message by texting TSUNAMI to 50555.


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art/r/evolution: avant-garde ceramics exhibition

art/r/evolution, a ceramics exhibit hosted by cutting edge Italian artistas will be making its way across the globe from now till 2014. The grand opening took place in Paris last year and the exhibit will leave Gdansk at the end of the month. “It’s an avant-garde multi-media event featuring the works of twelve International ceramic artists (the Group) who have challenged the limits of the medium,” according to the Italian arts journal, thatsArt.com. The brainchild of Nicola Boccinini, who founded the Free Experimental Ceramics Association (CLS), he and his group have combined fashion and ceramics to bring us these works. When I learned about it, I thought, good timing, as I had been trying to fine out whether any new ceramic properties had been discovered. A week or two after I had researched it, I came across this show and group. Boccinini is “very focused on new processes and techniques that add to the properties of ceramic,” says thatsArt, ” thus making it suitable for more functional purposes than the traditional ones.” After looking into what CLS is doing, I have to admit that some of it looks very similar to the clay Joan of Art ensemble two friends created and entered in Port Moody’s Wearable Art Show, which will be covered in the near future. I think the idea of combining clay with fashion is intriguing, though, I am not entirely sure whether the Italian work demonstrates new properties so much as it uses them in ways that are seldom attempted. However, the group claims that some of the techniques used on the pieces are technological breakthroughs; you can read more about this here. Group members include Giuseppe Agamennone, Nicola Boccini, Ricky Boscarino, Francky Criquet, Marino Ficola, Przemyslaw Lasak, Pierluigi Pompei, Romano Ranieri, David Roberts, Malgosia Turlo, and GaiaPace and Alisa Dumas. The last two are fashion designers.

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Obituary of Glenn Nelson: Artist, mentor and author

Clay is the very common but unique material that makes ceramics possible.” — Glenn Nelson.

Yesterday, I came upon Mr. Nelson’s obituary from the Tweed Museum of Art site. His seminal work, Ceramics: A Potter’s Handbook, was my bible at university and it remains a terrific resource for me. Glenn Nelson was such an important figure in the ceramics field, I thought you might like to learn more about his life from this lovely tribute.


(reprinted from the Tweed Museum of Art site.)

Artist, educator and author Glenn C. Nelson died on Saturday, April 17, 2010, in Naples, Florida, six weeks shy of his 97th birthday. Nelson was born May 30, 1913 in Racine, Wisconsin. He was the only child of Nels and Bertha Nelson.

Nelson started painting after high school, and first studied with Walter Burt Adams of Evanston, IL. He took classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, began exhibiting there, and opened a small art supply store. He was drafted in 1940, serving with the Amphibious Engineers in the South Pacific during World War II. On his return, Nelson earned a BS degree in Art Education from Milwaukee State Teachers College (1949), and an MFA from the University of Iowa, where he was hired as a Ceramics instructor (1952). Nelson went to the University of Minnesota in Duluth (UMD) in 1956 to establish a ceramics program. He taught undergrad and graduate students, created his own art, collected examples of ceramics for the university’s Tweed Museum of Art, and authored the book Ceramics.

Glenn Nelson and Edith (Edie) McIntyre were married in 1960. She was secretary to his friend David Campbell, head of the American Craft Council and director of the Museum of American Crafts. A supportive force behind all of Nelson’s efforts, Edie Nelson died in 1987.  The couple had no children.

Nelson’s considerable technical knowledge, understanding of international design, and aesthetic sensibilities were transmitted through his well-known book, Ceramics, which significantly raised the bar for ceramics education and studio practice. Five editions were published between 1957 and 1983, and it became a leading technical and design resource in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. Along with practical information about materials and equipment, Nelson illustrated ceramic forms and modes of decoration from a range of global cultures.

Nelson was an influential teacher at UMD from 1956 to 1975. Many of his students and mentees established significant careers as studio potters and educators themselves, among them Bill Wold, Bob Eckels, David Frank, and Walter Hylek. Others stayed near Duluth, where they have helped secure its reputation as an arts-rich city – Bob DeArmond, John Steffl, Allen Noska, Carnita Tuomela, Pat Joyelle, and Bob and Cheryl Husby.

Nelson’s collecting trips to Finland, Germany, Holland, Korea and Japan were sponsored by International Studies and Graduate School Research Grants from UMD. Along with works he collected on the university’s behalf, Nelson donated over one-hundred works from his personal collection to UMD’s Tweed Museum of Art in 1993, establishing it as an important midwest center for post-war ceramic art. Nelson also funded the museum’s first endowment for ceramic-based art, with which it continues to expand the collection.

Nelson’s ashes were interred next to his late wife’s in Garrison, New York, where she had grown up, and where they lived between 1975-87.   As per his wishes, a formal service was not held. Taps were blown by the VFW in his honor.

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Jane Street Clayworks wants your story ideas!

Hi, there! Today, I’m storyboarding and I would like to add your story ideas to the list I’m compiling. What would you like to see or read on Jane Street Clayworks…related to ceramics or the creative process? Want to know more about particular techniques, styles, artists, events, materials? Your ideas are important to me and I believe in giving readers an opportunity to affect the direction of my blog. Please write your ideas in the comments section at the end of this post. Thank you so much! I look forward to seeing them. — Jan


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