15 seconds and 60 years

Tomoo Hamada is the grandson of Shoji Hamada famous in the mid 20th century for helping to re-introduce folk pottery to Japan (the Mingei Movement) and for establishing his renowned partnership with English potter, Bernard Leach.

I heard Tomoo speaking at the Japanese Embassy in London a couple of weeks ago at a celebration event marking the centenary of the links made between Hamada and Leach - in particular, the ongoing collaboration between their respective potteries at Mashiko and St Ives.

Tomoo, now a ceramicist in his own right,  recalled several moments as a young child growing up with Shoji, watching him at work in the atmospheric wooden buildings at Mashiko - and one memory, in particular, stood out.

A young Tomoo was helping Shoji in the studio one day, decorating wares in preparation for a firing. Shoji often admired Tomoo's playful, free style with the brush. This looseness was a trademark of Hamada's own wares and he enjoyed seeing his grandson quickly work his way through the vessels, the youngster often beating him in the challenge to 'finish first'.

Tomoo then recalled what his grandfather said about brushwork - 'I describe it as 15 seconds and 60 years - it is possible to make quick brush strokes like you are doing, which are very good - but it also takes experience and age to get it just right.'

Returning to my studio to begin new work, I realise the benefits of this kind of playfulness - looking at tests from 12 months ago, finding them fresh again - I hope to capture their original essence but with the added benefit of another year's experience.


A tenmoku plate by Shoji Hamada. (philrogerspottery.com) 


My stoneware tests.