Toshiko Takaezu - Ceramics

Matt Tuohy
By Matt Tuohy
Friday - January 02, 2009

A portion of about 60 ceramic pieces from ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu’s life’s work is currently on display through Feb. 22 at The Contemporary Museum at Makiki Heights (TCM) as part of the show, At 20: The Sharon and Thurston Twigg-Smith Collection of H.C. Westermann, to celebrate the museum’s 20th anniversary.

The works are from the museum’s collection, local collectors and a recent gift of 23 pieces from the 86-year-old artist herself. “TCM probably has the largest collection of her works (in a museum),” says one of the museum’s curators, Jay Jensen. “It ranges from the early ‘50s, probably done when she was a student here in Hawaii at UH.”

The ceramic works range in size, shape and color - some as large as 6 feet tall and others as small as a fist. Many of them have an opening at the top as small as a pinprick, a form she is given credit for creating, made from both wheel- and hand-thrown pottery techniques.

“She took the vessel and turned it into something that’s sculptural, not really functional,” says Jensen.“But she’s also known for her very expressionistic glazing.

“She’s using the clay surface as sort of a canvas - just the broad brush strokes, and Mrs. Takaezu letting the glaze run and pool and drip,” he continues.

This is a tricky if not risky way to color the surface of the pottery because there is no way to know what the final color will be until after the pieces are fired in a kiln.

“There’s a certain element of surprise and serendipity in working this way,” says Jensen.

Collectors or those physically handling the ceramics are the only ones who will notice another Takaezu trademark.

“Another signature thing is the rattle,” says Jensen, as he picks up a piece and shakes it to make a rattling noise. “What she does is when she’s making the piece is she’ll roll a little ball of clay, or sometimes multiple balls, and wrap it. The newspaper keeps it from sticking to the wall of the vessel, and burns away during the firing,” he continues.

Takaezu is Big Island born and raised, and currently resides in New Jersey. She started as a weaver and studied at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the University of Hawaii and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, and also spent time in Japan learning different techniques in pottery and ceramics. She has taught at several universities on the Mainland, and her works can be seen in several museums in Hawaii, on the Mainland and around the world.

“I would describe each of her works as a little world,” says Jensen. “You can go around it and everything is there in the form and on the surface. It’s just a matter of appreciating shape color, size, to a certain extent, and the glaze work.”

To attract art enthusiasts in their 20s, the museum continues to offer free admission to anyone age 20 to 29.

For more information on the exhibit or the museum, call 526-1322 or visit

The Local Canvas


“I don’t know how the heck you’re going to write this,” says Robyn Buntin, owner of Robyn Buntin of Honolulu Gallery, in reference to the exhibition Enso: The Timeless Circle, currently ongoing at his gallery.

Buntin had been explaining the complexity of the circular drawings for the past half hour, and finally came to this conclusion. “I suggest you simplify everything into superficial language, and simply say this is the exercise of Zen Buddhist priests,” he says. “They are expressing their religious and philosophical ideas in a visual way that can only be understood through intuition and a reaching out of the viewer.”

The collection features more than 60 pieces and is guest-curated by professor John Stevens, who also will be in the gallery every Saturday to hold discussions about the paintings. The exhibition also features what is believed to be the world’s oldest Enso by Jakuan Josho from more than 800 years ago.

Buntin flipped through a catalogue that features all the pieces in the collection - each circle is a single brush stroke with different degrees of ink weight, completion and intricacy. Some Ensos stop at just a simple circle, while others feature animals in the center, calligraphy around the shape or a family seal on various parts of the paper.

“It’s a very simple thing,” says Buntin. “It is how the circle is done - the Enso - it communicates who the person was who did it and his level of religious attainment.”

The family owned and operated shop features local art and ancient artifacts primarily from Japan, China and Tibet. The best way to think about it is like a wing of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, but everything is for sale.

“We’re not a tourist gallery,” says Buntin, encouraging all people who enjoy the art they sell to come and visit. “Although we handle antiques, we call ourselves a gallery because we’re interested in art quality rather than the age.”

Enso: The Timeless Circle is on display now through Jan. 27. Admission is free. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, visit or call 523-5913.


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