3 Sculptures in Collection
(1922-2011) United States
Works in Public Collections
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Honolulu Museum of Art, HI; De Young Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco, CA; Racine Art Museum, WI; American Craft Museum, NY, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
The Milk of Dreams, Cecilia Alemani, curator, 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy, 2022
Intuition and Reflection: The Ceramics of Toshiko Takaezu, Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA 2021
Objects: USA 2020, R and Company, New York, NY, 2021
Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West, Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, H!, 2017
Heaven and Earth: Toshiko Takaezu, Racine Art Museum, 2005
The Poetry of Clay: The Art of Toshiko Takaezu, Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA, 2004
Toshiko Takaezu Retrospective, National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan, 1995. Traveled to The Gallery of the City of Naha, Okinawa, Japan; Takaoko Museum, Japan; Seto Ceramics Museum, Nagoya, Japan.
The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence by Peter Held, University of North Carolina Press, 2011
Toshiko Takaezu: Earth in Bloom: A Tribute by Stanley Yake, University of Hawaii Press, 2007
Echoes of the Earth: Ceramics by Toshiko Takaezu by Scott Shields, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA, 2007
Toshiko Takaezu: Heaven and Earth by John Perreault, Racine Art Museum, WI, 2005
Born 1922 Pepeekeo, Hawaii
Died 2011 Honolulu, Hawaii
Toshiko Takaezu is recognized throughout the globe for her closed form ceramic sculptures whose surfaces reflect the freedom of America’s abstract expressionism and the free flow of Japanese ink drawing. Takaezu was a leader in the twentieth century post war reconceptualization of ceramics, moving it into the realm of fine art. Her five decade long career as an artist was complemented by 35 years of dedicated teaching at Cleveland Institute of Art and then Princeton University where she influenced generations of students.
Born to Japanese immigrant parents Takaezu was one of eleven children raised in a traditional Japanese household. She first worked with clay while employed by a commercial ceramic studio in Honolulu. There she met Carl Massa who recognized her talent and gave her sculpture lessons, encouraging her to explore her creative side. After attending painting classes at Honolulu Academy of Art she studied ceramics with Claude Horan, the founder of University of Hawaii’s ceramics program. Recognizing she needed to get further exposure, she left Hawaii to go to Michigan to study with acclaimed Finnish artist Maija Grotell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1951-54). Takaezu credits Grotell, who is also represented in the Jeri L. Wolfson Collection, with helping her to locate her own creative voice. After leaving Cranbrook Takaezu wanted to more deeply understand her eastern heritage so she went to Japan in 1955-56 with mother and sister. She stayed for 8 months, meeting other ceramicists and studying Zen Buddhism and the Japanese tea ceremony.
In the early 1950’s, Takaezu made functional ceramics including plates, bowls, bottle vases, bulbous tea pots. Untitled (charger plate) in the Wolfson collection was more than likely made during or just after her time at Cranbrook as the shape of the plate with its wide lip and the mirrored, organic pod shape in the center is reflective of Grotell’s influence. At Cranbrook Takaezu began to establish her own artistic identity, experimenting with the utilitarian pots and transforming them into multi-chambered and multi-spouted vessels. Functional pieces slowly gave way to larger, more expressive forms—the spouts on bottles began to disappear and round vessel shapes eventually became closed sculptural forms. The evolution was a natural one where sculpture evolved from a process of experimentation--refining, amending and simplifying the tradition of vessel making.
In the early 1970s Takaezu’s earliest closed forms were her “Moons,” stoneware spheres that were created by joining two halves of a round mold form. Referencing planetary forms, the surfaces are decorated with a wide range of textures and colors. The moons could be up to two feet in diameter like Untitled (moon), 2001 in the Jeri L. Wolfson collection. The rounded, closed form has no visible opening (There is a hole in the base so gases can escape, preventing an explosion in the kiln.) and allows Takaezu to glaze the entirety of the surface. Untitled has a complex surface with a variety of colors and textures creating a soft sphere that invites your touch. Takaezu often uses multiple techniques to apply the glaze. Here she has poured glazes in multiple directions with drips tracing around the globe. Additionally, there are brushed and spattered areas of smoky black and gray that move your eye from top to bottom and around the form. The brown of the stoneware clay is allowed to show through adding warmth and interest.
Untitled, 2000 is an example of Takaezu’s signature style—these too are rounded forms but they are elongated and end with a small nipple at the top. This form and the moon shape are her distinct expression and she played with these two shapes in an attempt to perfect them for some decades. They vary in size—some can be held in two hands, others are over six feet high. Some forms are thrown on the wheel and others are hand built or are a combination of the two approaches. From time to time Takaezu would write a word or two of poetry on the interior walls or would leave a small bead of clay in the pieces so when you held it there was a wonderful rattle. For Takaezu these closed forms were a metaphor for the human spirit—the dark, interior space powerful and mysterious and as important as the decorated exterior surface.
Takaezu spoke of these pieces as three dimensional paintings. “There is great possibility --Its sculpture and painting at the same time. You have the form made, it’s a three dimensional canvas and I can express myself with the brush and the glaze, that’s the challenge.” Using glazes in a similar fashion to how abstraction expressionists applied paint, the application creates a dynamic surface that invites you around the entirety of the form. Meant to be experienced slowly, Takaezu thought of these pieces as paintings that would slowly reveal themselves. While generally Takaezu’s glazes are soft colors inspired by nature she occasionally would do bright blue and purples pieces.
Takaezu was not only making a great deal of her own art but was also a dedicated educator and mentor. After teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1955 to 1964, she accepted a position at Princeton University (1967–92). She was beloved by her students who she expected a great deal from. She established her studio in Quakertown, New Jersey in 1975 and often invited her students there to witness how she lived on rural farm land, hoping to have them understand how “everything is connected to everything else.’ For Takaezu her food, the garden, the studio, the kiln were all part of her daily life. “It’s organic form so it’s all connected with the garden and the vegetables and the process of growing. They are all the same to me. One is not more important than the other, making pots, cooking and the garden…” After she retired from Princeton in 1992 Takaezu established an apprenticeship program in Quakertown where she would immerse her students in this synergistic approach. Today, her studio in Quakertown, the Toshiko Takaezu Studio, continues to be used as a creative workplace.
Throughout her career, Takaezu also pursued media apart from ceramics, including large-scale textiles and paintings, which extended her vocabulary of abstraction. Takaezu’s work ethic and her commitment to her own personal expression has been rewarded by accolades in the United States as well as in Japan. Her sculptural approach which simultaneously honored and challenged ceramic tradition helped transform how the established art world perceived work in clay. Renowned critic John Perrault noted in reviewing her Star Series (a group of 5-6 ft. tall sculptures) how important Takaezu’s contribution has been “[Peter] Voulkos and John Mason were the first to use scale to emphasize and affirm the sculptural possibilities of ceramics. Viola Frey continued the mission on the figurative front, but Takaezu, following her own path, both seals and enlarges the vessel, creating a new relationship to the body, the surrounding space and to art.”
Today, Toshiko Takeazu’s art can be found in major museums in the United States and her work often included in exhibitions and publications throughout the world.