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Shoji Hamada
(Japanese, Tokyo 1894–1978)
Square Dish
c. 1970
stoneware with trailed glaze decoration, 2 1/4" x 11" x 11"
Gift of Glenn C. Nelson

Shoji Hamada is thought to be one of the greatest Japanese folk art (mingei) ceramists of the 20th century, and in 1955, he was one of a very few artists designated a living “national treasure.” Most often in the form of modest bowls, platters and containers, his functional pottery combined the simple forms of traditional Japanese, Korean and Chinese ceramics with expressively brushed surface decoration. Along with several other examples of the artist’s work, Square Dish (ca. 1970), was collected in Japan by the well-known American ceramist (and founder of the ceramic program at the University of Minnesota Duluth) Glenn C. Nelson, who donated the bulk of his collection to the Tweed Museum of Art in 1991.

Formed by hand in a shallow mold, the square is repeated as a decorative motif in the center of the dish and on its corners. A contrasting element of two botanical images within pale yellow semi-circular shapes appears in the central bottom section of the dish. Born in Tokyo in 1894, Hamada first aspired to follow in the footsteps of his father, who had studied to become a painter. At the age of fifteen Hamada happened upon a quote by the French post-Impressionist painter Renoir, which inspired him to dedicate his artistic ambitions to the study and creation of useful objects: “If half the would-be painters in France were transformed into craftsmen, it would benefit both painting and the crafts; the number of painters would be decreased, and the decorative arts would get able people.”

Hamada embarked on an intense education in the art and craft of ceramics, with formal training at the Tokyo Technical College, Hakuba Institute and Kyoto Ceramic Testing Institute. In 1918, Hamada met the British artist and ceramic enthusiast Bernard Leach, who introduced him to Soetsu Yanagi, founder of the Japanese folkcraft movement. Hamada’s meeting with Leach and Yanagi, and his subsequent travels to folk art centers throughout Japan, China and Korea, inspired in him a love for folk art pottery. Along with Soetsu Yanagi and his former classmate Kanjiro Kawai, Hamada helped to organize the first museum devoted to Japanese folkcrafts. In combination with his formal training in glazes, kiln construction and technique, Hamada’s self-directed study of rural potteries laid the groundwork for his unique contribution to contemporary ceramics. Beginning in 1920, Hamada began traveling to the west to study and demonstrate, and soon his influence extended worldwide, eventually effecting the evolution of the ceramic arts in post-WWII America.

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