New Acquisitions: 2016
Set of five dishes
Dating to around 1960, this set of five small dishes represents a poignant moment in the history of ceramics production in Kyoto, where the industry has flourished for more than four centuries. With sponsorship from imperially associated temples and wealthy merchants, the earliest wood-fired climbing kilns, designed for firing glazed ceramics at high temperatures, were built in the 1630s on the hillsides east of the city. With the rise of celebrity potters beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, Kyoto ceramics came to be seen as desirable luxuries. Even the Kyoto potters who invented the concept of sculptural ceramics in the 1940s perpetuated high standards of refined workmanship.
Citing pollution problems, however, the city of Kyoto banned the use of wood-fired kilns in 1968. Most of the massive brick-and-clay structures were torn down, to be replaced with smaller gas or electric kilns. Of the six wood-fired climbing kilns to survive, one belongs to the Iino family, several generations of whom marketed their products as Shukuhō ware. Built to replace an older structure just before the Kyoto ordinance was issued, this particular kiln has never been used.
Recently, a committed group of artists, archaeologists, urban planners, and community organizers united to preserve the remaining kilns. A March 2015 conference in Kyoto called attention to the crisis represented by the intention of Mr. Iino, now elderly, to sell his workshop. Along with cleaning and documenting the kiln, volunteers restored Iino’s entire establishment to a sense of its heyday. In the small display room where orders once had been taken, remaining samples were dusted and replaced in glass cases. That August, the restored workshop became the focal point of the annual Gojōzaka Pottery Festival. Visitors flocked to an open house, and several Kyoto restaurants served special meals using Shukuhō tableware.
Shortly before the pottery fair, Louise Cort, Freer|Sackler curator of ceramics, and Andrew M. Watsky, Princeton University professor of Japanese art and collaborator on Chigusa and the Art of Tea, visited the Shukuhō workshop. They especially admired the vintage samples displayed on the glass shelves. Shortly thereafter, Cort and Watsky discovered this set of five Shukuhō dishes in a flea market at Tōji Temple in Kyoto.
The dishes remain in their original wooden box, inscribed with the workshop’s name. In a restaurant or private household, they would have served a minor but specific role within a large repertory of tableware designed for different seasons and occasions. Precisely formed and trimmed, coated with a refined ivory-tinted glaze, decorated with restraint, and each bearing a nearly invisible impressed oval seal on the base, these dishes represent the unwavering high standards of Kyoto ceramic production.