New Acquisitions: 2016
Bizen ware bottle
This bottle’s bright streaks—known as hidasuki, or “fire cords”—trace back to happy accidents in medieval kilns. In the early twentieth century, potters revived techniques that had made unglazed Bizen stoneware so coveted as tea utensils in the sixteenth century. One distinctive quality of many early Bizen wares is striping, the inadvertent result of using rice straw bundles to separate vessels in the kiln. Incinerated by the firing, the straw left vivid red streaks on the clay. Modern potters recreated this effect as an intentional design component.
Bizen potter Isezaki Jun (born 1936) is a master of hidasuki, as seen on this robust bottle. He intensified the effect by shielding the bottle’s neck. Areas that Isezaki protected from the flames appear golden-brown under the irregular red stripes. Where it was exposed, the clay is dark brown, and the rice straw melts into trails of natural ash glaze.
His mastery of classic Bizen techniques is just one reason why Isezaki was designated a Living National Treasure in 2004—making him the fifth Bizen potter to earn this status. In the early 1960s, he and his elder brother, Mitsuru, also a potter, became the first to recreate an ancient single-chamber kiln (anagama) that their father had discovered near the family studio. Their kiln’s capacity to enhance firing effects led to widespread use of the anagama in today’s Bizen.
Isezaki is equally known for his dynamic sculptural pieces and murals—decisive departures from established formats. Over his sixty-year career, he has trained numerous apprentices, some of whom now lead the next generation of Bizen potters. A measure of Isezaki’s commitment to his pupils, and to the future of Bizen ceramics, is his work to build and operate two anagama at Oxford University. He wants his students to experience making pots elsewhere in the world and to bring that energy back to the Bizen valley.
With this bottle, the Sackler collection represents four modern Bizen master potters. The others are Kaneshige Toyo (1886–1967) and Fujiwara Kei (1899–1983), the first two Bizen potters designated Living National Treasures, and Mori Togaku (born 1937). In the Freer Gallery, eighteen jars, tea utensils, tableware, and sculptural display pieces represent historical Bizen ware, dating from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. Within these two collections, we aspire to show the full historical range of production at selected Japanese kilns.