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Shōji Hamada: A Japanese Potter in Ditchling

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft marks Japanese master potter Shōji Hamada’s first visit to Ditchling

Sat 22 October 2022 - Sun 16 April 2023

In 1921, young Japanese potter Shōji Hamada (1894 -1978) travelled with his friend Bernard Leach to the village of Ditchling in East Sussex. The pair journeyed from St Ives, where they had set up their acclaimed pottery with a traditional Japanese climbing kiln – the first noborigama to be built in the West, but it was the art and craft community in Ditchling that really struck a chord with Hamada.

Shōji Hamada: A Japanese Potter in Ditchling captures a key moment in early 20th-century art and craft – a collaboration and consolidation between East and West, and the emergence of the studio pottery movement. It brings together significant works from 5 public UK collections by Shōji Hamada, Bernard Leach, William Staite Murray, Martin Brothers, O Kenzan VI, Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie and many more eminent figures in both the Mingei and studio pottery movements.

Letters between Bernard Leach and Ditchling weaver Ethel Mairet also feature, evidencing long-standing respect for one another’s work, and connecting them with other key players in early 20th century modern craft and design. The exhibition evokes the atmosphere of Gospels, Mairet’s home and workshop, that Hamada so enjoyed; a magical marriage of contemporary ceramics and textiles interspersed with textiles from her historic international collection. Examples of weaving from Mairet’s travels to South Asia demonstrate the influence of the East on the Ditchling craft community.

The museum’s William & Margaret Rowling Gallery spotlights work by two leading contemporary ceramic artists.

Jennifer Lee: Made in Japan

Jennifer Lee, Mashiko Group, 2019, © Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art

In 2014, Lee left London equipped only with her favourite tools from her studio, to take up a residency in one of Japan’s oldest pottery regions. At Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Centre, with an enormous studio and crucially no exhibition deadline, Lee, who works slowly and intensively, felt able to explore and investigate new techniques and materials. She worked more quickly, put in exceptionally long days, and even took part in firing wood fired anagama kilns. It was here that she broke away from a 30-year tradition of hand-building with white stoneware. She began to throw pots on a wheel using used red stoneware and other Shigaraki clays and ventured away from vessels, creating rectangular slabs.

Lee has visited Japan many times over the past three decades, and in 2019, was invited to be guest artist in residence at Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art, situated in Shoji Hamada’s town of Mashiko. There she continued exploring the use of different clays, this time local clays which were dug for her. She returns to Japan in 2022 for a solo exhibition in Kyoto.

Jennifer Lee has had retrospective exhibitions in museums in Sweden and Scotland and her ceramics are represented in over 45 public collections worldwide including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum, the V&A and the British Museum.

In 2018 she was awarded the LOEWE Craft Prize and in 2021 was awarded an OBE.

Tomoo Hamada

Tomoo Hamada, © The Stratford Gallery

As the grandson of Shoji Hamada, and second son of Shinsaku Hamada, it is hardly surprising that Tomoo took to making pots. Born in Mashiko, he lives and works on the original compound built by his grandfather. He became Director of the Shoji Hamada Memorial Mashiko Sankokan Museum in 2012. In 2018, he was commissioned to make works for Loewe’s flagship store in Tokyo and his work is internationally collected. He has pieces in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts in Japan.

Tomoo studied sculpture at Tama Art University in Tokyo. Following the devastating Tohoku earthquake in 2011, he was instrumental in the rebuilding of the Mashiko pottery community.

One of Tomoo’s earliest memories is from when he was three, playing with clay in his grandfather’s studio.

Images L-R: Shoji Hamada © The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery; maker unknown, Yi dynasty © Crafts Study Centre; Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie © Crafts Study Centre

Image of Shoji Hamada by Kiya Sugiyama.

Shōji Hamada: A Japanese Potter in Ditchling is supported by the Weston Loan programme with Art Fund, Arts Council England and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

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