Yakishime Story

Tanegashima ceramics of France

0102Source-de-terre


How can a piece of pottery be designed and fired without losing the natural feel of clay, water and fire the elements which unite in its creation ?

The search for ceramics that remain close to their origin, that even enhance their materials and processes, has made potters turn to Japan where these ideals have been valued for hundreds of years. In such a pursuit Christine Pedley and Steen Kepp first went to Japan in 1974 and worked in a studio at Mashiko.  In 1977,  Steen returned and made a critical stop at Japan’s southernmost  island,  Kyushu.  There the youngest member of the 13th generation of Karatsu potters,  Nakazato Takashi, was producing astonishing ceramics and experimenting with clays, kiln structure and firing.  His unglazed
Ceramics had a strength and native vigour, a richness of colouring, a shift of
textures which  were unique and unforgettable for the visiting Danish potter.

In 1971 Nakazato Takashi, from one of Japan’s most esteemed traditional potter families,  had responded to the call of the city fathers of Tanegashima,
A small tropical island just off the coast of Kyushu, to establish a pottery centre for them. This gave him the opportunity to develop an entirely new ceramic style distinct from that his family had been producing since the mid-sixteenth century.  His knowledge of clay and firing was challenged . He sought to produce wares which altered the clay least of all,  brought out its hidden
Beauties, and showed forth the effect of the licking flames which later on appeared to engulf the pieces during their firing.  Working with a simple ,
Tunnel type kiln and local clays he fired his kiln to a high temperature for
Several days and nights, sometimes a week or more,  burning large quantities of wood.  At times , to alter the temperature and kiln atmosphere, he injected
Water into the kiln.  These processes combined to produce a ware unlike any seen before.  There were sleek spots of natural glazing from the deposit of the wood ash, a rainbow of earthy colours from the clay’s metallic oxides, shifts in
Colours and tones where the swirling flames contacted the slay.  Within a year this remarkable ware was attracting attention and being exhibited in Tokyo and Osaka.  Having fulfilled his agreement to establish a pottery which was identified as Tanegashima ware, in 1975 he returned to his native city, Karatzu,
And constructed on its outskirts a Tanegashima style kiln known as Ryutagama

Two years later when Steen Kepp, a Danish potter who had been working for five years in the ancient French folk pottery village of La Borne,  witnessed the inner spirit of the clay and fire these Tanegashima wares possessed, he resolved to add this style of ceramics to the stonewares he and his wife, Chris ,
Had been making. Chris had constructed a stoneware kiln at La Borne in 1970
Two years before Steen arrived there.  Even to day the Kepps continue to use this downdraft kiln for more traditional stonewares having exceeded 200 firings of it.  Upon returning to France,  Steen Kepp began construction of a
Tanegashima style kiln, a long, sloping single-chamber kiln of a type the Japanese call  - teppo gama – ( gun-barrel kiln ), with the capacity of having

water injected into the chamber during the firing process.  He  was careful to relate his La Borne Tanegashima kiln to that at Karatsu City, and was assisted
via correspondence,  by an American apprentice of Nakazato Takashi ,  Richard   Bresnahan.  To day only five such kilns exist  worldwide---three in Japan, one in La Borne (1978), and one build by Bresnahan in the central United  States (1979).

The Tanegashima process and products are sometimes referred to as  YAKISHIME , suggesting the capturing or binding of the very fire into the pottery.  The demands such production make on the potters binds their life style to the creative process---digging and refining the clays, fabricating the wares, stacking and firing the kiln.  An integrated fusion of the potters’ life style
and ceramic  production is needed---all necessarily simple, natural and dedicated to the inner spirit or nature of things.  Because the local clay is used with only limited processing, and shapes are kept forthright and elemental, these ceramics require the potter to have a sensitivity and focus
impossible in a commercial type production.  In order to call the clay back to its origins, the potter needs to remain a personal interior harmony in addition to technical mastery.  The rhythm of seasons complements the rhythms of production and firing.  The potter makes ceramics, but in another sense  the
ceramics make the potter.   The stark, elemental wares evolve through a dialogue of  creation.  Despite their boldness,  Tanegashima pieces are warm and attractive,  with the universal appeal beautiful wood or stone might have

Both Chris and Steen produce ceramics for the Tanegashima kiln.  Chris also continues making handsome glazed stoneware for their earlier kiln. The Kepps
Have brought a new and sensitive dimension of clay production to the village
of La Borne which for centuries has been rooted in the sincere and competent making of traditional French folk ceramics.

Sister Johanna Becker
Professor in Arts. PH.D. College of St. Benedict St. Joseph, Minnesota. USA.

This introduction was written in 1982  on the occasion of the exhibition at ‘Le Centre d’Art Floral Ikebana‘ of l’Ecole Ohara, rue d’Armaillé, Paris , with the stoneware ceramics of Cristine Pedley and Tanegashima style ceramics by Steen Kepp.

Postscript:
The Tanegashima firing is a stoneware firing where the pieces eventually are embedded in burning embers. This way of firing is also refered to as : Namban.
S.K.