I write about art, lecture about art and curate art exhibitions, but I don’t really make art. As a child I loved drawing but, sadly, my art education ended at age 12 as my middle school had no art classes. However, at various points in my life, I’ve tried my hand at different types of art making. When I was living in Japan I took classes in flower arrangement, Japanese calligraphy and pottery. I particularly loved making pots, mostly because I so deeply admire Japanese ceramics that it felt like such a privilege to be able to learn once a week from someone who had devoted his life to making such beautiful objects. Many years later, I longed to make ceramics again and ideally Japanese-style ceramics. One Halloween, I had the tremendous fortune to meet a teacher who had learned ceramics in Japan, lived two blocks from our house and took students. We were trick-or-treating with Theo, at one of our stops, a tall, cheerful woman with bright red hair opened the door and immediately recognized me from Pacific Asia Museum, where I had worked for many years. When I discovered she was a ceramic artist, I asked her if I could join her classes. For a couple of years, I went to Julie’s studio once a week or so and sat throwing at one of her electric wheels in her back yard, an idyllic spot with a tranquil vista of flowering trees, potted succulents and a blue jay who would drink regularly from a bowl she kept filled with water.
I made a lot of bowls over the years, but didn’t advance much as it became increasingly difficult to find time for a hobby, but I always enjoyed chatting with Julie about Japan, the art world, our families, sake and the Japanese Buddhist nun-artist Otagaki Rengetsu, who we both admire and who inspired Julie’s own work. Our families became friends and enjoyed many a gathering in her fig tree-filled front yard. Sadly, she had her husband Marty have sold their home of many years and are moving to a smaller home in a retirement community an hour or so from here. Our neighborhood won’t be the same without them, but we will find other ways to see each other, probably involving Japanese art. This weekend, Julie will be packing up her home, and although I know the last thing she’ll want is more stuff, I wanted to give her a gift today, something related to Japan and ceramics, but something not too large. I chose a tiny book from my collection about mamezara, or “bean plates,” tiny Japanese ceramic dishes measuring about 2-3 inches in diameter. Hopefully, she’ll have room for it in one of her boxes as she prepares to move to their new home. I look forward to visiting them there soon and to toasting “Kampai!” with them both to celebrate friendship, fresh starts, Japan and art made from the earth.