Lighting a Fire The Museums at W&L invites visitors to reflect on “Born of Fire: Contemporary Japanese Women Ceramic Artists,” on display through April 29.
“I believe you cannot suppress the human impulse to create and, as we can see here in this incredible exhibit, once a fire is lit, you may not be able to contain its flames.”
~ Janet Ikeda, associate professor of Japanese
“Born of Fire: Contemporary Japanese Women Ceramic Artists,” the latest museum exhibition on display in the Watson Galleries, invites visitors to consider the contemporary works in the context of the multi-faceted ceramics collection housed on Washington and Lee University’s campus. The exhibition which is free and open to the public, is on display through April 29.
“The artwork in the ‘Born of Fire’ exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to view contemporary and experimental Japanese ceramics by women artists in juxtaposition to the functional and ceremonial space of our Senshin’an Tea Room,” said Pat Hobbs, W&L’s senior curator of art, who organized the exhibition. “Tea wares have traditionally been made only by men in Japanese society, and so it is interesting to me to see how women have taken the same raw material of clay and run with it as modern artists, exploding with creativity and innovation.”
Organized by the Crow Museum of Asian Art of The University of Texas at Dallas and curated by Jacqueline Chao, the Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Asian Art at the Dallas Museum of Art, the exhibition draws from the collection of Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz, whose collection of major Japanese modern and contemporary ceramics is the largest collection contemporary Japanese ceramics found outside of Japan. Women have traditionally played only a minor role in Japan’s long history in the medium of clay. Until the mid-20th century, ceramic studios in Japan were traditionally family-run establishments in which men controlled most aspects of the production or the processing of the clay to the crafting and marketing of unfinished works. This practice began to change in the post-World War II era.
“When a new generation of self-taught female ceramicists began to emerge, they managed their own studios and brought a new aesthetic and technical sensibility to the field,” said Chao.
During her talk prior to the exhibition’s opening reception on March 8, Chao emphasized the interconnectedness of the community of contemporary female ceramicists in Japan, noting that the careers and personal lives of many of the artists represented in Born of Fire overlap. The exhibition itself overlaps with the unique Senshin’an Tea Room inside the Watson Galleries, which has existed since 2006. The Tea Room and the galleries in the Reeves Museum of Ceramics display a number of 20th-century examples of traditional tea bowls and vessels in the Reeves Collection, made by the renowned Welsh potter Phil Rogers. These were generously gifted to the museum in 2013 by alumnus Hal Higginbotham and his wife, Barbara, ardent supporters of the Tea Room.
“It’s fascinating to contemplate the ceramic work of these contemporary Japanese women artists – not only in juxtaposition with the traditional tearoom, but also in relation to the Museums’ own collection of historic Asian export and European ceramics,” said Hobbs. “Many of the works in ‘Born of Fire,’ while thoroughly modern and non-functional, still relate culturally and artistically to those objects found in the Reeves Museum.”
At the exhibition’s opening reception, Janet Ikeda, associate professor of Japanese at W&L and faculty adviser to the exhibition, remarked that it was fitting the event coincided with International Women’s Day. “I believe you cannot suppress the human impulse to create,” said Ikeda, “and, as we can see here in this incredible exhibit, once a fire is lit, you may not be able to contain its flames.”