Hamada Shoji and Barnard Leach were greatly responsible for the resurgence of the
handcraft pottery movement in the middle of the 20th century in much of both the
East and the West. Japan, recently opened to the world, was at the time going through
what England had already experienced..... the industrial dehumanization of life.
The return to handcraft ideals was a reaction to this.
Hamada and Leach were part of the founding fathers of the "Mingei" movement in Japan.
Mingei can be loosely translated as "folk craft". This movement placed great value
on the unselfconscious volume production of day-to-day objects by anonymous handcrafts
makers. They recognized the rare, true and enduring beauty in many of the objects
these people made.
This is not to say that either Leach or Hamada themselves actually were "mingei"
producers in the purest sense. Both of them were highly trained artists, and so could
never be that unselfconscious simple craftsperson. But they borrowed heavily from
the aesthetic standards of those folk craft works, and incorporated those ideas and
techniques into contemporary studio claywork that was distinctive and individual,
yet also born of the ages of human endeavor.
Hamada and Leach traveled around the world sharing ideas and techniques based in
Japanese philosophy and Mingei aesthetics. During their visits to the USA, they had
a huge impact on American ceramics in the 50's and early 60's. That influence continues,
since most of the teachers of ceramics that John's generation encountered were steeped
heavily in the Hamada/Leach tradition. John continues to share those traditions and
ideas with his students.
John studied from afar every detail he could find on Hamada Shoji's work. Research
in the library, traveling to exhibitions, collecting pictures, and reading books
helped to supplement his more formal education. The best two books he found were
"Hamada, Potter" by Bernard Leach and "The Way and Work of Shoji Hamada" by Susan
In 1971 a major broadcast film about Hamada, "The Art of the Potter", was released
and that excellent documentation of his life and work was the best material that
John could ever find on Hamada-sensei in the West. Viewed repeatedly, John absorbed
all that the film had to give. Here were images of Hamada throwing, glazing, and
firing, with Bernard Leach talking about the philosophy behind Hamada's work and
the Mingei movement. Not having resources at the time to actually travel to Japan,
this vicarious approach to study had to suffice. John hoped that he would someday
get to Mashiko and meet Hamada.
In late 1978, word of Hamada Shoji's death reached the United States.
This interest in Japanese aesthetics gradually broadened, and John studied everything
he could find here in America on Japanese pottery and pottery techniques. He also
looked a bit at sumi brush painting, and the wood arts. He learned many Japanese
cooking techniques. He took formal college-level Asian art history courses, and went
to workshops featuring Japanese-related techniques.
American ceramics terminology is peppered with Japanese language names for techniques
because of the influence of Japanese potters over the years, including that of Hamada
Shoji. Because of this, in 1995, John began to study the language a little.