Visions of Shigaraki, Japan

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En Iwamura, a ceramic artist currently residing in Shigaraki, shares his experience working in the cultural heritage site and the benefits and challenges of living in the region. This essay is part of our three-part feature on the cultural heritage site Shigaraki. GET TO KNOW SHIGARAKI written by Michio Sugiyama provides insights into the historical, cultural, and traditional aspects of Shigaraki, and Hitomi Shibata shares a personal essay, Shigaraki - Our Journey in Clay, reflecting on her time living, working, and making art in Shigaraki.
Miho Museum: photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama
Local train station - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama

I was born in Kyoto, Japan, and received my BFA and MFA at the Kanazawa College of Art and Craft in Kanazawa. I decided to study in the US and received my second MFA at Clemson University. After living and working in the US for six years, I returned to Japan and moved to Shigaraki. 

Shigaraki is not far from my hometown (about 30-40 min driving distance) and I found myself missing time spent with my family while I was abroad. I also want to raise a family with my wife in Japan.

While traveling and working at residencies, I felt like a nomad. Every time I moved, I had to also transport all my studio equipment, tools, and glazes and I found this to be too burdensome and prevented me from developing a consistent studio practice. I wanted to find the perfect place to settle and Shigaraki was the place as it not only has an international ceramic reputation but also because of the quietness and peace of the atmosphere necessary for my practice. I moved to Shigaraki in 2018 as a resident artist at Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.

Shigaraki is a small village located in southeast Shiga prefecture, and known as one of six ancient ceramic kiln sites in Japan. The environment is pretty calm, surrounded by mountains, and the population is small. The image is like a picturesque Japanese traditional old village. My first impression was “What a beautiful and peaceful place!” It was nice to stay away from the business of the city and have a place to focus solely on my work. I quickly fell in love with the city.

Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama
Palace ruins Shigaraki - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama

Of course, even with the positive aspects of Shigaraki, there are issues with this small village in the countryside of Japan. A key issue is the low population density. Getting to know the community and communicating with local people, I began to realize the reality of this place. After many years of shrinking demands for Japanese ceramic industries, there are so many factories and businesses that are closing, risking the future of this cultural heritage site. The younger generation of local people is leaving Shigaraki for a bigger city to seek their own life therefore, their heritage, passed down from generation to generation is disappearing. So, there are many empty houses and factories but people have no idea how they should approach these challenges.

En Iwamura in his studio in Shigaraki
En Inwamura's ceramic in his studio in Shigaraki
En Inwamura's ceramic in his studio in Shigaraki
En Inwamura's ceramic in his studio in Shigaraki

As an artist who works at this cultural heritage site, I would like to use existing resources and am thinking about the potential of the town. Thinking about all the empty factories, and houses, I would like to see the younger generations of people utilize the opportunities Shigaraki provides and create their own creative and innovative community here. For instance, I bought an abandoned gift shop and renovated it as my studio. I hope to see some kind of new creators’ community here in the future to preserve Shigaraki and its culture, traditions, and history.


En Iwamura

En Iwamura was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1988. Under the influence of both parents who are painters, he grew up in an artistic environment. After graduating with a BFA in craft at the Kanazawa College of Art and Craft, he began to be interested in the international Art world. he considers that ceramic has the potential to be one of the international languages, that can cross different cultures, people, and countries. En Iwamura's current research investigates how he can influence and alter the experience of viewers who occupy space with his installation artworks.


SHIGARAKI - Our Journey in Clay

Hitomi Shibata, a ceramic artist and author of the book Wild Clay, shares a personal essay about her time living, working, and making art in Shigaraki. This essay is part of our three-part feature on the cultural heritage site Shigaraki, aiming to provide the most robust coverage of this historically rich and significant region. Read the first feature - Get to Know Shigaraki written by Michio Sugiyama, which provides insights into the historical, cultural, and traditional aspects of Shigaraki. Stay tuned for the last essay written by Shigaraki-based ceramic artist En Iwamura which will be published later this month. Subscribe to MoCA/NY and follow us on social media to keep up-to-date on upcoming features and interviews!
Takuro and Hitomi in front of our Shigaraki style Anagama plus a chamber wood kiln in Seagrove, NC. Photo taken in 2022 - photo courtesy: Takuro and Hitomi Shibata
Wheel Throwing studio at the Shigaraki Ceramic Research Institute. This research center provides pottery training programs to support succession planning in Shigaraki - photo courtesy: Mr. Hiroaki Takahata, A Chief of Ceramics Design Department, Shigaraki Ceramic Research Institute

I first became involved with ceramics in 1990 as a craft education major at Okayama University in Japan. I found ceramics to be the most challenging medium, so I worked diligently to become proficient. In 1996, after earning a master's degree in art education with a concentration in ceramics, I became an artist-in-residence at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, which is the most prestigious international ceramic art center in Japan.

Shigaraki, a small town steeped in a thousand-year legacy of pottery, was one of the few places in Japan where young potters who were not from pottery families could learn how to make a living, and this experience led me to pursue a career as a professional potter.

During my time in Shigaraki, I held a variety of positions, from employee at a local pottery studio to sales representative at retail and wholesale pottery galleries, but my most educational and useful job experience was as a research assistant at the Ceramic Research Institute.

My thirst for knowledge and practical experience was insatiable, but as a young female potter, I faced numerous challenges. It was during this period that I met Takuro Shibata, who would become my lifelong partner and teammate.

Takuro had earned a degree in applied chemistry at Doshisha University in Kyoto and had been working as an engineer in his hometown of Osaka. However, in 1997, he seized an opportunity to become an apprentice at Tanikan Gama, one of Shigaraki's oldest pottery studios.

His apprenticeship not only allowed him to hone his craft but also facilitated interactions with numerous other potters and ceramics businesses in this historic pottery town.

Together, we leased a modest studio space in Shigaraki's historic kiln site area and embarked on our journey as independent potters. While we sold our pottery in galleries, we also juggled various other jobs. At times, we engaged in mass production for the commercial market, although it wasn't our preferred path, it was a necessary step to make a living. Our true passion lay in the Shigaraki style of wood firing, and we took advantage of every opportunity to participate in wood firings and refine our craft. Despite being young and strapped for resources, we poured our hearts into chasing our dreams.

Old Noborigama’s details - photo courtesy: Takuro Shibata
Old Noborigama on the pottery trail - photo courtesy: Takuro and Hitomi Shibata

Shigaraki has a flourishing ceramic industry, supported by a diverse range of auxiliary businesses. These encompass local clay companies, clay cooperatives, tool manufacturers, kiln builders, glaze producers, machine workshops, box makers, freelance wheel throwers, wholesale enterprises, and a multitude of shops and galleries. 

Additionally, the town hosts several educational ceramic art organizations such as the Shigaraki Ceramic Research Institute and the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. These institutions offer programs for ceramic material research, pottery training, and cultural exchange, regularly hosting lectures, workshops, and events that foster connections between professional ceramic artists and potters from local, national, and international communities. This exposure inspired us to seek opportunities abroad as we aimed to further our careers in ceramics.

The Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park’s International Clay Studio accommodates about 10 ceramic artists from Japan and abroad. The artists work together to create a diverse atmosphere in the old pottery town by sharing studio space, accommodations, firings, information, and cultural exchange. photo courtesy: Takuro and Hitomi Shibata
One of the biggest clay companies, Seido, in Shigaraki. There are many filter press machines in their huge building - photo courtesy: Takuro and Hitomi Shibata
A view of Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park’s Clay studio from their wood kiln site - photo courtesy: Takuro and Hitomi Shibata

Today, Shigaraki is a unique pottery village that blends the old and the new, tradition and innovation, and toughness and kindness. While it was not our permanent home, it was a place where we honed our skills, deepened our understanding of materials, and expanded our knowledge. It is a powerful and special place that attracts people from all over the world. Now, there are many new businesses, shared studios, and interesting events taking place in Shigaraki. They are seeds for a new era and a hope for the future of the ceramic field.

Tanikangama was one of the oldest and biggest pottery studios in Shigaraki, and Takuro studied there as an apprentice for several years - photo courtesy: Takuro and Hitomi Shibata
One of the remaining old kilns in Shigaraki. This old Noborigama was well maintained and tourists can see it on the pottery trail - photo courtesy: Takuro and Hitomi Shibata


Hitomi Shibata

Hitomi Shibata is a Japanese ceramic artist based in Seagrove, North Carolina. She holds a Bachelor of Education in Art and Craft, and a Master of Education in Fine Art, Ceramics from Okayama University in Japan. In 2001-2002, she received a Rotary Foundation Scholarship to study at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. She has been a member of the International Academy of Ceramics since 2017, and is a co-author of Wild Clay, published by Bloomsbury Publishing, London, UK in 2022.


Instagram: @studiotouya @hitomishibataceramics

GET TO KNOW: Shigaraki, Japan

MoCA/NY asked three Japanese ceramic artists and academics to collaborate on our feature exploring the traditions, culture, and history of the significant cultural heritage site Shigaraki in Japan. Stay tuned for Hitomi Shibata's personal essay about her time working and participating in the artist-in-residence program at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, and En Iwamura's essay about his experience working as an artist in Shigaraki.

Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama
Michio Sugiyama, who formally worked at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, currently operates as Director of “Shigaraki Share Studio.” Sugiyama, with his extensive knowledge of the region, answers critical questions about the cultural heritage site. 


Shigaraki, one of Japan’s Six Ancient Kilns Sites, is one of the oldest pottery-producing regions in Japan. Shigaraki was a crossroads for transportation between Nara and Yamashiro of the central Kinai region and the Tokai region (Nagoya area).

Since Shigaraki is near Kyoto and Nara, where the tea ceremony was born, Shigaraki teaware developed naturally. With rich deposits of high-quality clay, Shigaraki is an ideal location for potters.

Shiga Prefecture on MoCA/NY's Ceramic World Destinations Map
Old Shigaraki Ware from 15th C. - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama

The Koka region (the southernmost part of Shiga prefecture), where Shigaraki ware is fired, is adjacent to the Iga region (Mie prefecture), and it is said that Shigaraki-ware and Iga-ware are very similar, but this is because they are made from the same clay layer of the Old Biwa Lake layer, which gives a unique clay flavor known as "Old Shigaraki.'' The rustic and warm feeling of the clay is due to this Old Lake Biwa layer.

By the end of the medieval period, Shigaraki potters were making jars, vats, and mortars and firing them in anagama kilns. Shigaraki had begun to develop its unique style as one of Japan’s pottery-producing centers.

Shigaraki-ware is known for the special quality of its clay. By firing in anagama or noborigama wood-firing kilns, effects such as warm, reddish hiiro flashing, deep green natural ash biidoro, or burnt black koge can be achieved. As a form of art using the media of clay and fire, Shigaraki pottery communicates the Japanese aesthetic of wabi and sabi to the present age.

Old Climbing Kiln - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama
Firing Anagama N. Shinohara - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama

The rusticity of Shigaraki ware expresses the emotions of the Japanese people. For this reason, since the Muromachi (1338-1573) and Momoyama periods (1573-1603), Shigaraki teaware evolved along with the tea ceremony and was prized by tea masters and people of culture. Charcoal braziers with namako glazeware for tea ceremonies became increasingly popular through the Muromachi, Azuchi, and Momoyama periods. 

In the Edo period (1603-1867), tea jars were produced in large numbers, and as a commercial infrastructure developed, daily cooking ware such as plum jars, miso jars, sake bottles, and flameware began to be produced in mass quantities.

In the Meiji era (1868-1912), Shigaraki potters began to produce hibachi charcoal braziers glazed with the newly developed namako mottled blue glaze. These hibachi proved to be extremely popular, at one point garnering a more than 90% share of the market across Japan. In addition to hibachi, Shigaraki produced small wares such as ritual vessels, sake vessels, and tea ware, along with large wares such as storage jars in ever-increasing levels of both quantity and quality.

In the Showa era (1926-1989), particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, one result of Japan’s rapid economic growth was the development and popularization of electric and oil heaters. The rise in the standard of living along with changes in the Japanese lifestyle meant a severe decline in the demand for hibachi, a catastrophic development for the Shigaraki economy.

Kaiseki cuisine served in Shigaraki ware bowls (UOSEN)
Kaiseki cuisine served in Shigaraki Ware (UOSEN)
Small sushi served in Shigaraki plate (UOSEN)
Cooking rice in the hot pot (UOSEN)

However, the innovation of local craftsmen combined with traditional techniques resulted in the adaptation of the namako glaze to ceramic planters. The emphasis of production shifted to planters for high-quality bonsai and other plants. These new products were well received by consumers.

Shigaraki ware was designated as a traditional craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of the Japanese Government in 1976, and in April 2017, Shigaraki ware was certified as a Japanese heritage as one of the "Six Ancient Kilns of Japan.'' 

Product of Shigaraki with Flower Arrangement

Flower Vase - N. Shinohara
Flower Vase - N. Shinohara


Organizations in Shigaraki today include the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, the Shigaraki Ceramic Research Institute,and the Shigaraki Pottery Industrial Cooperative Union,which is comprised of over 100 manufacturers.

The Shigaraki Pottery Wholesale Commercial Union has over 40 wholesalers, and the Shigaraki Art and Craft Ceramists Association is made up of over 80 ceramic artists.

By fully utilizing its high-quality clay and technological tradition, Shigaraki ware enhances our enjoyment of life. Shigaraki is now striving to become a world center for ceramics, creating a new culture of ceramic art based on historical tradition.

Tanuki Figures - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama

Shigaraki today produces utilitarian ware such as planters, flower vases, and tableware, as well as exterior ceramics such as architectural tile, garden furniture, and decorative ornaments such as tanuki (raccoon), dogs, and frogs. 

Shigaraki ceramics are rooted in our daily life and new technologies are developed in response to demand. Shigaraki clay is highly refractory, and while high in plasticity, it is also strong, making it ideal for both large-scale ceramics and small work.

The ability to develop and construct in a variety of ways is one of the unique characteristics of Shigaraki ware.

Anagama Firied Bowl(Y.Sako)
Vase (N. Shinohara)
Mizusashi N.Shinohara

There is also a characteristic phenomenon of kiln change that is often seen in old Shigaraki. One of its characteristics is that the surface of the vessel is rough and contains many fine stone grains (quartz grains, feldspar grains, and silica sand).

In addition to ash glaze, there are many types of glazes, such as the “sea cucumber glaze'' seen on flower pots and braziers, probably because there are few painted products, and the molding, drying, and firing techniques used to create large items are also typical of Shigaraki ware. 

Another characteristic of Shigaraki ware is that you can enjoy a wide variety of pottery, such as yakishime and kohiki, depending on the artist. Therefore, it can be said that modern Shigaraki ware is unique and uses a variety of techniques.

Vase N. Shinohara
Work of N.Shinohara

Like many traditional craft production areas, the recent annual production of Shigaraki ware is around 3.5 billion yen. This is about one-fifth of its peak in 1992 (16.8 billion yen). The number of establishments has also decreased by about three-quarters.

The lack of successors is especially serious. There are no living national treasures among Shigaraki ware potters. This is because "We have made everything without specializing in one thing'' (President Takahara). There are both advantages and disadvantages of Shigaraki ware. However, if one technology is not inherited, it will simply die out.

Large Bath Tub made in Shigaraki - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama

However, looking at the modern history of Shigaraki ware, even if an item no longer sells, new items are always created. Current hit products such as bathtubs is an example of this.

Even in the world of traditional ceramics, there are no Living National Treasures in Shigaraki ware, but many potters, from veterans to young potters, are taking on the challenge of creating the natural glazes produced by firing in anagama kilns.

Although the pottery industry generally has a difficult time finding successors, younger generations are gradually increasing in number, drawn to the charm of this Shigaraki production area, and it is a hope that they will become the bearers of a new Shigaraki tradition.

Factory Uzan - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama
Factory Making Large Bath tub Okuda - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama
View of Pottery town Shigaraki - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama
Factory making table ware Hinomigama - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama
Tea plantation - photo courtesy: Michio Sugiyama



Michio Sugiyama has MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland California. After graduating, he moved to Montana to attend the AIR at the Archie Bray Foundation. In 1989. He returned to Japan and worked at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Shiga Pref. He has been organizing and operating the Artist in Residency at the SCCP until 2020. In 2018 he established a private rental ceramic studio, in Shigaraki named SHIGARAKI SHARE STUDIO and now he is the Director of the Share Studio. He is a member of the IAC and the Japan Ceramic Society.


Wild Clay

Ilsy Jeon speaks with Hitomi and Takuro Shibata about their book Wild Clay co-authored by Matt Levy and published by Bloomsbury Publishing. The book not only provides an introduction and historical context to the material but also includes scientific breakdowns and thorough directions on how to use wild clay, making it the ultimate guide for students, artists, and academics interested in working and exploring wild clay.
In addition to the text interview, Hitomi and Takuro have prepared a video about wild clay:
IJ: To clarify for our readers: what is “wild clay" and how is it different from commercial clay? What are the challenges of using wild clay and its attributes?

Takuro: All clays are technically "wild clay," but we specifically refer to the crude raw clay that is extracted from the ground without any processing. Commercially mined clays undergo processes to meet industrial standards. Potters adapt these clays to suit their needs, but small consumers like studio potters and ceramic artists have no control over how the clays are processed. On the other hand, individual artists and potters who discover wild clay nearby are the ones who determine how it is processed. Another benefit is that they do not need to rely on commercial mining operations. The challenges of using wild clay include the labor and time required for testing, as well as the necessary equipment and space.

Hitomi: The definition of "Wild Clay'' for me is raw clay sourced from the ground, undergoing minimal processing such as weathering, crushing, sieving, watering and drying. We can trace the origin of the clay, as well as the individuals involved in its excavation and delivery.

In comparison, commercial clays undergo extensive processing. They are adjusted to suit specific firing temperatures, have certain natural components removed, are finely ground, and are often mixed with more industrial materials or chemicals to enhance workability and stability. These processed commercial clays are supplied by ceramic industries and clay companies to meet market demands.

I do not believe one is better than the other; it's simply a choice we make for our clay work.

IJ: How were you introduced to wild clay and how did the idea of publishing the book come to place?

Takuro and Hitomi: When we were in Shigaraki, Japan, we had the opportunity to experience working with Shigaraki wild clays and learned about their significance in pottery. Shigaraki potters acquire highly refractory, coarse clay from the nearby mountains, and they utilize Anagama kilns to fire their pots at extremely high temperatures. For centuries, Shigaraki potters have honed their firing methods and adjusted temperatures to achieve the best results with their unique wild clays.

After Hitomi received a scholarship from the Rotary Foundation to study in the United States at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth in 2001 - 2002, we encountered how students and artists were working with clay. It was an eye-opening experience to see clay being made from commercially mined powdered materials. While it created functional clay bodies, we sensed that it was different from the clay we were accustomed to in Shigaraki. This led us to investigate the origin of these powdered clays and discover that none of them came from the local area. This realization sparked our curiosity about the use of raw clays that we could truly connect with.

Following Hitomi's program at UMass-Dartmouth, we had the opportunity to stay at the Cub Creek Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Appomattox, Virginia. Upon our arrival in January, we were greeted by the sight of beautiful native red clay exposed from the ground. With excitement, Hitomi and I removed our shoes and jumped into the mud pad to collect the wild clay. This marked our first encounter with local crude clay in the United States and reminded us of the joy and importance of using local clay in our work. During our residency at Cub Creek, we also visited our friends David Stuempfle and Nancy Gottovi in Seagrove, NC, who introduced us to many potters working with local clays. Our time in NC was enjoyable, but eventually, we had to return to Shigaraki, Japan.

Approximately a year later, Nancy contacted us and presented an opportunity to return to NC for a job at STARworks Ceramics in 2005. We engaged with the local community, sourced clay materials, established a clay processing facility, developed claybodies, and organized a supply shop to make local clay accessible to anyone interested. Prior to STARworks Ceramics, only a few pottery studios were using local clay, but now it has become widespread. Clay made from local materials is being sold not only in North Carolina but also in many states along the East Coast. Over the course of 18 years, STARworks has gained a strong reputation for supplying high-quality local clay.

In 2018, we attended NCECA Minneapolis and participated in a group discussion about Wild Clays organized by Professor Josh DeWeese's group, the International Wild Clay Project at Montana State University. During the event, we became acquainted with one of Professor DeWeese's graduate students, Matt Levy. Later on, Matt joined the staff at Starworks Ceramics, and he approached us with the idea of writing a book about Wild Clay together. Matt was familiar with various wild clay projects in Minnesota and Montana, where many potters live and work. Takuro and Hitomi decided to document our clay journeys from Shigaraki to Seagrove, NC, two regions with rich pottery histories and strong connections to local clays.

Work by Takuro Shibata
IJ: Your book touches upon the historical and social background of clay including the resurgence of using wild clay today after the popularity of commercial clay came into prominence during the period of Industrialization. What has led to this popularity and was this amotivation to write this book?

Takuro: Historically, pottery villages in Japan were established near sources of clay. This allowed potters to directly access the clay they needed and enabled them to extensively test and refine the best ways to work with it. As a result, the pottery produced in these villages possessed a distinctiveness that came from the unique quality of the materials used. Our firsthand experience in Shigaraki likely reaffirmed the value of working with such special local clay.

I don’t think local wild clay works for everyone. With the knowledge and information available, it makes sense to use industrial commercial powdered materials for making pottery clay instead of digging clay from the ground and processing it. The benefit of using local wild clay is not primarily about price. It's about embracing the connection to the land and discovering the natural distinguished properties of the clay. It also offers advantages in terms of reducing carbon footprint. If you're running a production pottery company, using industrial materials would likely be more practical. However, we'd like to suggest that wild clay can be additional choices for your materials. Testing the clay you find doesn't require expensive equipment or specialized knowledge, and the information needed for this process is included in our book, so hope you can test your found clay and discover the ways to use it in your work.

Hitomi: When we first came to the US, we observed a certain disconnect between artists and natural materials. Even in higher education ceramic art programs, there were not many classes that offered clay research or studies on natural ceramic materials. In Japan, where we received our training, numerous pottery villages had their own nearby clay resources and a long history of local clay processing and development. Japanese potters understood the importance of maintaining their clays and actively researching their materials.

As young potters in Shigaraki, we had the opportunity to participate in local clay processes, conduct research, and learn from professionals working with local clays. Our book aims to provide simple methods of clay processing that anyone can carry out in their studio. We share our personal stories of working with wild clay and how potters have developed a deep connection to clay from the past to the present.

We are grateful to all the potters who have taken an interest in our book and have reflected on their own clay practices. Our hope is that people will have a greater respect for ceramic materials and local clays, leading to a more sustainable future in our field.

Work by Takuro Shibata
IJ: Hitomi - You speak about wild clay in a beautifully philosophical way:

“Using wild clay locally for our pottery is like growing heirloom vegetables in the garden for our table. There is a lot of waiting time. We need to examine and test, and we won’t get immediate results. […] I think it’s [wild clay] the same as how we select what we eat every day, and how we pursue happiness in our life.”

Can you elaborate on this analogy and how wild clay has impacted your creative and philosophical approach to clay making?

Hitomi: I am a backyard gardener who grows Asian greens and vegetables for my family in my small kitchen garden, and at times, it gives me a similar sense of satisfaction as pottery making. Growing good vegetables requires quality soil, sunlight, water, and a significant amount of effort and time. Similarly, creating good functional pots necessitates good clays, kilns, fuels, and hard work.

Historically, pottery and farming have coexisted. Some potters were also seasonal farmers who cultivated crops and vegetables with the same dedication they put into their pottery. I believe there are strong work ethics rooted in healthiness and groundedness in both pottery and farming.

Work by Hitomi Shibata
Work by Hitomi Shibata
STARworks Ceramics
Takuro Shibata
Work by Takuro Shibata
IJ: The book covers different states in the US and the types of clay native to the area including North Carolina, where you both live, which has fertile ground for sourcing clay. Takuro, you’re the director of STARworks Ceramics, a not-for-profit that uses native wild clays in North Carolina to produce clay bodies that provide clays to schools, organizations, and artists. Can you speak about STARworks and the impact your organization has had on the community? Also, in what ways does STARworks practice sustainability that other commercial clay manufacturers don't?

Takuro: STARworks is located geologically in the center of North Carolina and 10 miles south of Seagrove, which is one of the oldest and largest pottery communities in the United States. While potters in the area have historically used local clays for their pottery, it has become challenging for some of them to continue doing so. Processing local clays requires time, space, and equipment, and not all potters have access to these resources. Consequently, many of them start purchasing clays from suppliers located outside of town.

Despite the abundance of clay resources in close proximity, many potters in the area will not be able to spend time, space and cost to utilize these local clays. This is where STARworks comes into play. Recognizing the need, they initiated research efforts and established clay processing facilities to create clay bodies from local materials and provide them to the community. Since 2009, STARworks has successfully produced and supplied over 2,000 tons of local clay in over 14 years. This has reintroduced access to local materials for the community, with all the clays used sourced within a 150-mile radius. In contrast, other clay companies often rely on materials located hundreds of miles away. Undoubtedly, this approach by STARworks has made a positive environmental impact.

Clay is a fundamental material for ceramics, and it is beneficial for ceramic artists to have knowledge about its origin, appearance, and the processes involved in its preparation for use. While it may not always be emphasized or feasible for schools to cover this aspect in depth, understanding the characteristics of clay and its processing can greatly enhance an artist's practice. In this context, programs like STARworks' International Artists in Residency program play a valuable role. By offering raw local clays as a choice for artists to experiment and work with, they provide a unique opportunity for artists to directly engage with North Carolina's wild clay.

This hands-on experience allows artists to explore the material's specific qualities, adapt their techniques accordingly, and create work that is influenced by the local clay's unique properties. The residency program serves as a platform for artists to experiment, learn, and gain a deeper understanding of working with wild clay and also working with the potters community nearby. It not only facilitates artistic exploration but also fosters a connection between artists and the local clay resources. This kind of initiative can inspire artists to incorporate local materials into their practice, explore new possibilities, and contribute to the preservation and promotion of regional ceramic traditions. Overall, programs like STARworks' International Artists in Residency program provide invaluable opportunities for artists to immerse themselves in the world of wild clay and expand their artistic horizons.

IJ: Wild Clay is a wonderful guide that also covers the ecology, geology, physicality, and chemistry of clay, something that isn't taught to many ceramic students today. This context is paramount in creating a profound relationship with the material and I was wondering if you could expand on the significance of understanding clay in its most elemental form and how this book could be a vital resource to ceramic students.

Takuro: Historically potters have relied on a process of discovery, where they would find clay, fire it, and experiment with its properties to determine the best ways to utilize it. Through extensive trial and error, they would uncover the unique characteristics and potential of the clay they worked with. Often, these materials would prove to be exceptionally special and possess qualities that couldn't be replicated with materials from other regions.

The approach of "trying and seeing" has been integral to the development of pottery techniques and the understanding of clay's behavior. By experimenting and exploring the possibilities, potters could unlock new artistic expressions and uncover the full potential of their materials. I hope the book provides valuable insights and understanding into this fascinating process of discovery.

Hitomi: College students in Ceramic art programs in the US are fortunate to have access to well-established ceramic studios, expensive and sophisticated facilities, opportunities to attend conferences like NCECA, and a wealth of information during their programs. However, after graduation, they face the challenge of finding ways to pursue their careers and dreams in a field that is not always easy to navigate in the real world. When we look back at history, we see that potters in the past didn't have access to any fancy resources, yet they were able to create the things they needed on their own. Discovering our own resources, experimenting with materials, and creating ceramic art and pottery from scratch can be immensely enjoyable and empowering.

Takuro and I were young potters in Shigaraki who didn't come from pottery families or have significant wealth, but we were deeply curious about ceramic materials and cultures from around the world. In this book, we simply wanted to share our authentic clay journey. We firmly believe that any students can explore the world of clay beyond the confines of school.

Cameron, North Carolina
Candor, North Carolina
IJ: To follow up on the previous question, in many cases wild clay is not a complete clay—it might have properties that fall short leading to cracking, too much shrinking, etc. Your book covers how one can experiment and take full advantage of the clay they have access to, perhaps use it as a slip or glaze, or add other materials to increase plasticity… How important is a chemistry background to learning and using wild clay?

Takuro: I don’t think you need a chemistry background to learn and use wild clay, though the knowledge of basic chemistry helps provide additional insights. Testing and experimenting with the materials are the key to gaining knowledge and familiarity with their characteristics. Through trial and observation, potters can learn how the clay behaves, how it responds to different techniques, and what results they can achieve.

Hitomi: To be honest, I was never good at Chemistry when I was in school. Ceramic engineering is highly technical and appears quite challenging, which it certainly is. However, conducting simple tasks like making 5-inch long clay test bars, marking 100 millimeter lines, placing tests in your kiln (which occupies minimal space), and checking shrinkages and water absorptions to gather data is not overly difficult. It's like hunting for treasure within the realm of clay. Additionally, you always have the option to seek assistance from clay professionals, teachers, potters, and research specialists when you need specific help.

Furthermore, I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work as an assistant at the Shigaraki Ceramic Research Institute when I was a young potter in Japan. During that time, I created numerous test tiles for various projects and conducted material analyses for researchers. This experience allowed me to delve into the realm of Shigaraki's local materials and understand the industrial approach to utilizing local resources. Personally, working with these local materials in an old pottery village had a profound impact on my pottery-making methods and philosophy.

IJ: The book includes comprehensive charts and diagrams of practical and technical information about clay as well as incredible images of clay and sculptures. The last chapter highlights different artists who use wild clay, showcasing beautiful ceramic pieces with unique qualities. Do you think their work is enhanced by using wild clay? How did you find these artists and did you learn something new about wild clay from their work?

Takuro: We would like to include diverse ideas and approaches in using wild clays. We selected artists who we knew at that time and have unique perspectives showcasing their achievements. Each artist brings their own experiences, techniques, and artistic visions to the table, enriching the understanding and possibilities of working with wild clay. While our knowledge is limited, all the artists were very helpful and sharing their perspectives and stories were amazing. We cannot thank you enough for their contributions to the book.

Hitomi: Selecting artists for the book was not an easy task due to the abundance of talented artists and potters who are knowledgeable about wild clay worldwide, many of whom we have yet to meet. Therefore, we reached out to artists whom we were familiar with and asked them to share their clay stories for this book. The publisher also desired a book that was not overly technical, so as co-authors, we focused on simplicity and storytelling. Throughout the process, we discovered that each clay story was so unique, special, and beautiful—a testament to the love for clay.

IJ: Lastly, why do you think “Wild Clay” is a resource book that all ceramic artists should own and what do you hope they take away from reading it?

Takuro: Clay is a fundamental material for ceramics, and it is beneficial for ceramic artists to have knowledge about its origin, appearance, and the processes involved in its preparation for use. I am personally passionate about learning about wild clay and the various ways we can process and utilize it.

I understand that this book may not appeal to all ceramic artists, but I hope that some of them will be interested in gaining insights from it. If they hold this book in their hands, take any of the ideas from the book, experiment with them, and apply them to their own work, that would be truly amazing.

My hope is that this book may help artists to explore the possibilities of incorporating locally sourced materials into their work in different regions and countries across the globe. We look forward to seeing how they incorporate these ideas in the future.

Hitomi: We firmly believe that all clays are precious natural resources from the earth, and we hold great respect for all ceramic businesses and individuals who work tirelessly in this field. Additionally, there are various issues in the ceramics industry, particularly related to the environment, economy, and education. With this book, we aimed to share our clay story with those who have concerns about these issues, offering a fresh perspective to the ceramic industry and pottery communities. Clay serves as a fundamental material for ceramics, and it is essential that we strive to understand our materials and the environment to the best of our ability.

Finding a balance between the new and the old, quantity and quality, local and foreign, as well as time-consuming methods versus convenience, is not an easy task. However, we hope to convey clarity in how and why we make the choices we do in our clay work.


To explore and learn more about Hitomi and Takuro Shibata, CLICK HERE
To purchase the book, Wild Clay, CLICK HERE