Toshiko Takaezu was born in Hawaii of Japanese descent. She lived June 17, 1922 to March 9, 2011. Toshiko studied ceramic art, traveling to Japan in 1955 to study traditional, functional wheel thrown pottery techniques as well as Zen Buddhism. She quickly rose to fame, teaching at several universities, most notably the Cleveland Institute of Art and Princeton University (1967-1992).
Her later and ultimately signature style of closed ceramic forms of varying sizes and shapes are symbolic of her belief that what is inside a person is most important. Toshiko felt strongly that one of the most meaningful attributes of her pieces was the hollow space within. That being said, the majority of her later pieces are quietly abstract with glazes poured and painted. Their placement throughout her beloved outdoor garden gives the feel of a sacred space.
One of my favorites is a giant bronze bell with a gong that she encouraged everyone, though mostly children, to strike even whack, much to her delight. "Bell can take your big muscles. See, already cracked," she told my sons when I took them there. I told her my youngest had hugged one of her six-feet-tall monoliths at a museum and she smiled, patted his head with her beautiful hands.
I had the immense pleasure of crossing paths with her due to my relationship with Ann Tsubota who lives in the vicinity of the rural property that as well as her residence, has long been dedicated as a studio, gallery, garden and repository of many of Toshiko's works in clay both large and small. When she was still alive, if you arrived at the right time, Toshiko would stop gardening to set up a tea ceremony for whomever was there. This could last hours depending on her mood that particular day.
Yearly, I receive an invitation to attend an Open House which features former apprentices, past and present students who were fortunate to have worked with Toshiko. There is always music, refreshments, children, pets, friends, other artists. The last time I attended, at one point Toshiko was noticeably missing only to be discovered in a back room full of old pots she wasn't selling or showing. I stumbled upon her, muttering to herself, "Not bad, not too bad." Blowing the dust off one blue globe, she saw me watching and said, "You're a friend of Ann's? I'll give you a good price."
Thinking of how much I would love to own even a small piece made by Toshiko, I asked, "How much?" When she slowly said, "Four hundred dollars," I must have paled. She asked if I was a student, to which I found my voice briefly, answering, "I'll always be a student." Toshiko beamed and said, "Good answer, same price." When I explained I had children, she shook her head, putting the piece back amongst its dusty companions. "No, you cannot buy. You will need all your money for them." Which, though not having any children of her own, was a wise and true thing that I didn't understand at the time.