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Toshiko Takaezu (1922-2011)

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Untitled (Closed Form #4), c.1960 glazed stoneware...
Untitled (Closed Form #4), c.1960
glazed stoneware
12 x 8 x 7 inches / 30.5 x 20.3 x 17.8 cm
Untitled (Closed Form), c.1965–70 glazed sto...
Untitled (Closed Form), c.1965–70
glazed stoneware
25 1/4 x 14 3/4 x 15 inches / 64.1 x 37.5 x 38.1 cm
Untitled (Moon), c.1991 glazed stoneware 19 x 22 x...
Untitled (Moon), c.1991
glazed stoneware
19 x 22 x 22 inches / 48.3 x 55.9 x 55.9 cm
Untitled (Ocean Edge Closed Form), c.1994 glazed p...
Untitled (Ocean Edge Closed Form), c.1994
glazed porcelain
7 3/4 x 5 x 5 inches / 19.7 x 12.7 x 12.7 cm
Untitled (Ocean Edge Closed Form), c.1994 glazed p...
Untitled (Ocean Edge Closed Form), c.1994
glazed porcelain
7 5/8 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches / 19.4 x 14 x 14 cm


New & Noteworthy

Artist Information

“In my life, I see no difference between making pots, cooking, and growing vegetables. They are all related.  However, there is a need for me to work in clay.  It is so gratifying, and I get so much joy from it, and it gives me many answers for my life.”

Among the preeminent ceramicists of the past century, Toshiko Takaezu (1922-2011) is celebrated for her expressionist ceramics that drew inspiration from the volcanic landscape of her native Hawaii, the philosophies of Zen Buddhism, and abstract expressionism. Takaezu was one of eleven children born to Japanese immigrant parents in Pepeekeo, Hawaii, a small rural community on the east side of the “Big Island.” Her parents were from Okinawa and raised their children in a traditional Japanese home, with her father working as a farmer and laborer; Takaezu referred to herself the “navel child” of her family, as she had five older and five younger siblings. In 1940 she dropped out of high school to work at the Hawaii Potter’s Guild, a commercial ceramic studio in Honolulu, where she acquired a foundational knowledge of ceramic processes, materials and techniques. Takaezu’s formal ceramic education began in 1944, when she began taking pottery lessons led by an officer in the US Army Special Services division who was stationed in Hawaii to perform topographical research; the officer encouraged Takaezu to pursue her creative interests while taking her openings, plays, and concerts to expose her to other artistic disciplines.

In 1945 Takaezu left the Potter’s Guild to work at a ceramic production facility located in a woodworking mill, where learned molded production ware and glaze chemistry techniques. There she met the ceramicist and sculptor Claude Horan, who became a highly influential mentor to the young artist. Feeling the need for a greater creative outlet, Takaezu began taking painting and drawing classes at the Honolulu Art School in 1947, where Precisionist painter Ralston Crawford was one of her instructors. The following year she enrolled at the University of Hawaii to study under Horan, who had recently taken a faculty position there. Studying at UH from 1947–1951, Takaezu also took design and weaving classes while developing her ceramic practice, exhibiting her pottery for the first time at the prestigious Ceramic Nationals exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY, in 1949. It was in these years that the artist developed her earliest examples of closed-form ceramics, which grew out of Horan’s approach to similar bottle forms.

In 1951 Takaezu relocated to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she studied under Maija Grotell, a Finnish-American ceramicist whose work inspired Takaezu’s interest in the school. Acclaimed for her artistic philosophy, which advanced the idea that ceramics could be a fine art akin to sculpture, Grotell emphasized self-discovery and an embrace of individuality in her teachings; Grotell became a formative mentor for Takaezu, not only in the development of her practice, but also in her own approach to teaching, an endeavor Takaezu would pursue later in life. In 1955, Takaezu traveled to Japan for the first time to glean a deeper understanding of the nation’s culture and connect with her heritage. The young artist spent eight months there, studying traditional and contemporary ceramic techniques, the tea ceremony, and Zen Buddhism. 

She also met leading ceramicists Toyo Kaneshige and Yagi Kazuo, the latter of whom, like Grotell, focused on nonfunctional vessels and sought to elevate ceramics to the realm of sculpture. Takaezu’s experiences in Japan were 

foundational to her maturation as an artist, as she acquired a deeper understanding of herself as well as a fresh perspective on the intersection of Eastern and Western creative models.

The development of larger kilns throughout the middle decades of the 20th century allowed Takaezu to increase the scale of her work, which sometimes reached over sixty inches, as in her Tree series of the 1970s. While critics have often discussed her work in relation to Eastern modes of art making, Takaezu’s practice of applying pigment and glaze by pouring, dripping, or brushing, and even finger-painting it owes as much to action painting and abstract expressionism, as Darrel Sewell has observed. Her process of acting upon the clay combined with her mastery of throwing and firing techniques produced visually complex works with enormous tactile appeal. Throughout her career, Takaezu sought to integrate the form of her ceramics with the glazes that covered them; the interiors of her ceramics were also a space she considered to be an important, if invisible aspect of the artwork. She considered the enclosed emptiness of her vessels to be a metaphor for the human spirit and often placed clay beads inside to add an element of sound to the artwork.

Takaezu was also an enthusiastic teacher, mentoring numerous students during her tenure at Princeton University from 1967 to 1992, some of whom went on to apprentice at her home studio. She also received numerous awards throughout her career. In 1964, she received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant and a Craftsman’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980. She held honorary doctorates from the Moore College of Art and Design (Philadelphia), the University of Hawaii at Honolulu, and Princeton University. Following her death in 2011, The Toshiko Takaezu Foundation was established to preserve her studio, art, and legacy.

In 1990, the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, New Jersey mounted the retrospective Toshiko Takaezu: Four Decades, which traveled for two years to the Allentown Art Museum in Allentown, PA, her alma mater of Cranbrook Academy, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, Japan. In 1995, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, Japan mounted Toshiko Takaezu: Retrospective, which traveled throughout Japan and the United States. Notable solo exhibitions of the last twenty years include Toshiko Takaezu: The Art of Clay at the Japanese American National Museum, UCLA International Institute, Los Angeles, CA (2005); Echoes of the Earth: Ceramics by Toshiko Takaezu at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA (2007); Toshiko Takaezu: The OOMA Collection at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, Mississippi (2016); and Intuition & Reflection: The Ceramics of Toshiko Takaezu, Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA (2021–22). In 2022, Takaezu was included in the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy, The Milk of Dreams. In 2023, Takaezu was the subject of two important retrospective exhibitions: Toshiko Takaezu: Shaping Abstraction at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, featuring her ceramics alongside her interdisciplinary works, and Toshiko Takaezu / Lenore Tawney at Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, AR, highlighting the two artists’ long and formative friendship. Also in 2023, the Noguchi Museum announced the major traveling retrospective, Toshiko Takaezu: World's Within, along with a monograph co-published by Yale University Press; co-curated by Noguchi Museum Senior Curator Dakin Hart, Assistant Curator Kate Wiener, art historian Glenn Adamson, and composer and sound artist Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, the exhibition includes over 300 works from private and public collections. 


Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA

Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AK

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD

Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, PA

Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID

Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

Butler Institute of American Art; Youngstown, OH

Canton Museum of Art, Canton, OH

Cantor Arts Center of Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH

Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA

The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, HI

Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI

Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH

Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE

Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA

Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI

de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA

Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY

Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ

Harn Museum of Art, Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Honolulu, HI

Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, HI

Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, NJ

Illinois State University, Normal, IL

Johnson Wax Collection, Racine, WI

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Milwaukee Art Museum Milwaukee, WI

Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN

Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, MA

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, TX

Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

Museum of Arts & Design, New York, NY

National Museum, Bangkok, Thailand

National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO

Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS

The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ

New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ

Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, MS

Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum, Naha City, Okinawa, Japan

Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, OR

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum, Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA

Princeton University Art Museum Princeton, NJ

Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI;

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA

Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE

Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY

Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, Nashville, TN

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT