From the Collection–Toshiko Takaezu

Oil of the Earth

Toshiko Takaezu (American, 1922–2011), Oil of the Earth, 1990s. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the artist, M2006.79. Photo by John R. Glembin.

The ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu generously gave the Milwaukee Art Museum ten of her fine art vessels in 2006.

Today I was nonchalantly compiling information on her life in preparation for a potential display of those vessels, when I was suddenly saddened to read of her recent death on March 9, 2011. In Toshiko Takaezu’s obituary in the New York Times, she is credited with helping “to elevate ceramics from the production of functional vessels to a fine art.”

As one often does when encountered with the loss of either someone close or someone distant but admired (like an artist), I ran through my bank of fond memories.

I first encountered Takaezu’s ceramic forms when I was in graduate school and the Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted a 2004 exhibition of her work. I was a student of early American decorative arts, and knew very little about contemporary ceramics. I intended to pass by the exhibition and seek out Federal-style furniture, but instead I stopped. The clay forms were so massive, yet peaceful. The human sized vessels had the stillness and solidity of boulders, but sometimes looked like they were about to tip on their sides. I couldn’t forget her name or the graceful work.

Toshiko Takaezu M2006.78

Toshiko Takaezu (American, 1922–2011), Torso, 1990s. Glazed stoneware. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the artist, M2006.78. Photo by John R. Glembin

A few years later, as an assistant curator at The RISD Museum, I was lucky enough to travel on behalf of that museum to Takaezu’s home and studio in New Jersey. As she had with the Milwaukee Art Museum, she was gifting her personal collection of ceramics to those museums that had supported her career by collecting and exhibiting her work. The RISD Museum had one small object, and my job was to select from a small grouping the vessel that would join it in their collection. I remember nervously giving Toshiko the gift of a collection catalog from RISD, and personally purchasing a delicate teacup made by one of her resident apprentices.

Here at the Milwaukee Art Museum, I elbowed some room in a very small gallery for the very large Torso. That closed vessel is one of the works she gifted this collection in 2006, and you can see it currently on view on the Museum’s Main Level in the Glass and Studio Craft Gallery #31.

Mel Buchanan is the Assistant Curator of 20th-century Design. Mel’s curatorial responsibility includes interpreting, displaying, and building the Museum’s collection of craft, design, and decorative objects.

About Mel Buchanan

Mae E. Demmer Assistant Curator of 20th c Design, Milwaukee Art Museum. Lover of museums, objects, and cilantro
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2 Responses to From the Collection–Toshiko Takaezu

  1. I plan to visit Milwaukee soon and the Milwaukee Art Museum. I am a potter and I was privileged to meet Toshiko Takaezu when she gave a workshop for the Ohr-O;Keefe Museum in Biloxi where I was a museum educator. I was so impressed with her quiet reverance for the clay and watched this tiny woman throw these immense pots. I believe she gave some to the Ohr-O’Keefe. I presently live in Minneapolis and wonder if all ofher pots are on display or only the two shown on the website. Thank you for the information. Dina OSullivan

  2. Mel Buchanan says:

    Dear Dina,

    Thank you for your comment, and I’m so glad that we get a chance to give you more information before your visit to Milwaukee. Unfortunately, at this moment NONE of the Takaezu pots are on view, I’m sorry to share. We had a dedicated Studio Craft gallery that closed in July as Step #1 towards a comprehensive reinstallation of the Museum’s permanent collection. They are starting construction in that area for a new Kohl’s Art Generation Education Studio. The good news is that in a few years we’ll be able to better display our 20th century design and craft objects, the bad news is that in the meantime there is limited space.

    If you plan to visit Milwaukee soon, you should try to get here before the close of the “Summer of China” on Sept 11. The next big exhibition is Impressionist works on paper, and it opens on Oct 15.

    I’m sorry that this email reports our lack of Takaezu on view, but as a “Museum insider” I hope you understand the complexities of limited gallery space!
    Sincerely,
    Mel Buchanan

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