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