6 June – 12 July, 2009

‘MINGEI’ – a way of making, a way of living
Ceramics, Textiles, Woodturning

Official opening Saturday 6th June at 5.30pm by Emeritus Professor David Williams AM
ANU Research School of Humanities

The arts and crafts movement began in the late 19th century with English designer thinker and poet William Morris and his associates who embraced a re-evaluation of fast vanishing handcrafts and a rediscovery of the beauty to be found in nature combining these with the advocacy of a simpler, more attractive way of life.

These tenets were refined and flourished in Japan in the movement known as mingei – ‘the arts of the people’ – when art critic Sõetsu Yanagi, a graduate of Western philosophy responsible for introducing Western art, literature and philosophy to Japan, shifted his focus toward a greater appreciation of Asian culture in 1919.

Yanagi with his two ceramicist friends Kanjiro Kawai and Shoji Hamada coined the word mingei. And together with English potter Bernard Leach and Japan’s Kenkichi Tomimoto, they led its resultant movement in Japan from 1926 until 1945. They recognised a common beauty and function in everyday utilitarian objects whose forms were arrived at intuitively, over time, not pre-contrived, but bound in the maker’s mastery of material and technique through repetition. Yanagi’s dedication and enthusiasm given to collecting and promoting mingei resulted in many craft traditions remaining alive and well today.

Masayuki Ogura, Peter Rushforth and Mary Taguchi are ardent believers and followers of mingei as a way of making, and a way of living. They each live and work in their rural based, nature-rich environments. Two have chosen mountainous areas in their respective countries, while the third is ensconced in the rural rolling hills and wooded grasslands found not far from this Gallery. Bungendore Wood Works Gallery itself is the result of a like-minded craftsman hell-bent on preserving the skills applicable to his chosen medium – wood, and the skills of the Gallery’s many represented makers.

To say that the participants in this exhibition are craftspeople, and not artists, would be to perpetuate a fallacy – every artist is first a craftsperson, adept at a skill that is required learning and essential to their creative and artistic pursuit.

That Sõetsu Yanagi and William Morris found inspiration in the words of poet William Blake is not coincidental but proof positive of the delicacy and intuition of the thought processes and actions of the contemporary craftsperson, artist or philosopher. The sensitivity that these people possess leads to humankind’s made beauty to be found in the fruits of their labour, never outdoing nature, but always aspiring to achieve their goals in her likeness.

Defining mingei is a multi-faceted task, and in terms of the contemporary craftsperson is well served by the words of Masayuki’s father, Eichii Ogura -
“Our ancestors have lived seeking beauty from nature. Their hearts, grateful with nature, have produced things for good use. I wish to live like my ancestors who have sought functional beauty.”

Peter Rushforth

Peter Rushforth first studied art at RMIT and the National Gallery School in Melbourne. In 1951 he moved to Sydney, established a studio and joined the staff of the National Art School, East Sydney where he became head teacher of ceramics.

In 1985 he was awarded the Order of Australia for his services to pottery and during the same year the National Gallery of Victoria held a retrospective exhibition of his work. Peter is recognised and respected as one of Australia’s most significant potters, first producing from a wood fired kiln over fifty years ago.

He uses jun (chun), tenmoku, limestone and ash glazes for his high-fired stoneware vessels. The glazes have their origins in the classical period of Japanese and Chinese ceramics and are the result of many years of personal research and development.

Peter lives and works on the Shipley Plateau in the Blue Mountains near Blackheath. And while the environment in which he lives may at times influence his choice of colours and textures he maintains that his vessels are dictated by the processes he employs, and the fire, clay and earth materials give the individual pots their unique finish. His work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia as well as Australian State and Regional Galleries and collections throughout the world.

The traditions of mingei play an important role in Peter Rushforth’s life. He has discovered his own harmony of living and working. There is serenity and contentment in his life, and the pattern of making, glazing and firing enables him to express these feelings through this chosen medium.

Mary Taguchi

With long academic involvement in Japanese language teaching methodology since 1970 and researching the history and function of indigo-dyed cotton textiles for many years, Mary Taguchi has discovered a strong sense of form and function in both language and textiles.

She works with Japanese mingei craftsmen and has been instrumental in encouraging weavers towards a revival of old cloths and patterns. The tradition of dyeing with indigo is centuries old and continues today. The dye from the indigo leaves makes the beautiful blues of the rustic country cotton textiles used for clothing and accessories of the working, farming, craftspeople of Japan.

The meaning of work jackets, sleeve lengths, field pants and how these garments were produced deftly and economically from narrow bolts of cloth, led her to adapting the cloth and patterns for life in Australia.

Travelling extensively and regularly in remote mountainous areas of Japan, she has met and established working relationships with traditional dyers, weavers and stencillers. Bringing cloth to her studio in the NSW countryside she produces shirts, jackets, vests, scarves, table runners and cushions. Collections of old patterns, garments and cloths have been a guide to her work and form part of her designs. The cloths are woven, stencilled, tied and stitched and are admired for their outstanding technique and handsome designs, rich and complex in tradition and history.

Mary delights in visiting the workplaces of potters, weavers, dyers, woodworkers and experiencing the potters’ wheels, the dye vats and the looms of small family workshops preserving the accumulated knowledge of generations of craftspeople - all living and working in the traditions of mingei.

Masayuki Ogura

Masayuki Ogura is a Master craftsman who lives in the Kiso area of the Japanese Alps carrying on a family tradition of wood grain artisans that has existed for centuries. He creates his pieces using traditional techniques combined with modern designs. Masayuki makes polished wooden bowls, trays, cups and utensils and also produces and restores, traditional Japanese lacquer-ware.

Masayuki designs his pieces and makes them by hand using tools that he has also designed and made. He first cuts the wood, shapes it on the lathe, sands the work and applies the appropriate finish. The working of the grain is paramount and requires the constant monitoring of grain shifts and flow as the wood is worked. This total personal involvement in the full production process, he believes, helps bring the finished piece to life and imbues the finished object with traits of its maker giving its owner a practical, living and breathing work of art.

While Japan has always been renowned for its high quality woodcrafts and lacquer-ware, modern mass manufacturing has led to a decrease in demand for hand-finished pieces. Lacquer-ware is a dying art. Masayuki’s pieces are polished five times using lacquer from home grown trees and polishing stones designed specifically for the task. Working with wood and especially with lacquer demands a focus and awareness completely divorced from the rapid pace of modern Japanese social change.

The Ogura clan lives and works by the ideology that certain things must be made by hand and from wood. And that some things are not perfect when finished but become perfect as they are lovingly used.

Thursday 16 April 2009