Meet An Artisan | Miki Furusho, Growing Together with 1000-Year-Old Izu Clay

Miki Furusho’s works were the first collection to inspire me to showcase the work of artisans. I still can’t forget the first time I saw the placement of brown, cream, and black patterns. “This kind of natural pattern, presented next to glaze?” Later, I realized this pattern is the original look of Izu Clay, a thousand-year-old material, and Miki Furusho’s signature. She digs Izu Clay herself, trying countless different ways to present its beauty on modern ceramics. Typically, Ms. Furusho is very busy doing continuous solo exhibitions, but fortunately for us, today she’s sitting down with Norm to talk about her works. 

Izu Peninsula is located in the Southeastern corner of Shizuoka, Japan. Because it’s a peninsula, one can see the ocean on all sides, plus a crystal clear view of Mt. Fuji. Izu is very famous for its hot springs. Ms. Furusho did her pottery apprenticeship in Izu, and out of personal curiosity, decided to start digging Izu Clay to make ceramics. “Freshly dug Izu Clay contains pink, gray, and cream colors. But if you look more closely, you can see more sophisticated white, brown, and black colors. I was astonished by the beauty of this freshly dug clay.”

Normally, when making pottery, clay needs to be wedged. Wedging takes the particles inside the clay and makes them more uniform in size, as well as softer. This lowers the risk of air inside the clay exploding in the high temperatures of the kiln. Ms. Furusho, when she first started out, also wedged Izu Clay. “When I dug this clay from the ground, it was so beautiful! But, after wedging, it became like normal red clay – nothing special. I was so disappointed.” This is when Ms. Furusho sought out her shokunin spirit. “I decided not to wedge the clay, instead patting it repeatedly – “bang, bang, bang”! Then, I fired it.” Once she took the clay out of the oven, she realized this approach best represented Izu Clay’s most beautiful and natural patterns and colors.

Izu Clay after it's been patted down to be paper-thin.

Izu Clay’s particles are relatively large; liquid will leak out. This makes it unsuitable for normal tableware or vases. How could Ms. Furusho showcase the beauty of Izu Clay, while still making functional works? “Because Izu Clay has very good adhesion, I tried patting it thin like paper. I stuck it onto the outside of regular greenware and fired it in the kiln.” After much research and trial and error, Ms. Furusho slowly developed her signature concept of using Izu Clay.

The artisan sticking Izu Clay onto greenware.

Izu Clay's original colors - brown-red, cream white and stone black.

Sticking Izu Clay onto greenware allows Ms. Furusho to present the beauty and colors of Izu Clay. The process of patting it thin – almost like paper! – ensures it won’t fall off the greenware once removed from the kiln. And the result is stunning. “These beautiful textures are formed naturally from one thousand years under the earth, something which cannot be made artificially by any method.” Ms. Furusho takes this beauty seriously; she carefully designs her works to ensure they properly represent the beauty of Izu Clay. She doesn’t want to waste resources or let the material down.

The artisan deciding which colors to stick onto the greenware.

Ms. Furusho finds inspiration everywhere in daily life. For example, when hiking, she saw flowers and grass emerging from broken rocks, and decided to design the same concept in a vase. “I want to express the gap between nature and man-made. It's a natural pattern, but it's combined in a straight line to make you feel artificial. Instead of shaping nature as an ego, we respect and snuggle up to nature. In a sense, I think it's an Eastern approach.“ Inspiration in hand, she then starts to make physical items – her favorite part of the process, and the one she looks forward to the most. It’s not uncommon that, when taking an item out of the kiln, it’s quite different from the original concept. She often asks herself, how can she improve it? “Going through this process, I have grown and matured alongside my work. Izu Clay is beautiful, and I find that beauty extraordinary.” Even though Mrs Furusho has been using Izu Clay for more than 10 years, she’s still amazed by the final product, and never tires of it.

Ms. Furusho finds inspiration everywhere in daily life

Finding inspiration while hiking.

Because Ms. Furusho is the only artisan using Izu Clay to make pottery, her works are very special. She receives countless solo exhibition requests, producing work for lots of different kinds of exhibitions. Because it’s all handmade, the processes, like the wedging of clay, can be difficult. But, everyday, she can touch her most favorite thing – Izu Clay – and appreciate its beauty. Her hope and motivation is to represent this thousand year original clay on the modern dining table.

Ms. Furusho's studio, where she works with Izu Clay everyday.


Interviewed by Yuwen W
Words by Yuwen W & RP
Photos are shoot & provided by Miki Furusho

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