[Interview highlights] Valérie Page, potter, ceramist and illustrator in Méré, France

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Illustration above: Camille Ronceray

Valérie is a craftswoman I am very proud to introduce, for many reasons. First, we live in the same village, Méré, a tiny village nearby Paris with three thousand inhabitants – so I am quite proud to value local know-how. Then, she is a very kind and easy-going person so it was very pleasant to spend some time with her. And, finally, I just love her work! She let me visit her workshop and we discussed topics such as authenticity and simplicity.

Inspirations

“I really like Japanese philosophy, Scandinavian lifestyle, simplicity and pure shapes. I do not really like complicated things. That’s when you get to see all the imperfections, all the flaws – when you make elaborated things, you can hide the flaws and people might not see them. The thing is: I am the one who is making the objects, so I do see them.” It seems like focusing on mastering the simplest and purest shapes also demands technical excellence. It also somehow forces one to look for the essentials.

Gathering and sharing

“When you get people to gather and share a tea, they are sharing much more than a mere tea”. So it is about creating moments and objects that can support these moments – moments rooted in the “here and now”.

“So, for me, it’s about having friends over, have beautiful tableware, tasty things to eat…”. Most of ceramics Valérie makes can be used during a meal: here is a teacup, here is a plate for sushi… It is about celebrating the foodies, too!

Ceramics in Japan

“In Japanese culture, you come across either like perfectly round, perfectly shaped crafts, or like super dented ceramics… actually, they are like artificially dented. I know a Japanese craftsman, he makes perfect ceramics and then he… hits them! [to deform them]. Anyone can give ceramics the shape they want to. That is what gives presence to each craft work.

So, that’s the trick!

I thought ceramics that looked a bit damaged and unique had to go through an authentic transformation process or a genuine and by-human-hand error in the making, in order to really feel magical. Maybe that is just another vision of simplicity and “natural” feeling!

 

Merci Valérie !

Find out more about Valérie’s work here: http://valerie-page.com/

The interview was initially carried out in French, in November 2017

[Interview highlights] Christopher Clark, potter in Japan

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Illustration above: Camille Ronceray

As I get to gather more and more information about Japanese craftsmanship and local culture, I also get interested into foreigners-not-so-foreigners who live in Japan for years and create a very interesting kind of crafts. Christopher Clark is one of them! He lives and works nearby Tokyo and feels that his “pottery is now neither solely Japanese nor English, it has aspects from both cultures”.  He was kind enough to share his feeling and stories with me – so let’s found out more about cultural blend, passion and love. 

Why did you decided to become a potter?
Every since I was a child in England I have been attracted to pottery.  I am not sure why but maybe it was the combination of creativity and physically making something something useful. I very interested in buildings and their construction and have always thought there is a relationship between architecture and ceramics.

Why did you decide to settle in Japan?
My wife is Japanese. We were first married in England then decided to come to Japan for a spell. I just stayed.
What does feel appealing to you in Japan, Japanese culture and Japanese people ?
This is a huge question and cannot be answered briefly. However I do very much like the Japanese sensitivity towards other people, their feelings and their comfort.
 
How important is the teaching side of your activity? To what extent do you value transmission? To what extent do you value collaboration?
I love teaching. Not only do I enjoy helping others but I also find that the actual exercise of trying to explain how to make pottery enables me understand the process deeper myself. For my own work I am not very involved with collaboration.
To what extent does the location and the people inspire your work and enable you to do something that could not happen anywhere else?
I have lived in Japan for more that forty years. During that period I have of course absorbed a lot from my surroundings. My life or lifestyle is now very much a blend of England and Japan. I feel very relaxed with this situation. In making pottery I have always felt that it is of paramount importance to let the work flow naturally from within you, not to be forced preconceived ideas. My pottery is now neither solely Japanese nor English, it has aspects from both cultures. There is a blend. If I had not lived in Japan my work would look very different.
How close are you to the local community ?
I am part of the community and have many local friends and acquaintances yet I am also a little apart. To some extent I live in my own bubble.

Many thanks Chris! 

Check out Christopher Clark’s work at:
http://www.chrisclark-potter.com
Chris Clark (@chrisclarkpotter) • Instagram photos and videos

Sakurai Kokeshi, traditional Kokeshi Craftsmakers

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Contribution to craftsmanship

Kokeshi is a traditional product of Miyagi. This craft is designated as a national traditional craft of Japan. Kokeshi is a fully hand-made wooden doll with a painted human-like face. The Sakurai Kokeshi company is located in Naruko-Onsen, a retreat and wellness place for hot springs. Kokeshi began as a souvenir and developed in that way.

In the Sakurai family, Kokeshi are decorated with very carefully and skillfully painted flowers, which gives the product an elegant and refined look. It comes from the fact that the Sakurai family originally found lots of inspiration from their artistic sides. That made the Sakurai family’s craftspeople more likely to explore various designs.

What is the hardest part in training to become a Kokeshi maker?

For Sakurai Akihiro, the father, wood carving is the most technical step. In addition there is the difficulty of turning your imagination into a living Kokeshi; “it is difficult to realize what you are imagining”.

Motivations for becoming a Kokeshi craftsperson

Sakurai Kokeshi has been a family business for five generations. Sakurai Akihiro, the father, grew up “watching [his] father work with Kokeshi”. When a passion arises, there is no need to justify it: “I just simply like making things”. His son, Sakurai Naomichi, initially went his own professional way before coming back to the family business. Together, they are thinking about innovative ways to develop their craft.

Making the Kokeshi business more sustainable

The first way is expanding market territory. That is why the Sakurai Kokeshi company now offers international shipping. However, utilizing domestic talent remains a trusted source when it comes to being united. Sakurai Kokeshi was part of some collaborative projects organised by the Japanese Ministry of Trade Economy, in which domestic designers were involved. Some cross-disciplinary collaborations with artists lead to electronic music performances that included samples of wood carving (!).

Valuing local communities

There is definitely a community of Kokeshi makers. They unite for the local Kokeshi festival in Naruko. Sometimes, they go together to Tokyo, to showcase their products or take part in events. They also act together on a business-level, for example co-purchasing raw material.

This sense of community is not known only to Kokeshi makers. Naomichi also collaborates with other talent, thanks to the Koshiki Project. In this project, he shares what he feels is important, rich and unique about Naruko and its citizens: “I wanted to contribute to the Naruko community with Kokeshi”, Naomichi explains.

Cultural highlights about Japan

Historically, being an apprentice in Japan and learning a craft meant the master “just look[ed] at you work on Kokeshi, and they figure out themselves”, Naomichi states. So, no matter how an apprentice learns how to see through their master’s back, there is a time when “l’élève dépasse le maître” [the apprentice becomes more skilled than his or her master]. This French saying seems very appropriate here. However, “stealing the skill of your master is not necessarily a bad thing; that is what you have to do”, Naomichi explains. However, this might lead to complex issues regarding industrial property. In earlier times, for instance, there was no way for the Sakurai family to protect their unique flower designs.

Useful tips for someone who wants to become a Kokeshi craftsperson

You can start by attending Kokeshi painting workshops to experience and express your creativity! If you are really into Kokeshi making, the simplest task remains wood preparation – peeling off the wood. Moreover, in the future, Sakurai Kokeshi plans to open up to the most motivated and curious people, nationals and internationals. Sakurai Kokeshi company is currently working on how to integrate this new kind of workforce. Learning by doing remains the motto! If you really want to become a Kokeshi apprentice, and, later on, a master, start making your own tools! Just like a fountain pen is tinged with his owner’s gestures and influences writing style, each Kokeshi craftsperson makes his or her own personalised tools. Let’s call it a personal “toolprint”! “So each person’s characteristics is reflected on the tool”, Akihiro explains. That is what brings this vibrancy in the Kokeshi – as well as the spontaneous and generous laugh of Akihiro that resonates in the shop!

 

Special thanks to Sakurai Akihiro, Sakurai Naomichi, Saito Takaharu, Tanaka Ulala, Roger Smith for making this visit happen! 

For more Kokeshi stories, please visit Sakurai Kokeshi’s website: http://en.sakuraikokeshiten.com/ 

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[Interview highlights] Karl Mazlo, Fine Jeweller, Paris

Illustration above: Camille Ronceray

Today I am very happy to share the first article of the “Craftsmanship” series with you. These articles will be summing up interviews I am carrying out in both France and Japan in order to understand craftsmanship better – thanks to craftspeople and stakeholders in the craftsmanship field themselves. 

Contribution to craftsmanship

Karl Mazlo is a fine jeweller. He creates unique pieces made to match perfectly with each client’s personal story, personality and psychology. He constantly carries out careful research to find the best and most relevant materials. He likes to question the statu quo. In addition, he initiates collaboration with craftspeople all around the world. They can complement each other.

Experience in Japan

Karl Mazlo was selected to take part in the Villa Kujoyama residency in 2016. His project had a strong focus on collaborating with local craftspeople, sharing techniques, tools and inspirations. He designed specific tools in order to bond with local craftspeople and trigger their curiosity.

Personal philosophy

What he learned in Japan can be summed up in two key notions “patience” and “benevolence”. He now admits that things take time – relationships to be built, objects to be designed. He also is very grateful for people’s attitude when he was carrying out his project in Japan. He says that, coming back to France he was a new man: he was taking more time to think before he spoke ; he learned how to be a better listener.

Cultural highlights about Japan

  • “Wabi-sabi does not really apply here”. Karl had to start a piece of work over after it was immersed in the wrong chemicals and turned out bright red.
  • “Go to Takashimaya and check out exhibitions about craftsmanship organized twice a year!”

Influence of Japan on Karl’s work and lifestyle

When he came back from Japan, Karl completely changed his professional project. He basically started over – getting new machines to follow his newly discovered path.

Useful tips for someone who wants to visit Japan

Karl emphasizes that one should be loyal to the people they meet. It takes time to establish and maintain relationships there – but once you are part of the group, people can be extremely generous!

Advice for The Dorayaki Project

  • “You can be a documentary maker, go visit craftspeople’s workshop and make pictures!”
  • “It is better to have someone introduce you to Japanese people. You should try to find a mutual friend every time”

Supportive words about The Dorayaki Project

  •  “It doesn’t matter if you do not speak Japanese as long as you can speak English”
  • “Japan will change your life!”

 

Thank you very much Karl!

 

Karl Mazlo’s website : http://karlmazlo.com/

The original interview was carried out in French in Paris in November 2017