Toshiko Takaezu (1922-2011) was one of America’s foremost ceramic artists and a highly regarded teacher of ceramics. She was credited with being one of the key figures in the mid-century transformation of ceramics from craft to fine art. In this personal remembrance Sarah Eden Wallace, journalist, dancer, and mother of Densho Special Projects Coordinator Nina Wallace, recalls treasured memories from a decades-long friendship with the artist.
Artists honor Toshiko Takaezu as one of the greatest 20th-century innovators in ceramics. With masterful craftsmanship, she combined earth, water, and fire into simple suasive shapes that were as much poetry as pottery.
She was “Toshi” to my family.
She taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1956 to 1964 – that’s where she met my parents and became a lifelong friend. My father, H. Carroll Cassill, was head of the printmaking department and my mother, Jean Kuniko Kubota Cassill, was a silversmith and printmaker.
To this day, three generations of my family use “Toshi pots” — platters, plates, dishes, bowls, vases, sculpture that Toshi gave us or that my parents traded for their artwork. When we were little, Toshi often let my brother and I play with clay in her classroom while our parents worked in the studio. She would fire our pieces – lumpy ashtrays, horsies, battleships, fairies – with the same care as her students’ work.
Her creativity overflowed into weaving, sewing, gardening – and food! She delighted in growing mushrooms in the same dark cellar where she kept her precious clay mixes. Once on a visit to Toshi’s farmhouse studio/home in rural New Jersey, my mother marveled how Toshi had discovered a weed called lamb’s quarter was delicious in stir fry. My most vivid memory is she always kept a jar of Tang in her office and would mix it up in small “Toshi bowls” for a snack for my brother and me.
I think of Toshi daily: her soft flute-like voice, her laugh, her potato bread (!) and, most of all, how she brought beauty into every day.
Read more about the life and work of Toshiko Takaezu in the Densho Encyclopedia.
By Sarah Eden Wallace, mother of Densho Special Projects Coordinator Nina Wallace
[Blog header: Toshiko Takaezu pot making series, 1974 / unidentified photographer. Toshiko Takaezu papers, 1937-2010. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.]