Robert Yellin's Japanese Pottery Blog

Greetings from Kyoto, We've just moved our gallery into a magnificent old Sukiya style home located very near the Silver Pavilion; a stunning area and setting for the inspired ceramic art we share with the world. Please visit us if ever in Kyoto or online at and

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Some More about The Box/Japanese Influence in Seattle

Japanese art collectors can get pretty excited about a signed wooden box for a piece of art work. It need not be housing ceramics, as signed boxes usually come with all forms of art here from hanging scrolls to bamboo baskets. Much value is placed on the box in terms of how it authenticates the work inside, and also for its own beauty. Many questions twirl around in a seasoned collector's mind as he/she views the box; age? high-quality/low-quality? double-slats or framed under the lid? condition? artist's signature? Or, in many cases, if not the latter who did sign it--if anyone at all(many antique utilatarian pieces never had boxes)--and who are they? I'd like to talk about the latter point as I was thinking of it when a client/friend sent me a box--and contents--to have a look at. It's the last photo here. I often see such boxes for older pieces and although the kanji is correct for the piece--Choraku-zou, Kuro Raku Chawan--there is no signature or seal, and it could have been written by anyone. Such a box does not add value to the work other than having its own box for protection. Now if some famous Tea Master had signed the box---and there are MANY fakes of those too---it would have added 1000s of dollars to the value. We're also talking about chawan here, another special world in its own right. Yet even for more 'lowly' works--even top-end chopstick rests (Rosanjin/Ajiki), when the option of having a box made and signed by the artist---or an't mean the contents match the box. I say this after seeing a Bizen tsubo today in a very old box with the contents being new. It's a complicated affair, the box and its worth. More about 'the box' can be read on
My dear friend, wonderful writer, fine potter, and all-around good guy Dick Lehman had the honor of having his work on the cover of LAYERS AND LEGACIES. As Dick notified me, 'It's an exhibition in Seattle that features the work of 3 Japanese master potters, and their American now-master-potter students and friends. Three pairs/duets of Japanese/American potters were featured. I was paired with my dear friend Mr. Shiho Kanzaki. However, I was fortunate to be included in a three-generational view of 'legacies": Peter Olsen, one of my former students, made up the third portion of our trio. Also included in the exhibition was the notable Mr. Tatsuzo Shimaoka, who is currently a Japanese "ningen kokuho" - or Living National Treasure. Here is a link to the Honeychurch Gallery where the exhibition is being held:
I had been reserving my very best wood-fired work from the last 7 years for
just such an occasion as this: 10 of my very best works are there. A lovely
catalog of the show if available for $15. Contact Emma at the Gallery to
secure one.' All the best with the exhibition Dick.

If anyone has any interesting stories or questions about Japanese yakimono please do send them for possible blogdom here.
PS-As soon as I published this blog, I recieved an email informing me that Koyama Shinichi has passed away. Koyama was the son of the late,great scholar/potter Koyama Fujio--and a sturdy potter in his own right--and the one who often authenticated his father's works. I have a nanban tokkuri by Fujio with a box signed by Shinichi. I actually took the piece to Kamakura many years ago to have a box made and thus signed. R.I.P. Shinichi-sensei.......


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