It’s not hard to find local ceramic goods — a couple clicks online can show you a bevy of options from nearby shops or chain home goods stores. It’s perhaps not even difficult to find homemade pottery — pottery classes abound, and websites like Etsy entreat buyers to bespoke products. But the pottery you’ll find at HACO (31 Grand Street) — whose name is an acronym for its core values: human, core, art, odyssey — are, without exaggeration, one of a kind.
HACO’s newest show, “Continuing to Create Tradition,” celebrates the works of aizu hongouyaki, a 400-year-old traditional craft originating from Aizumisato, Japan. Aizumisato is blessed with natural resources, where the earth is uncommonly filled with both clay and stone and whose organic matter let hundreds of kilns and artisans thrive. But after decades of commercialized production and changing client taste, today there are only 13 kilns left that showcase this form of gorgeous pottery. Now, 12 of those 13 kiln owners will be showing their work at HACO — for the first time in New York City — from now until December 23. Here, HACO’s Yoko Suetsugu discusses the impact of these works.
Greenpointers: I loved learning about aizu hongouyaki — can you describe the tradition in your own words?
Yoko Suetsugu: Tradition to me is a form of magic which allows us to travel in time.
To describe Japanese traditional craftsmanship in particular as a Japanese, I thought their version of tradition is to continuously keep creating the same style with the same foundation and preserving the way they are passed on from generation to generation.
But meeting those kiln owners from Aizuhongoyaki made me realize that the tradition actually requires an open mind to keep striving to take a part of continuous history to be innovative, to be coherent to the present generation without changing its technical and philosophical core.
You noted that the number of kiln owners has decreased in Japan. What caused this?
I believe this is happening not only in Japan, but all over the world. In this technological world, we are surrounded by countless accessible items that are reasonably priced which are available anytime you want, wherever you are. Convenience and speed hold such a key to this generation whether you like it or not, unfortunately, it would be rare to find people who are willing to commit to become traditional artisans which require time and patience.
How did you get in contact with 12 of the remaining 13 kiln owners, and did you play a role in selecting their works to showcase?
I actually was contacted by the Aizuhongoyaki kiln owner union since they were on the look out for locations for testing their products abroad. And I happened to be from the same prefecture (state) with them, running a Gallery in New York. So I didn’t choose the selection of showcase this time but it’s only HACO’s and my honor to host their creation to be seen for the first time in the United States. To make an additional note, the thirteenth kiln owner was going to take part in this show, but couldn’t join because of his old age and slower production process. I think this is part of the reality that relates to your previous question.
Are any of the pottery pieces for sale, or strictly for viewing?
Every item is for sale, but some of the items are not available for you to take home until the show is over as it is also an exhibition. (Some purchased items require later date pick up.)
What excites you most about this exhibit?
To see the traditional creations that were heavily seen in my everyday childhood in my region — my parents’ house is going to be here in New York, especially in my gallery. Personally, it brings me back to so many memories that I’m just happy to have Aizuhongoyaki pottery here in New York, and so proud to represent them. I also am so thrilled to see how New Yorkers would like those historical and traditional crafts from a small town made by passionate, dedicated people in Japan.