Tag Archives: Motoya Nakamura

Mochitsuki, not Pinkerton: it’s a new year

By Bob Hicks

When we talk about culture here at Art Scatter, we like to think it’s almost as wide as life. It could be historical, or political, or social, or personal, or purely aesthetic. It might be Madame Butterfly, Puccini‘s opera about a fatal clash of moral sensibilities, which returns to the Portland Opera stage beginning Friday. Or it might be Mochitsuki, the city’s annual celebration of the Japanese new year, which I took in on Sunday afternoon.

mochi-2012-banner-with-full-dragon-and-purple-textJapan has officially recognized the Gregorian-calendar dating system since 1873, which makes the official Japanese new year January 1. But traditionally the nation’s new year has followed the Chinese lunar calendar, and a sturdy tradition can outwit official proclamation for a good long time.

This year’s Mochitsuki took place, curiously but practically, at the Scottish Rite Center, a spacious building that offers lots of room to roam. As I walked in I discovered an overflowing crowd of celebrants, from the very old to the newly born, wandering through three levels of displays, performances, dining and activities. The variety was invigorating: everything from bento-making classes for kids to tea ceremonies for all comers. Calligraphy, origami, ikebana, tastes of sake, a table with contemporary Japanese art that seemed inspired by, or loosely affiliated with, manga. Lots and lots of food, from ramune soft drinks and vegetable curry to chow mein and (from a Hawaiian booth) Spam musubi. Booths with information about Japanese-American societies. Tables with books on the history of Japanese life in the United States, including the infamous internment camps for American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. The Consulate General of Japan and the Portland Japanese Garden had booths.

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All fired up: from out of the kiln’s belly

A selection of finished pieces from the March 2011 firing of the East Creek Anagama Kiln. Photo: Brian Feulner/The Oregonian.Brian Feulner/The Oregonian

By Bob Hicks

Art Scatter regulars may recall Mr. Scatter’s adventures with the East Creek Anagama Kiln in the Coast Range foothills outside of Willamina, where he attended a firing earlier this month at the invitation of Nils Lou, the noted potter and teacher who’s been doing these firings since 1985. Mr. Scatter told the story twice — in this piece for The Oregonian, with photos by Motoya Nakamura, and in this more detailed piece for Art Scatter, with photogaphs by Richard Yates.

That was fine, and fun. But the question remained: What were those 500-odd pieces going to look like once the 2,400-degree Fahrenheit woodfire died down and the flames had done their job? Last week, three of the participants — Cindy, Don and Mya Hoskisson — motored into Portland from their home in the Willamette Valley town of Dallas and brought a small sampling of the results into The Oregonian’s photo studio, where yet a third excellent photographer, Brian Feulner, took studio shots of them. His photos, and Mr. Scatter’s brief story, are in the How We Live section of Monday’s Oregonian. You can pick up a copy of the real printed-on-paper deal, or see the feature online here at Oregon Live, with even more photos.

Sure, art is process. But sometimes it’s good to see the finished work, too. Go ahead. Check ’em out.

Circle of fire: tending the anagama kiln

Inside the belly of the beast: 2,400 degrees of transformative heat in the East Creek Anagama Kiln. Photo: RICHARD YATESPhotos: Richard Yates

By Bob Hicks

The East Creek Anagama Kiln sits amid a forest tangle in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range, above East Creek, which feeds into Willamina Creek, which feeds into the Yamhill River, which feeds into the Willamette River, which feeds into the Columbia River, which empties into the Pacific Ocean, which crosses to Japan and Korea and China, where the anagama style of wood-fired kiln was born roughly two thousand years ago. “Theoretically,” says Nils Lou, pointing down to the rapid chuff of the creek below, “you could put a canoe in the water right there and go anywhere in the world.”

Through the front burner door, roughly 500 clay pieces are being transformed by the anagama's heat. Photo: RICHARD YATESTheoretically. Your canoe might get swamped, but the possibility of such a daring jaunt brings home the essential circularity of living with an anagama. (In Japanese, the word means simply “cave kiln,” so called because of its design that exploits the gravitational and structural advantages of burrowing into the side of a hill.)

Here we are, a decade into the 21st century, celebrating the contemporary possibilities of a troglodytic technology from the time of the first Roman emperor. And when I say contemporary, I mean it. The beauty of the anagama is that, no matter how rigorously you prepare the clay pieces being fired, what comes out of the crucible is largely a result of chance.

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