Learning Index >> The Life and Work of Bernard Leach

Early Life >> Return to the Far East
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Bernard Leach

In 1909, at the age of 22, Leach set sail for Japan. Here he had a traditional house built, tried to teach etching with limited success, and married his cousin. He did, however, make contact with Shirakaba, a group of progressive scholars and writers, who included the critic Soetsu Yanagi. The big revelation, however, was raku, the technique of placing decorated and glazed pots into a glowing hot kiln and removing them, after about 30 minutes, when the glaze has melted. Raku parties were civilised events where artists and poets decorated biscuit-fired pots, which were then fired in a portable charcoal kiln, enabling the guests to take away the fired pieces. Leach was at once seized by a desire to learn the craft, and studied for two years with Kenzan the sixth, Urano Shigkichi, a traditional court potter working in the old-fashioned Rimpa style, and living in the suburbs of Tokyo. Leach liked and respected the old potter, learning how to throw, decorate and fire pots, although at this time he did not see his future as a potter. At the end of the two years Kenzan presented Leach, and his fellow student Tomimoto, with a hand-painted Densho, bestowing on them the title of Seventh Kenzan. This beautiful document is in the archive.

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