Toshiko Takaezu is without a doubt one of the most important ceramicists in America. Her work is on public view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Renwick Gallery Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art among others. Her teaching credits include her post as head of the ceramics department at Princeton University for 25 years. In addition to being a celebrated artist she is also a great teacher, mentor, cook, gardener and family friend.
When Toshiko visited my studio in November of 2007 our conversation quickly jumped from my new kiln to gardening as we strolled past my blueberry bushes. She asks me “how do you keep the birds away from your fruit?” A long discussion about the usefulness of cats followed. The conversation then strayed to talk about the joy of eating summer tomatoes and Toshiko’s recipe for sushi rice. She speaks about cooking & gardening with the same great enthusiasm as she does about clay.
At Toshiko’s studio, the kitchen, & the gardens are in such close proximity that they function as one. Her garden is lush with thriving fruits, vegetables & flowers. In amongst her plantings are several of her larger sculptural pieces as well as one of her brass bells. When planning a quilt for Toshiko I decided that I needed to include it all in order to capture the essence of this serene, elegant woman.
I started with the title for this quilt “Toshiko in Her Garden” as my inspiration. This is unusual as the title usually comes to me when I have finished a piece. The quilt depicts Toshiko in her garden wearing one of her trademark wide-brimmed hats. In the quilt she is barefoot, this is a nod to the custom of removing your shoes & donning a pair of hand knit slippers when you visit her home (these days Toshiko almost always wears a pair of tennis shoes). A riot of plants are displayed in the quilt along with representations of several of Toshiko’s sculptures. There are 3 crows pestering the artist/gardener to grow more blueberries. Toshiko is seen in conversation with the birds, perhaps pleading with them to take mercy on this year’s crop.
What an honor it is to call Toshiko a friend & to share my love of art, clay, gardening, cooking and eating with her. It is also an honor to have her admire my work. She is engaging, kind, & encouraging. “I have friends who own a gallery, you should contact them”. “Why haven’t you applied to the Philadelphia Craft Show”? “You should say folk art in your description”. “You can’t be afraid to do it”!
Maybe she’s right. Maybe I will.