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The Queue: Suzye Ogawa

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

The Queue: Suzye Ogawa

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
Spring 2023 issue of American Craft magazine
Suzye Ogawa
Blog post cover graphic for The Queue featuring Suzye Ogawa
Cover of the Spring 2023 issue of American Craft magazine

Welcome to the vessel series of The Queue.
A biweekly roundup for and by the craft community, The Queue introduces you to the artists, curators, organizers, and more featured in the pages of American Craft magazine. Our Spring 2023 issue (cover pictured right) is centered on the theme vessel and will start hitting mailboxes in late February! Join now to reserve your copy. In The Queue, we invite the inspiring individuals featured in this issue to share personally about their lives and work as well as what's inspiring them right now.

Suzye Ogawa creates richly detailed baskets at miniature scale.
Suzye Ogawa grew up immersed in traditional Japanese arts and crafts in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Her father, Howard Ogawa, was a pioneering dental technician there with a lab full of tools. After taking a basket-making class in the 1980s, Suzye combined these influences into her signature miniature lost-wax cast-bronze vessels, which incorporate textured surfaces and natural fibers such as sweetgrass and silk. “I had the metal and the fiber, I like to work small—I’m nearsighted—and I had this really rich Japanese cultural environment that was subliminally giving me cues,” she says. Now living in the quiet Northern California town of Fort Bragg, she has been selling her work at craft fairs since 1987 and has shown frequently at ACC events. Jon Spayde wrote about her work in “Tiny Treasures” in the Spring 2023 issue of American Craft. | @suzye_ogawa_designs

Portrait of Suzye Ogawa
Suzye Ogawa's studio bench with handmade miniature metal baskets

LEFT: Suzye Ogawa near the coast of Mendocino County, California. RIGHT: Cast pieces in various stages of completion. Photos by Nik Z Photo.

How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I combine lost-wax cast bronze and other metals with traditional basketry materials and techniques in small baskets and sculptures.

Your work is startlingly small, with some pieces coming in under two inches tall. You say, “Working small invites the viewer in closer. Viewers have to make a commitment to come in more closely like that, which creates a more intimate relationship.” Tell us about some of your favorite artists working at a small scale.
Joseph Addotta helped me develop my bronze skills. His bronze and other material sculptures are beautiful.

Jewelers inspire me, as their work is small. These are a few favorites:

  • Jim Kelso spiked my interest in mixed metals early in my career.
  • Dana Driver’s inlaid rock jewelry and small sculptures.
  • Marne Ryan’s metal textures.
  • Marianne Hunter’s use of space blocking, colors, and gems.
  • Tom Herman’s masterful metal work and the gift of engraving punches I use on my cast bronzes.
  • Traditional netsuke, inro, and Japanese metalwork.
Suzye Ogawa in her studio

Suzye Ogawa in her studio. Photo by Nik Z Photo.

Suzye Ogawa holds ornate letterpress type

Letterpress type from Empire Printing Company, a Japanese American print shop that operated in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo from 1912 to 1990, is used to decorate vessels. Wax is often pressed onto the type and then added to wax vessel forms that Ogawa casts into bronze. Photo by Nik Z Photo.

Wax tools in Suzye Ogawa's studio

Ogawa inherited these wax tools from her father, who used them in his dental practice. Photo by Nik Z Photo.

What processes do you find most exciting and stimulating in your work?
I find the process of combining hard and soft materials challenging when I begin each piece. I love working in wax as the foundation for how I will meld the basket materials when the casting process is complete.

What’s one of your favorite tools in your tool kit that the world should know about?
My favorite tools are my father’s wax-working tools. He was a master dental technician. I watched him work in wax as a child. Using his tools is my tribute to him. Old letterpress type from Empire Printing and a sharp pair of surgical scissors round out my favorite tools.

If you were to design a room in your home, which craft artists would you ask to contribute? (You could also answer this as if you were decorating a dollhouse with miniature art!)
All of the listed artists in my previous answer would certainly be included, but I would also be drawn to unknown craft artists from around the world. I don’t necessarily collect and look only at small work—I actually look at larger work and imagine it scaled down when I work. There is so much wonderful work being created, and choosing would be difficult!

Which artists, craft exhibitions, or projects do you think the world should know about?
The Craft in America series and the Craft in America Center should be viewed by everyone! Not only beautiful to watch, but the documentation of craft and artists continues to emphasize the importance of craft in our lives. Artists have powerful stories to tell.

Stack of four issues of American Craft with Winter 2023 on top

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