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Remembering: Akio Takamori

Remembering: Akio Takamori

Portrait of ceramist Akio Takamori

Akio Takamori in his studio, 2006

It is with great sadness we share news that ceramist and ACC Fellow Akio Takamori died on January 11, 2017. Renowned for his monumental clay figures, Takamori was a beloved teacher, mentor, and friend to many in the ceramics community. He was 66 years old.

Takamori was born in 1950 and raised in Nobeoka, Miyazaki, on the east coast of Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. Inspired from an early age by his father's collection of art books, Takamori studied industrial ceramics at Musashino Art University in Tokyo. Following graduation in 1971, he spent two years apprenticing at a traditional, domestic pottery in Koishiwara, Fukuoka. During his apprenticeship, American ceramist Ken Ferguson visited the Koishiwara pottery, and the two artists bonded. The visit inspired Takamori to journey to the US in 1974 to enroll in Ferguson's undergraduate ceramics program at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Under Ferguson's guidance, Takamori began to shift away from production pottery to explore sculptural expression of more personal and complex subject matter. After completing his BFA in 1976, Takamori went on to earn his MFA from Alfred University in 1978. The artist spent part of the 1980s in Montana as a resident at the Archie Bray Foundation and a visiting instructor at Montana State University. During this time, he gained notoriety in the field with a series of erotic and folkloric figures uniquely painted with bold black brushstrokes and caricature-like expressions. Curator Martha Drexler Lynn described the artist's technique in a June/July 1993 article in American Craft:

Takamori's techniques are as direct as his work. He first makes full-scale drawings of potential figurative subjects, which are always based on the human form and expressed through a vessel. He selects a drawing and converts it to a paper pattern. Slab-rolled clay is cut to match the pattern and formed into the vessel's sides. Takamori articulates the form further by drawing on the surface with incised strokes. The forms, back and front, are then luted together and supported with crumpled newspaper until they are dry enough for the bottom to be added. The work is fired three times or more, the actual number being determined by the need for color and contrast in a piece. With china paints and lusters he creates patterns, texture, and color and deepens the defining black outlines. This technique parallels traditional woodcut prints and pen-and-ink sketches found in both Western and Eastern cultures. 

In 1993, Takamori accepted a faculty position at the University of Washington, Seattle, where he was a pillar of the top-ranked ceramics program. While at the university, he continued to make work that garnered international attention. Takamori retired from teaching in 2014 and was recognized as professor emeritus. That same year, he learned he had pancreatic cancer. This did not slow him down; he continued to make and exhibit his iconic sculptures until his death. He recently completed a body of work that will be exhibited this February at the James Harris Gallery in Seattle. 

Takamori's work can be found in numerous collections around the world, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Museum of Arts and Design. In addition to being named a Fellow of the American Craft Council in 2006, Takamori is the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists Fellowship Grants (1986, 1988, and 1992), the Virgnina A. Groot Foundation grant, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant (2006), and the USA Ford Fellowship (2011). At the annual National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference this March in Portland, Oregon, he will be named an honorary NCECA member.    

For more on the life of Akio Takamori, read his obituary in the Seattle Times. Takamori gave one of his final interviews in December to Jen Grave's of Seattle's The Stranger newspaper, wherein he discussed how the recent political climate, world history, and mortality influenced his work.