Toshiko Takaezu: Closed forms & Vocation

Recently a friend sent out the lovely idea to spend some time learning something about an artist rather than feeling mad, bad or sad about our country’s current leadership.


And so in my lap was placed the work of Toshiko Takaezu.  She may have chosen Toshiko because Hawaii was my current location, and that is where Toshiko began her work, in Pepeekeo Hawaii.

She was born in 1922, which means she was a little girl in the time of the Great Depression and she was in the era of my grandparents.  Her work began in Hawaii but took her also to Michigan and she worked with a couple of different mentors.  She spent time in Japan and elements of Zen Buddhism also influenced aspects of her work.


I cannot say this about her better than someone else said it:

“When she developed her signature “closed form” after sealing her pots, she found her identity as an artist. The ceramic forms resembled human hearts and torsos, closed cylindrical forms, and huge spheres she called “moons.” Before closing the forms, she dropped a bead of clay wrapped in paper inside, so that the pieces would rattle when moved. The most important part of her ceramic pieces is the hollow space of air within. She relates this to the idea that what’s inside a person is the most important.”

And in her own words…

“In my life I see no difference between making pots, cooking and growing vegetables… there is need for me to work in clay… it gives me answers for my life.”


The idea of the closed form is really fascinating, but I still want anything created to serve a purpose too.  A personal problem, perhaps.


The closed forms she made are enormous.  Some of them are larger than she is, which is amazing.


But alas, that is what she made.  Gigantic closed ceramics forms. At this size, they become almost like beings rather than pieces.  How it would be to create something this enormous?


Her glazes are warm and earthy, the pull lines on her pieces have not only remained intact, but I think are with intention and a part of the piece.  This indicates maybe that there is some value and focus in process of creation.  And that fits in well with the closed form.  These pieces feel almost like beings.  I wonder if that is what she meant to do?  Technically, the shape of the forms is really challenging.  Because the top is larger than the bottom, the bottom has to be strong enough to hold more than its own weight.  And firing or glazing a piece this large and bulky is also it own challenge.  And it is a piece ultimately that has the function of just existing… it is not a table or chair or cup.  It tells me that she is consummately an artist and the process of creating this form for her was probably the most important part of it.


Thank you Carolyn for this task.  I enjoyed getting to know this artist and her philosophy mainly just by looking at her pieces and divining her intents.

Writing about Toshiko Takaezu comes at a time when I am thinking about vocation.  I am also dealing with a sinus problem so I have time to slow down and write, which always feels like getting a piece of better than usual chocolate (preferably with hazelnuts)–a small rare treat.

Now I Become Myself:  Vocation

Vocation is more than getting a job.  It is more than being hired.  It is more than going to work every day.  Vocation is where what we choose to do with our time, energy and money chooses us back by employing us so that we can continue to do that work.  It is where the need of the world meets the desire and ability of the individual.

job:  Espresso in downtown Portland

Interview today.  Will this door be opened?

Sahuarita Public Library
job:  King County Library System page

Over a month ago I applied out for a job at a place I had already interviewed previously.  It was a temporary job, lasting only several months.  But an email saying they would keep the job opening to “enrich the applicant pool,”  –for a temporary job, which paid not much over minimum wage felt a bit like a “this is a job where you will not be considered valuable,” confirmation.

job:  Oregon State University Milne Computer Lab

Both of these jobs felt like they could be a step on the road of vocation.  But after a couple of job experiences which felt like they could also be potential steps on the road to vocation but resulted in confusion and disappointment despite all the best efforts… I wonder if the approach of “fail until you succeed,” shouldn’t be replaced with “Take the hint… this isn’t the path,”

vocation:  ELD teacher 

They are all important, these questions, in each person’s life.

This all is not an exercise in solipsistic writing, but also a wish that others would speak more to their path of vocation.  That’s an invitation, by the way.  Are you happy where you are?  How did you get there?

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