From engineer to ceramic artist
With endless variations of forms and styles, Japanese ceramics are considered as some of the finest in the world. Recently, a pot excavated in Aomori Prefecture was dated back 16,500 years, so it’s no surprise that ceramics form an important part of the country’s heritage.
Sixty-nine-year-old Keiichi Muramatsu is mastering the art in retirement out of his ceramics studio in Chiba Prefecture.
Muramatsu began to practice traditional ceramic art 20 years ago while working as a quality assurance superintendent at Yokosuka Naval Base. A top engineer, he oversaw the repair on Seventh Fleet ships, contributing to the fleet’s operational readiness.
“I always think back to working on the USS Midway in 1986,” Muramatsu said. “The work was so demanding, we even had to work on New Year’s Day.”
It was after taking a ceramics class, where Muramatsu learned the basics on the craft and how to use a potter’s wheel, that his passion for the medium began. He was soon fascinated in the art, and that drove him to make it his lifework when he retired after 30 years at Yokosuka. He moved to Kyonan Town in Chiba’s countryside and opened a studio.
My wife and I recently visited “Takatori gama” – Muramatsu Togei Gallery, his studio inside his yellow-hued two-floor home. The grounds have a shed for the ceramics kiln, a bungalow-like cottage where Muramatsu displays his work, an orchard, small pond and goat shed.
“I am enjoying crafting ceramic arts little-by-little in such a relaxing atmosphere, while cultivating various fruit trees and raising goats,” Muramatsu said. “Blessed with more leisure time, I am creating works in different styles, methods and designs.”
The ceramics pieces Muramatsu creates are well-proportioned with clean lines and geometrical patterns. His creations are also very practical and durable.
“Ceramic art fascinates me because it’s a profound art made up of so many diversified elements,” Muramatsu said. “Colors, hues, shapes clay and textures... even if I use the same glaze, they would come out in completely different colors depending on how the piece baked in the kiln.”
The self-taught artist who honed his skills via books and the internet, is now getting recognition for his work. Muramatsu’s work has been in various exhibitions and has even won multiple awards from the All Japan Ceramic Artists Association and Kanagawa Art Association.
Muramatsu has produced more than 1,000 ceramic works in different materials and different ways. “At exhibitions, people always ask me which are mine as they are not similar to each other,” Muramatsu said chuckling. “To me, that means, I am still seeking my style in producing ceramic art.”
Despite being on a quest to find his unique ceramics style, Muramatsu often goes to “tatarazukuri,” a style of stacking layers of ceramic plates. The technique requires a bit of planning as he has to make plates of different shapes and sizes, then assemble them into a cohesive work. The completed pieces have unusual geometrical shapes that are overwhelmingly beautiful to the eye.
Looking at the intricate detail of the pieces, I was not surprised to learn that it can take Muramatsu up to two to three weeks to complete one.
Though no longer a quality assurance engineer, Muramatsu’s attention to detail employs similar skills he used in his previous career.
“My experience and expertise of quality assurance in Yokosuka Naval Base sure helped me in making ceramic works,” Muramatsu said. “How to manage and control materials correctly, how to bake and finish works according to right process, and how to cope with any problem in the production process. these things are exactly some of expertise I learned in my work at the naval base.”
Far from the hustle and bustle of a 9-to-5, Muramatsu’s work has blossomed in the relaxed space he has created for himself. His dedication to his craft is something visitors to his studio in Chiba can experience for themselves.
“Takatorigama” Muramatsu Togei Gallery
Location: 1881-2 Shimosakuma, Kyonan Town, Abo-gun, Chiba Pref.
Hours: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Prices: A coffee cup and saucer set is priced at 5,000 yen ($45)
Class: Currently no ceramic class is offered, but you can learn how to shape a ceramic plate by using actual ceramic clay under Muramatsu’s instruction. Make a reservation before you visit.
Directions: 15-minute drive from Tokyowan Ferry Hamakanaya Port or 7-minute drive from Kyonan Tomiyama IC of Tateyama Express way. Located in the countryside, the gallery may be a bit hard to find. In case that you find yourself lost, call Muramatsu and he’ll come get you.
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