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Itokazu holds tradition, spirit, and creativity of Okinawan pottery

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-01-08

Jorge Itokazu is a master craftsman. He blends traditional Okinawan pottery with his own unique style, resulting in very exquisite pieces of art and also pottery with very creative functional uses. Born in Lima Peru, the thirty-six-year-old potter has been producing fine work here on Okinawa for about thirteen years, seven of which have been on his own.

Although Itokazu was born in Peru, both his parents have their roots here on the island, which helped Itokazu to come to Okinawa in 1984, at a time in his life when he was searching for the career he really wanted to pursue. He decided to work at Tsuboya, the traditional pottery village of Naha, where the art of molding and heating clay into beautiful plates, bowls, and cups has been going on for centuries.

Itokazu spent four and a half years as an apprentice at Tsuboya, under the guidance of Ikuo Takaesu, learning the traditional methods and basic skills to Okinawan pottery. The work was hard and the hours were long. Especially difficult was the fact that during the time of Itokazu's apprenticeship, almost all potters were members of families who had been passing down the art for generations. The young apprentice began with the daily chores of cleaning and running errands, but his teacher was also quick to give Itokazu the chance to practice his skills as a potter. "I was thinking of going back to Peru and do pottery on my own, so my teacher gave me many bigger tasks from the beginning like techniques on firing the kiln," said Itokazu.

Those early beginnings gave Itokazu the foundation to become a talented potter, but his teacher also gave him another important lesson, which could not be learned at the workshop. "He taught me how to be a better human being. He taught me that it is not just a mechanical process - you're making things with your hands in theory, but in actuality you are creating with your soul," explained Itokazu. "I learned that you must feel good to make good pieces. The clay is soft. If you are not in a good mood, it will show up in the clay. You always leave your prints in the piece. It is the proof of whether you did a good job, or a terrible one because you were feeling terrible."

After accumulating a good deal of knowledge at Tsuboya about the traditional method of Okinawan pottery, Itokazu then decided to go to the United States to gain experience in creativity and self expression. He studied and worked part-time for one and a half years at the Art League School in the Washington DC area. "I found while doing pottery in the U.S. that you don't have any limits," said Itokazu. His new found love for expressive craft work, inspired him even more to return to Peru and continue his career as a potter. But, certain circumstances forced Itokazu to return to Okinawa instead.

A year later, in 1991, Itokazu began working as an independent potter. His work quickly drew attention from many collectors and gallery owners. It was bold and showed creativity. Itokazu added a new factor to the traditional styles of Okinawan pottery - imagination. His use of colorful glazes and artistic drawings, have helped him to become one of the more popular craftsman in this part of Japan. His pieces often show the unique characteristics of South American style art together with the traditional skills he learned at Tsuboya. His pottery has a very natural quality to it, but can also stand out through the use of very unique designs.

Through the years, Itokazu has won numerous awards and has also had many exhibitions. In 1995 he held an exhibition in Fukushima, which was his first in mainland Japan. It was a major success, and showcased Itokazu's extraordinary talent both as a skilled craftsman and also as an artist. The exhibition featured his latest creations, which were clocks made from clay - he had taken the art of pottery again to a different level.

Itokazu's own style of pottery was also a motivating factor for a new wave of creativity for other young potters here on Okinawa. The movement has helped to transform Okinawa into a place where apprentices now have the opportunity to be much more self expressive and still get a good foundation about the basics of pottery. "From my point of view, Okinawan potters have become so much better. There is more creativity. I think it's a good place to learn," mentioned Itokazu.

The success of the master craftsman, who is always looking for new horizons, has now brought him back to some of the fundamentals that he first learned in his early years. "Sometimes you have blackouts and you go back to your roots as exercise. It's like a baseball player playing with a new team," he said. His goal is to be able to become more of an artist, to concentrate on each piece at a time, for as long as he would like to.

As part of his new stage in his career, he has also begun teaching others the skills of Okinawan pottery. He is currently teaching an advanced pottery class at the Kadena Arts and Crafts Center every Thursday from 5 pm until 8 pm, which he said has helped to increase his own knowledge.

If you wish to either buy or view some of Itokazu's work, you can stop buy at his own shop, located in Maeda, but he asks people to telephone first at 958-3999. You can also see his work at the upcoming MWR "International Art Exhibition" on January 30. For more information about the show contact MWR. For more information about the advanced Pottery class call 634-1666.

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