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Former Navy corpsman stages ceramics exhibition

Date Posted: 2008-08-08

A love for Asian art history, wood-fired pottery and Okinawa brought Nicholas Centala back to Okinawa little more than a year ago, nearly 15 years after serving here in the U.S. Navy.

His passion for Okinawa, coupled with his love of ceramics, will have him sharing both next week with his second exhibition in Naha City. The six-day exhibition will feature personal creations drawn from an ancient art form. “I have always been interested in clay and sculpture, but thought of it as a hobby,” Centala says, noting that while studying in Tokyo he “spent my spring break in Okinawa at a shisa workshop and wanted to learn more.”

Although his sculptural style is not traditional in Japan, he does use a wood-fire kiln following more traditional techniques to cast his works. “I worked a wood-burning kiln in Kumamoto Ken and I was hooked,” he says. The Japanesse anagama, or hole kiln, is referred to as a rifle kiln in English. It’s a brick inverted half-pipe dug into a hillside, where the pottery curing process takes three days at temperatures reaching 1,250 degrees Celsius (2,280 degrees Fahrenheit).

He says “looking into the mouth of the kiln at its peak temperature is like looking at a 70-foot bonfire from underneath.” While wood-fired shards have been carbon-dated to 30,000 years ago, traditional Japanese kilns became popular about 3,000 years ago during Japan’s Jomon period, named after pottery, the most significant product of the era.

The native Californian first came to Okinawa in 1993, assigned to the 3rd Fleet Service Support Group as a medical corpsman. He returned to Japan a few years later to study Asian art history at Tokyo’s Waseda Univerrsity. He moved on to undertake an apprenticeship in traditional Japanese style wood burning kilns in Kumamoto before returning to Okinawa last year, where he offered his first exhibition in July.

“This October we will begin building a six-meter kiln near Manza,” says Centala, who’s now deeply entrenched in Okinawa life. All proceeds from next week’s exhibition will go toward the kiln project which, he says “has been my goal for years to be able to share this experience. I needed to make a kiln, so this month we began a non-profit organization, the International Community Makigama Society.”

He calls the Society “a public workshop where anyone who wants to learn about wood-fire kilns, or who just wants to get their hands dirty, can do so in English or Japanese.” He hopes to have the kiln operational by next April. “the workshop will have special courses for mentally impair guests and local orphanages,” Centala says, “to offer the experience to people who might otherwise never have a chance. Ceramics is not only fun, but has therapeutic value through stress relief, eye-hand coordination, and being an outlet for creative thought.

All are welcome to come to see the show and learn more about this ancient art form. The show will be from August 12th to the 18th on the 7th floor Art Salon of the Ryubo Palette Department store at the southern tip of Kokusai dori. The department store is open 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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