Famous Japanese ceramic artist fires new piece at the Kent State Ceramics Lab kiln

Daniel Owen

Latest work requires 24-hour supervision

Japanese artist Yasuhisa Kohyama has been working on his latest series over the weekend at Kent State. He is using northeast Ohio’s only wood-kiln. Daniel Owen | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

The Ceramics Lab had a little more buzz in the air than normal this weekend.

That’s because famous Japanese artist Yasuhisa Kohyama came to Kent State for a week to work on his latest series, which is untitled at this point.

Kirk Mangus, professor of art and ceramics at Kent State, said Kohyama’s trip to Kent is a good chance for students to see the work of a visiting artist. It broadens their horizons.

“Bringing in someone with different views and outlooks is important — to have someone come in and shake the branches,” he said.

Kohyama, 73, lives in Shigaraki, Japan. He has been actively involved with art for most of his life.

Kohyama’s trip to the area was made possible in collaboration with the Cleveland Institute of Art. The Cleveland Institute of Art does not have a wood kiln, so Kohyama came to Kent State to use its kiln.

Kent State has the only wood kiln in Northeast Ohio.

“The way (the sculpture) is placed in the kiln and how the ash hits it are important. The rhythm of firing, how you put the wood in is very crucial,” said Eva Kwong, adjunct faculty in the Ceramics Laboratory. “It’s different than a barbecue.”

The wood kiln needs 24-hour supervision during the firing process. Kohyama was there for a majority of the time, but his assistant, Wakae Nakamoto, Mangus, Kwong and other students also shared some of the duties.

Kohyama and Nakamoto joked about Nakamoto’s overnight supervision of the sculpture. It left her very tired, but she said it’s all part of the work.

“We are so happy to come here and work with nice students and people. Everyone is friendly at Kent State,” Kohyama said with the help of Nakamoto’s interpreting.

Professors and students from the Cleveland Institute of Art and other Kent State faculty and students frequently filtered through the Ceramics Lab just to get a chance to come by and greet Kohyama.

But it wasn’t just people within the art community who took advantage of a visit.

“(Art students) have been bringing their friends by, as well as other students who have heard about it; you can definitely notice the extra foot traffic,” Kwong said. “It enriches everyone.”

Mangus and Kwong both agreed that because Kohyama would not be presenting a lecture, it would leave time for the students to have direct, personal interaction with him.

“These are the things you can’t learn in a book,” Kwong said.

Although Kohyama doesn’t speak much English, Mangus said it is never an issue.

“The language is through the art,” he said. “There has been no problem with interaction and communication.”

Visiting artists like Kohyama are also important in other aspects to Kent State.

“It helps our students network, and it can lead to jobs and internships,” Kwong said. “It opens their eyes to the rest of the world.”

Contact school of art reporter Daniel Owen at [email protected].