A Dream Fulfilled

Makoto Yabe was born in Fukushima, Japan, in 1947.  He studied ceramics and philosophy in Kyoto and after graduating, he apprenticed for the potters Jinmatsu Uno and Sango Uno.  In the apprenticeship model, the apprentice works for many years, reproducing the master’s work, following a long lineage of Japanese tradition.  A young artist can hone skills while learning about the professional life of the potter.   As Andrew Maske, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Kentucky writes “The world of traditional ceramics in Japan naturally places great emphasis on lineage.  Lines of potters that began in the late sixteenth or early seventh century are now in their fourteenth or fifteenth generations.”  Great value is placed on the work that comes out of these potters’ studios.

The downside to this model of education is that it can be very difficult to break into this exclusive world.  And the rules and guidelines dictated by tradition can be stifling.  Recently, the Japanese ceramics world has seen an explosion of creativity with exciting explorations of form, innovative technics, and inventive use of material.  Locally, this has been documented in such beautiful exhibitions as Touch Fire: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics by Women Artists at the Smith College Museum of Art and Contemporary Clay: Japanese Ceramics for the New Century at the Museum of Fine Arts.  However, in the 1970’s, as Makoto was making his way out of university and through the apprenticeship system, the traditional way of training potters still held sway.  Makoto dreamed of opportunities to create new work, his own work, that was not bound by so much tradition.  So when Makoto was offered a chance to teach in Alaska, and later Boston, he left behind his homeland to pursue his dream.

What followed was almost thirty years of artistic exploration for Makoto.  And as he came to discover, the freedom he explored allowed him to revisit his roots with new perspective.  In 2004, he said ''Even though I'm in my 50s, I still feel like a student.  There are still things to learn, new things to explore. However, as people age, their perceptions change, and I see Japanese traditions differently now. I don't have to fight traditions, but instead can express myself through it." 1

The work in A Dream Fulfilled highlights some of his thoughts, processes, and continued research and play of his work.  While not organized as a retrospective, the show reveals the delight Makoto found in the making process and in bringing traditional techniques into the modern age.  Nerikome (mixed colored clays thrown on the wheel), Neriage (mixed colored clays formed in a mold), and Mishima (inlaying colored clay into a different colored clay body) were some of his favorite techniques.  Makoto’s painterly aesthetic created bowls, baskets, bottles, and bodies that at times are both whimsical and mischievous.  Taken as a whole, Makoto’s work confirms his decision made as a young man and is evidence of his dream fulfilled.