Common Cause: John Ruskin, Japan & Mingei (the Folk Craft Tradition)

15 May – 5 August 2019 Blue Gallery, Brantwood

In 2019,  Ruskin’s bicentenary year Brantwood celebrates Ruskin’s influence on the Japanese Arts and Crafts movement, stimulated by Ruskin’s writings and the impact made on the figure who galvanised Japanese craftsmen and patrons, intellectuals and retailers into creating the Mingei craft movement; Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961). To mark the occasion and the launch of Common Cause, the Japanese Urasenke foundation visited Brantwood to conduct a Japanese Tea Ceremony, this was followed by a talk by Tomoo Hamada about his grandfather, renowned potter Shoji Hamada.

Common Cause features pots from the Mingei (folk crafts) tradition and its Ruskin connections including work by Ogata Kenzan, Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach, Tomoo Hamada, Edward Hughes, Martin Miles Moore and Geoffrey Whiting, with calligraphy by Mitsuko Takahashi.

Shoji Hamada with Bernard Leach & Soetsu Yanagi

The Folk Craft Tradition
The folk-craft tradition of pottery, associated in particular with the Japanese tea ceremony, is known by the term Mingei. Mingei was a revival movement which blossomed in the early 1900’s when an ancient tradition with roots across the orient was re-invigorated. Chief among the potters spearheading the movement were Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach. Leach and Hamada, together with writer-philosopher Soetsu Yanagi, had been, in turn, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement in Great Britain and the writings of Ruskin and Morris. At the time of the flowering of the Mingei Ruskin was studied in Japan and the Ruskin Bunko (or Library) was established in Tokyo, where it still exists. Although the Mingei suffered a fall from its heights in the years during and immediately following the Second World War, the tradition has survived and has, in turn, helped to inspire many western potters.

The works on display in Common Cause range from the historical roots of folk craft pottery in China, Korea and Japan, through to contemporary makers in Britain inspired by the movement. The historical works are in the Blue Gallery, the works of Edward Hughes are in the Dining Room and there is a full display of the works of Miles Martin-Moore throughout the house.

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Ogata Kenzan (1663 – 1743) dish 18th C
Ogata Kenzan is one of the most celebrated potters in a country revered for its long and remarkable ceramic tradition. Kenzan’s work comes from the former imperial city of Japan, Kyoto. Although linked to an extremely refined tradition, Kenzan’s free and direct brushwork inspired the potters of the Mingei. In 1966 Bernard Leach wrote a book on Kenzan and his Tradition.
Kenzan, Ogata (1663 – 1743) Dish 18th C. FE.61-1977
Victoria and Albert Museum. Given by Bernard Leach, Esq. CH, CBE

Chinese rice bowl, 18th – 19th C
Mingei precepts derive from the tradition of utility, all products being primarily for use, not display. The elegance of everyday pottery dates back many centuries through oriental tradition. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Chinese built a large industry exporting decorative ceramics to the West but the Japanese were singular in being influenced by the grace and understatement of their folk ware.
Chinese Rice Bowl 18th – 19th century
Kōshō Sui Collection

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Ko Hiki tea bowl, Korean Yi Dynasty 19th C
The drinking of tea in the orient is associated with religious and philosophical ideas that are expressed in highly ritualised observances. Even, therefore, in the humblest homes, everyday tea ware possessed qualities that reinforced deeply held values and sensibilities. As with China, Korea had a long and impressive ceramic tradition which spread its influence across the water during Japan’s imperial era.
Ko Hiki Tea Bowl Korean Yi Dynasty 19th century
Kōshō Sui Collection

Issai tea bowl, Hagi Yaki, Japan
Hagi Yaki (Hagi ware) is the name given to pottery from the town of Hagi in Yamaguchi. The tradition of pottery in Hagi dates from the arrival of Korean potters following the invasion of Korea by Japan in the 16th century.
Hagi Yaki Tea Bowl by Issai Kōshō Sui Collection

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Mashiko Yaki tea bowl, Japan
As with Hagi Yaki, Mashiko Yaki takes its name from the place where it is produced. Mashiko ware developed from the mid-nineteenth century, being greatly invigorated in the early twentieth century when Shoji Hamada established his kiln there.
Mashiko Yaki tea bowl
Kōshō Sui Collection

Ruskin Pottery lidded jar c.1924
Inspired directly by Ruskin’s reputation as the father of the Arts and Crafts movement in England, Ruskin Pottery was founded by Edward Taylor for his son, William Howson Taylor. Based in Smethwick, it achieved considerable international success in the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Brantwood Trust

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Shoji Hamada (1894 – 1978) vase 1931
Shoji Hamada was designated a ‘living national treasure’ in 1955. His vitality and outward looking nature inspired generations of potters East and West. Hamada was a friend of the philosopher/writer Soetsu Yanagi who introduced him to Bernard Leach. The two formed a strong bond, travelling to and exhibiting in each others countries.
Hamada, Shoji (1894 – 1978) Vase 1931 CIRC.349-1939
Victoria and Albert Museum. Given by the Contemporary Art Society

Shoji Hamada (1894 – 1978) tea bowl c.1935
Both of the works by Hamada in this display were produced in his studio pottery at Mashiko, where he settled following his return from an extended period in England at Leach’s pottery in St Ives.
Hamada, Shoji (1894 – 1978) Tea Bowl c.1935 C.33-1966
Victoria and Albert Museum. Given by Mrs M.H.Tiltman

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Bernard Leach (1887 – 1979) bowl c.1930
Bernard Leach was born and brought up in the Orient but studied in London at the Slade and London School of Art, returning to Japan in 1909 at a time when Japan was opening up to western influences. This fusion of East and West was central to Leach’s entire career. In 1920, having met Hamada, he decided to return to England, where he joined the burgeoning arts and crafts community of St Ives and founded the Leach Pottery.
Leach, Bernard (1887 – 1979) Bowl c.1930 C.963-1935
Victoria and Albert Museum

Geoffrey Whiting (1919-1998) tea bowl 1970
Whiting was a disciple of Bernard Leach, who trained as an architect but spent his early years learning the potters craft in India. In England he founded the Avoncraft Pottery where he followed through his philosophy of providing honestly crafted products to the wider retail market. ‘Repetition,’ he said ‘engenders a self-discipline in the workmanship and a humility towards clay’.
Geoffrey Whiting (1919-1998) tea bowl 1970
Kōshō Sui Collection

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Edward Hughes (1953-2006) Ruskin dining table set 2000; sake cup 2004; bowl 2005
Edward Hughes, described in his obituary as ‘one of Britain’s unsung treasures’, was inspired to take up a career in pottery by his Lancashire schoolmaster. Aged 25, he moved to Japan, where he stayed for nearly six years, absorbing both the techniques and the philosophies of Japanese craft. He returned to England to study English slipware, a style of which he fused with his oriental approach. In England, based at Isel Hall in Cumbria, he developed a strong interest in Ruskin and in the writings of Yanagi. In the year 2000 he was invited to create a setting for Ruskin’s dining table using ash glazes from the Brantwood estate.
Edward Hughes (1953-2006) Ruskin dining table setting 2000
Brantwood Trust
Edward Hughes (1953-2006) bowl 2005
Pamela & Howard Hull
Edward Hughes (1953-2006) saké cup 2004
Pamela & Howard Hull

Martin Miles-Moore (b.1959)
Common Cause features a full exhibition of the work of Martin Miles-Moore. Over the last four decades Martin has created ceramics that have brought together influences from different cultures, especially Japan. He has become increasingly fascinated by the connections created by the vessels used in rituals of eating and drinking.

‘Through the eyes of an artist there is always a measuring, an evaluation of objects, a consideration of form: “Look, look at this, held against others it may be considered to have beauty.” Yet some artists are drawn also to function, and work within these disciplines: “Handle this, use it frequently, for a thing may have beauty beyond art” Here lies a truth, well understood in the East’.

Martin has just published Confluences, challenging Geoff Cox, poet and playwright, and Euan Adamson, photographer and sculptor, to capture this truth through interaction with his work. You will find Martin’s work throughout Brantwood, all work is for sale with price lists available in our shop, where you can also purchase your own copy of Confluences.

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Mitsuko Takahashi calligraphy 2019
Mitsuko Takahashi is a Japanese calligrapher who teaches calligraphy in Japan. She studied Ruskin at Lancaster University. Her rendition of Ruskin’s words from Unto This Last in English copperplate was made especially for this exhibition.

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