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Japanese Neolithic and Six Old Kiln ceramics


Jōmon culture | Japan | ‘Deep pot’ Middle Jōmon period, 3000-2000BCE | Earthenware | 53cm (h.) | Purchased 2008. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Japan has a long, rich tradition of ceramic production. These earthenwares from the Jōmon (3000–2000 BCE) and Yayoi (400–300 BCE) cultures, while created as functional vessels for cooking and food storage, also provide us with some of the earliest examples of abstracted design in their decoration. This embellishment was typically created by pressing a variety of jōmon (chords) into the vessel’s clay surface.

Other decorative effects include linear reliefs of striking spiral patterns thought to contain symbolic meaning, created with thin strips of clay or by drawing bamboo combs across the surface; and nail-marking, in which a series of indentations is made in the clay using split bamboo or fingernails. These clever decorative schemes demonstrate the skill of the potters as they overcame the restrictions of their simple hand-building and open-pit firing techniques.

A group of Six Old Kilns ceramics from the medieval Kamakura (1185–1333) and Muromachi (1338–1568) periods complement this collection. Initially produced for use in an agrarian society, this stoneware has been viewed with particular regard since it came to the attention of wabi-cha (tea ceremony) exponents in the fifteenth century.

Created from local clays, the Six Old Kilns wares were shaped into jars by coiling clay ropes on a potter’s wheel. After firing at high temperatures, diverse decorative effects were available – many of the jars are covered in a natural glaze that formed as wood ash was blown through the kiln, settling on the pots and melting to glass in the intense heat. This glaze is often spotted with particles that have dropped from the kiln ceiling.

Their unsophisticated manufacture gave the Six Old Kilns wares an engaging individuality that perfectly suited the wabi-cha admiration of simplicity, unpretentiousness and imperfection.