She was born to Japanese immigrant parents in Pepeekeo, Hawaii, in 1922. She studied at the Honolulu Museum of Art and at the University of Hawaii under Claude Horan from 1948 to 1951. From 1951 to 1954, she continued her studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where she befriended Finnish ceramist Maija Grotell, who became her mentor.
In 1955, Takaezu traveled to Japan, where she studied Buddhism and the techniques of traditional Japanese pottery, which continue to influence her work. She taught for ten years at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and then from 1967 to 1992, she taught at Princeton University, where she was awarded an honorary doctorate.
Takaezu treated life with a sense of wholesomeness and oneness with nature; everything she did was to improve and discover herself. She believed that ceramics involved self-revelation. When she developed her signature “closed form” after sealing her pots, she found her identity as an artist. The ceramic forms resembled human hearts and torsos, closed cylindrical forms, and huge spheres she called “moons.” Before closing the forms, she dropped a bead of clay wrapped in paper inside, so that the pieces would rattle when moved. The most important part of her ceramic pieces is the hollow space of air within. She relates this to the idea that what’s inside a person is the most important.
She retired in 1992 to become a studio artist, living and working in the Quakertown section of Franklin Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, about 30 miles northwest of Princeton. In addition to her studio in New Jersey, she made many of her larger sculptures at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. She lived in Hawaii for 10 years and died March 9, 2011 in Honolulu.
Toshiko Takaezu made functional wheel-thrown vessels early in her career. Later she switched to abstract sculptures with freely applied poured and painted glazes. In the early 1970s, when she didn’t have access to a kiln, she painted on canvas.
Public collections containing work
The Addison Gallery of American Art (Andover, Massachusetts), the Allentown Art Museum (Allentown, Pennsylvania), Bloomsburg University (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), the Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, Ohio), the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Currier Museum of Art (Manchester, New Hampshire), the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery (Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY), the Hunterdon Art Museum (Clinton, New Jersey), Grounds for Sculpture (Hamilton, New Jersey), the Hawaii State Art Museum, the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia), the Honolulu Museum of Art, Kresge Art Museum (Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Arts and Design (New York, New York), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the New Jersey State Museum (Trenton, New Jersey), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Racine Art Museum (Racine, Wisconsin), the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.), the University Art Museum (Albany, New York), the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and the Zanesville Museum of Art, Zanesville, OH, are among the public collections holding works by Toshiko Takaezu.
Shiro Momo (White Peach), porcelain by Toshiko Takaezu, 1992, Hawaii State Art Museum
'Garden Piece', hand built stoneware by Toshiko Takaezu, 1973, Hawaii State Art Museum
'Ceramic Forest - Three Trees', stoneware sculpture by Toshiko Takaezu, 1975-1980, Honolulu Museum of Art
- Clarke, Joan and Diane Dods, Artists/Hawaii, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1996, 98-103.
- Department of Education, State of Hawaii, Artists of Hawaii, Honolulu, Department of Education, State of Hawaii, 1985, pp. 55–60.
- Haar, Francis and Murray Turnbull, Artists of Hawaii, Volume Two, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1977, 79-84.
- Honolulu Academy of Arts, Toshiko Takaezu, Honolulu, HI, Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1993.
- Honolulu Museum of Art, Spalding House Self-guided Tour, Sculpture Garden, 2014, pp. 5 & 18
- Morse, Marcia, Legacy: Facets of Island Modernism, Honolulu, Honolulu Academy of Arts, 2001, ISBN 0-937462-48-2, pp. 24, 82-87
- Morse, Marcia and Allison Wong, 10 Years: The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2006, ISBN 1888254076, p. 111
- Takaezu, Toshiko, Portfolio in Bamboo Ridge: Journal of Hawai'i Literature and Arts, Spring, 1996, 26-30.
- Takaezu, Toshiko, Toshiko Takaezu, Four decades, Montclair, N.J., Montclair Art Museum, 1989.
- Yake, J. Stanley, Toshiko Takaezu, The earth in bloom, Albany, NY, MEAM Pub. Co., 2005.
- Yoshihara, Lisa A., Collective Visions, 1967-1997, Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1997, 61.
- Grimes, William (March 19, 2011), "Toshiko Takaezu, Ceramic Artist, Dies at 88", The New York Times
- "Renowned Hawaii Artist Toshiko Takaezu Dies", Honolulu Civil Beat, March 10, 2011
- Duazo, Catherine (March 11, 2011), "Former visual arts professor Takaezu passes away at 88", The Daily Princetonian
- Strickland, Carol (Oct 6, 1997). "Master of Art and the Art of Living, Everything Ceramic Artist Toshiko Takaezu does Feeds into the Process of Discovering and Creating". The Christian Science Monitor.
- Honolulu Museum of Art, Welcome to the Honolulu Museum of Art, 2012, p. 8
- Toshiko Takaezu group on Facebook
- Essay about Takaezu by Tony Ferguson
- Grounds for Sculpture
- Chautauqua Institution
- NJN:New Jersey Network
- Art Net