Takaezu was born to Japanese immigrant parents in Pepeekeo, Hawaii, on 17 June 1922. She moved to Honolulu in 1940, where she worked at the Hawaii Potter's Guild creating identical pieces from press molds. While she hated creating hundreds of identical pieces, she appreciated that she could practice glazing. Takaezu attended Saturday classes at the Honolulu Museum of Art School (1947–1949) and attended the University of Hawaii (1948, 1951) where she studied under Claude Horan. From 1951 to 1954, she continued her studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (1951), where she befriended Finnish ceramist Maija Grotell, who became her mentor. In 1955, Takaezu traveled to Japan, where she studied Zen Buddhism, tea ceremony, and the techniques of traditional Japanese pottery, which influenced her work. While studying in Japan, she worked with Kaneshige Toyo and visited Shoji Hamada, both influential Japanese potters.
She taught at several universities and art schools: Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio (10 years); Honolulu Academy of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii; and Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey (1967–1992), where she was awarded an honorary doctorate.
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.
Takaezu died in 2011 in a Honolulu convalescent center after a stroke in May 2010.
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, once commenting, "In my life I see no difference between making pots, cooking and growing vegetables... there is need for me to work in clay... it gives me answers for my life." 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.
She was once asked by Chobyo Yara what the most important of her ceramic pieces is. She replied that it is the hollow space of air within, because it cannot be seen but is still part of the pot. She relates this to the idea that what’s inside a person is the most important.
Takaezu had many solo exhibitions throughout the United States:
- University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin (1955)
- Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio (1959, 1961)
- Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville, Tennessee (1961)
- Gallery 100, Princeton, New Jersey (1965)
- Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon (1971)
- Florida Junior College, Jacksonville, Florida (1975, 1985)
- Hale Pulamamau, Kuakini Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii (1987)
- Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey (1989)
- University of Bridgeport, Bridgeport, Connecticut (1989)
She has also been in several group exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally in countries including Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Japan, and Switzerland.
Honors and awards
Takaezu won many honors and awards for her work:
- McInerny Foundation grant (1952)
- Tiffany Foundation grant (1964)
- National Endowment for the Arts fellowship (1980)
- Dickinson College Arts Award (1983)
- Living Treasure award, Honolulu, Hawaii (1987)
Collections containing work
Takaezu's work may be found in private and corporate permanent collections, as well as several public collections across the United States:
- Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts
- Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania
- Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
- Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
- Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania
- Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
- Canton Museum of Art, Canton, Ohio
- Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
- Currier Museum of Art , Manchester, New Hampshire
- Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan
- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, California
- Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York
- Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, New Jersey
- Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, New Jersey
- Hawaii State Art Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii
- High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia,
- Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii
- Kresge Art Museum, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
- Museum of Arts and Design, New York, New York
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
- Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey
- New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey
- Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Racine Art Museum, Racine, Wisconsin
- Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington
- Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
- Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
- University Art Museum, Albany, New York
- University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hawaii
- University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire
- Zanesville Museum of Art, Zanesville, OH
Takaezu's work may also be found in the National Museum in Bangkok, Thailand.
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
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