Takaezu was born to Japanese immigrant parents in Pepeekeo, Hawaii, on 17 June 1922. She 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 and the techniques of traditional Japanese pottery, which influenced her work.
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.
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. 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.
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)
- Hau-Pulamamau, Kuakini Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii (1987)
- Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey (1989)
- University of Bridgeport, Bridgeport, Connecticut (1989)
It has also been in several group exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad 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)
- 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,
- Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
- Currier Museum of Art , Manchester, New Hampshire
- Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Heller, Jules; Heller, Nancy G., eds. (1995). North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century. New York and London: Garland Publishing. p. 536. ISBN 0824060490.
- Honolulu Museum of Art, Spalding House: Self-guided Tour, Sculpture Garden, pp. 5 & 18
- 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
- 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 978-0-937426-48-7, 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.
- Woolfolk, Ann, "Toshiko Takaezu," Princeton Alumni Weekly, Vol. 83(5), 6 October 1982, pp. 31–33.
- 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.