A native of Okayama, Japan, ceramicist and ikebana artist Shuji Ikeda originally hoped to become a filmmaker. He came to the United States in 1973 to study film at San Francisco State University and graduated cum laude. But he grew frustrated by the challenges of breaking into the business and, in a serendipitous turn of events, turned to pottery as a means of therapy.
Now renowned for his craftsmanship and innovative methods — including his unusual woven baskets made of hundreds of delicate strands of clay and his organically elegant dancing pots — Ikeda has carved a unique niche for himself in the ceramics world. His work has been exhibited everywhere from San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Folk Art to Gump’s to the Smithsonian Institution.
The serene Ikeda is also an expert in the Japanese art of flower arranging, or ikebana. He holds a certificate from the Ikenobo Ikebana School in Japan and passes on his knowledge from his studios in Berkeley. “Flowers,” he says, “provide an opportunity to express oneself and communicate without the benefit of language.”
Like most ceramicists, Ikeda has developed his own distinctive styles of glazing, formulating personal recipes such as the refined “sei shya,” or blue rust, which he uses on his dappled, woven baskets. But it is the philosophy of the age-old ikebana that most clearly informs his work in clay, which can be intricate or simple, highly finished or naturalistic.
Spark visits with Ikeda in his studio and at a “noborigama” in Napa County, which is a 30-foot wood-burning kiln that is kept burning for seven days straight. Such kilns have been used in Japan since the 17th century. The noborigama’s wood-firing technique produces a unique natural ash glaze.