Ando hands the white glaze on this large cup. A treasure enclosed in the original signed wooden box. The white rise like fire up through the feldspar in perfect condition. "Hidetake was born third generation into a Mino pottery family in Gifu prefecture in 1938. He began an apprenticeship under Kato Tokuro in 1960. A testament to his skill "- Ando is the Living National Treasure of all the times. Fantastic execution
This piece comes with its original tomobako bearing the signature and seal of the artist. The bottom of the piece is also signed with Ando's characteristic mark "日" Ando, a master well known in Japan in particular for his Kiseto works.
You said you had to start from scratch and nobody would share their knowledge with you. Does that mean you even had to build your kiln with no advice whatsoever?
"Yes, indeed! I started out with a common gas kiln, to get started in the business. But after a while I could not find any satisfaction in just producing for the market. I felt an urge to try my hand at what the great potters of the Momoyama era made in their day. That would require a Momoyama style kiln - an anagama [cave kiln]. My older sister lived in a place called Kukkuri in Kani city, and she asked around if there was a piece of land somewhere in the mountains where I could build a kiln. Luckily there was a landowner in possession of what I was looking for. "There is a hill on my land you could use," he said. That was it. I borrowed six thousand yen and bought the land."
"Luckily there was a man who could give me advice on how to build my kiln which I called Sentarogama. It wasn't easy. Nothing about this work is easy, and that is why I love it so much! Thinking back about the potters in the Momoyama era you have to admire their accomplishments. In their time there was no electricity, everything was primitive compared to our present day. In spite of that they were able to produce the most exquisite pottery! I firmly believe that even today in order to produce something of that class you need to go up in the mountains and find the proper clay. You must make your own glaze the old fashioned way. Nothing you can buy will replace such raw materials. Once you have the materials and your kiln, the path ahead is trying, failing, and trying again. And it will never end."
At what point did you feel completely satisfied with a piece?
That point has yet to come. I have never felt I succeed completely! What's worse, those pieces that come out good enough to sell - none of which I would consider perfect - are but a fraction of the whole. Generally about ten percent are salable. You have to spend about 1500 bundles of firewood during the six days of firing. The cost is huge and must be covered by those few decent pieces. This is why I only use the best pine firewood from Fukushima in the last stage of the firing. The first three days I spend to raise the heat to an even level inside the kiln. In this first stage, we stoke every 30 to 40 minutes, and hold the temperature at 950 degrees Celsius for three days. Then we go from 950 to 1250, stoking every five minutes. Only at this stage I use expensive high quality firewood because that is the critical time in the creative process.
How about the placement of the pieces inside the kiln?
"There is no way to know how the fire and ashes will affect the pieces inside, you are completely at the mercy of Mother Nature. When firing Shino you also don't use any protecting casing for the pieces. You can only put them in there and hope for the best. Moreover, the kiln site outside on the slope of a hill. There is no way of knowing what the weather is going to be like, and the weather has a big impact on the conditions for the firing. Nevertheless I will always begin firing on the day I have decided, come sunshine or rain, it doesn't matter. So I am at the mercy of the elements. I only fire twice a year, in spring and autumn. Again, conditions differ between the seasons. So as you can see what comes out of the kiln is something Nature will decide, and that is also why I never get tired of this work!"
"The most important thing is to have fun. I find that the firing is the most exciting in the whole process. You can have the best clay in the world and give your pottery the best shape imaginable, but it is during those last climactic days in the fire of the kiln the final result is decided. It was thirty-five years ago that I climbed up that hill and began to build my anagama kiln in the middle of nowhere. I had to route power lines up there so I could have electricity. I must build a dwelling and a workshop, and dug a well. And of course I had to build the kiln itself. I lived like a tramp up there during this time," he says, laughing. "I spent days in the mountains to find the clay I needed. During all this time I have only found three good deposits. But it was what I had to do."
ABOUT HIDETAKE ANDO
Hidetaki Ando has been awarded the honorable titles of Gifu Prefecture Important Intangible Cultural Property Holder and Tajimi City intangible cultural property holder. He has also received numerous other cultural awards and has appeared frequently in the media, including TV programs broadcast by NHK, Japan's public broadcaster.