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Handmade Culture: Raku Potters, Patrons, And Tea Practitioners In Japan, by Morgan Pitelka

From Vince Pitelka (Morgan's Father):

Morgan is a scholar of medieval Japanese ceramics and tea culture, but this book is very accessible and readable. For anyone who wants to gain a broader understanding of the origins and evolution of Raku ceramics as associated with Japanese tea culture, this is an excellent source, and dispels a lot of the hype and myth that has surrounded Japanese Raku ceramics.

Morgan is well-qualified to write on this subject. When he was in Japan doing the research for his doctorate from Princeton, he was the first Westerner given open access to the Raku family's collections and documents. His research, and this book, were both done with the blessings of Raku Kichizaemon, current head of the Raku household, who very much wants to see people gain a broader understanding of the tradition of Raku ceramics. In reviewing the book, Christine Guth at Stanford University said, "The historical sweep and expository clarity of his account will engage readers on many levels - not just scholars, but anyone with an interest in the arts of Japan."

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Book Description

"Handmade Culture" is the first comprehensive study in any language to examine Raku, one of Japan's most famous arts and a pottery technique practiced around the world.

More than a history of ceramics, this work considers four centuries of cultural invention and reinvention during times of both political stasis and socioeconomic upheaval. It combines scholarly erudition with an accessible story through its lively and lucid prose and its generous illustrations.

The author’s own experiences as the son of a professional potter and a historian inform his unique interdisciplinary approach, manifested particularly in his sensitivity to both technical ceramic issues and theoretical historical concerns.

The story of Raku begins in the late sixteenth century with the alleged meeting between Sen no Rikyû, Japan’s most famous tea practitioner, and Chôjirô, a tilemaker and potter who may have been part of the larger community of Chinese artisans responsible for bringing the fundamentals of the Raku technique to Japan. (In the seventeenth century, Chôjirô’s workshop would emerge as the most influential producer of Raku ceramics.) By foregrounding the web of interactions between potters, tea practitioners, merchants, warriors, and eventually modernizing intellectuals, the present volume tracks broader developments in the culture of early modern Japan. The iemoto organizational system, for example, which came to dominate many art and performance professions in the eighteenth century, is explored through a series of letters and other exchanges between Sen tea masters and Raku potters. The publishing boom of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries serves as background for an analysis of a secret manual of Raku production printed in Osaka and distributed across the archipelago. The role of elite warrior patronage of tea and ceramics at the end of the Tokugawa and the profound implications of the collapse of this patronage with the Meiji Restoration of 1868 also come into focus.

The work concludes by examining the repercussions of modernity, particularly in the multiple reconfigurations of tea and ceramics in early art exhibitions, art historical writings, and nationalistic publications on Japanese culture.

"Handmade Culture" makes ample use of archaeological evidence, heirloom ceramics, tea diaries, letters, woodblock prints, and gazetteers and other publications to narrate the compelling history of Raku, a fresh approach that sheds light not only on an important traditional art from Japan, but on the study of cultural history itself.

About the Author

Morgan Pitelka is Luce Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at Occidental College, Los Angeles.

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