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Tea Monologues

An online repository of tea-related musings, monologues and knowledge.

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Producer Stories: Shumpei Yamaki

Collection of wood-fired tea cups and bowls on a wood table

In the world of handmade teaware, wood-fired pieces tend to attract the most attention—and for good reason. Each piece is unique, and one can never be sure how different elements, compounds, and the atmosphere will affect the results until the kiln is opened days later. That being said, a skilled craftsman knows how to prepare his kiln to create dynamic colors, textures and shapes. He is both influencer and influenced, able to control the flames in his kiln yet never able fully decide the outcome.

Man throwing stoneware bowl on wheel

Shumpei at his wheel

For Kamakura-born ceramicist Shumpei Yamaki, wheel-throwing and wood-firing is a meditative practice that allows him to communicate through art. Just twice a year, Shumpei fires his wares for 100 hours in his personal anagama kiln in Iowa to enhance the texture and shapes of his pieces. The results are breathtaking, one-of-a-kind pieces that feel at once distinct yet harmonious amongst each other.

Shumpei's kiln in Iowa

Unloading Shumpei Yamaki kiln

Unloading Shumpei's anagama kiln

Shumpei's most recent work from his bi-annual firing

Aesthetics aside—one tea cup shimmers with kelp green luminescence, while another of the same firing reminds one of soft, warm sand beneath curled toes—Shumpei's wares are best understood when one considers the intention he imparts in each piece. From throwing to glazing to carefully loading his kiln, Shumpei allows each piece to find its fullest expression in harmony with chance, preferring to craft with feeling rather than create uniform collections of production tableware. His wares reflect the spirit of Japanese tea ceremony: each piece representing a moment in time and space, never to be recreated, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity captured in stone.

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