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Japanese ceramics in Cismar

Jan Kollwitz, who lives in the village of Cismar in the eastern part of Holstein, has come to be known for his ceramics that are modeled on Japanese techniques.

After studying with Horst Kerstan in Kandern for three years, Jan Kollwitz became the personal student of Yutaka Nakamura in Echizen, Japan, for two years. Nakamura taught him the ancient firing methods associated with anagama kilns, as well as the traditional Echizen methods of making vessels. Equally formative for Jan Kollwitz was his friendship with the ceramicist Kazu Yamada, a pupil of Tokuro Katos.

Together, Kollwitz and Yamada initiated the plans of building an original anagama wood-burning kiln in Germany. They were able to convince the 71-year old master kiln builder Tatsuo Watanabe, from Mino, Japan, to come to Cismar in 1988, to undertake the project.

Typical for the wood-fired anagama kilns is that the fire and the process of firing takes place in one and the same chamber. The unglazed clay vessels are placed into the kiln where they are fired around the clock for four consecutive days. New wood must be added to the fire every three minutes. In 1300°C temperatures, flying ash melts onto the clay in a natural glaze, which can range in colour, depending on the position of the vessel in the kiln, from a clear green to a light, mat beige. Smoke and flames add red and grey coloration to the clay pots, and in some areas the firing even yields a deep blue.

The firing of the kilns is adjusted to Shigaraki- and Iga-techniques and is based on the experience and knowledge that Japanese ceramicists gained over four centuries in creating the kind of artistic pottery associated with the tea ceremony.

Delicate bowls for Ikebana are placed next to powerful, asymmetrical vessels. Equally impressive are the large storage jars in the Echizen tradition.

Those who introduce Japanese-style pottery into their European home will soon notice how much Japanese aesthetics share with 20th century Western modern, especially the type of clear forms that Jan Kollwitz also favours.

The gallery in the old parish house in Cismar is open almost everyday; it is recommended to call ahead.

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