takaezu obit photoFor decades, the Hunterdon Art Museum was graced by the talents and energy of Toshiko Takaezu, who played a vital role in the Museum’s growth and passion for contemporary art.

Now the Museum is graced by the presence of her sculpture, Three Graces in the garden of the soon-to-be christened Toshiko Takaezu Terrace, named to honor the internationally renowned artist whose work elevated ceramics from functional craft to fine art.

Toshiko created a series of Three Graces as she sought to experiment in her expanded studio space with bigger kilns to create works on a larger scale. The Three Graces — representing love, beauty and wisdom — are large cylindrical cast-bronze pieces that undulate from their base.

The work is on long-term loan from the Takaezu Studio.

Toshiko’s ceramic work evolved early on from traditional small utilitarian vessels into the closed forms for which she became known worldwide. By combining exquisite glazes with these forms, Toshiko created seminal works that influenced generations of artists. Discussing her work, The New York Times noted in Toshiko’s 2011 obituary, “

[In her] stoneware and porcelain works, some small enough to fit in the palm of one hand, others monoliths more than six feet tall, Ms. Takaezu blended the expressive bravura of painters like Jackson Pollack and Franz Kline with the calm, meditative quality of traditional Japanese pottery in forms suggestive of acorns, melons or tree trunks.”

Toshiko gave her time and energies generously to the Museum beginning with her arrival in Clinton in 1964. She first set up a studio in the old Clinton Music Hall while on a year’s sabbatical from the Cleveland Institute of Art. (She later moved on to teach ceramics at Princeton University.) By October of that year, she became an integral part of the Museum’s family by helping establish the Hunterdon Art Center’s craft sales gallery and accepting the role of chair of the crafts committee.

The Museum highlighted Toshiko’s work in three solo exhibitions. The first, in November of 1973, displayed a mix of her ceramics, sculptural forms, painting and weaving — many of which were being exhibited for the first time. During this exhibition, an experimental multimedia show was created that combined her moonpots with slides and an original musical composition by Juli Davidson.

toshiko postcardIn 1998, the Museum highlighted Toshiko’s work in a major exhibition Toshiko Takaezu: At Home. The exhibition filled three Museum floors and displayed works most of which could be found in her home. “Pots line the walls of her studio, spill out into her yard, sit perfectly in her second floor galleries. To be in her house is to be surrounded by her work. Life and art are one in her home,” noted the Museum’s program for the exhibition.

A decade later, the Museum hosted another exhibition of Toshiko’s work that highlighted her significant contributions to ceramics as art, and in 2009 she worked with the Museum to help curate an exhibition of the work of four of her Princeton University students.

In 2007 and again two years later, she gave the Museum works for its collection, a closed form and a tree, which is currently on exhibit in the lobby.  In 2010, the Emperor of Japan presented her with the Konjuhosho Award conferred on individuals who have made significant contributions to Japanese society. and she chose to have the presentation at the Hunterdon Art Museum. In 2011, her memorial service was held at the Hunterdon Art Museum, the place that she imbued for so many years with her spirit, energy and passion for contemporary art. That sense of life can be felt on the terrace that bears her name, and in the sculpture that enhances it.

“You are not an artist simply because you paint or sculpt or make pots that cannot be used,” she said in a 1975 interview with Ceramics Monthly. “An artist is a poet in his or her own medium. And when an artist produces a good piece, that work has mystery, an unsaid quality; it is alive.”

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