Eco-fying Your Pottery Collection in Onta, Japan
The appreciation of simple, everyday objects as functional works of art was part and parcel of Japan's Mingei (folk arts) movement in the 1920s and 30s. The tiny mountain village of Onta (sometimes Onda), Japan is one of the best places to get a feel for how this modern philosophy preserved traditional crafts and created a sustainable market for them. Home to ten potter families (and little else), the residents of Onta pound their clay using Korean-style kara-usu, traditional wooden see-saws with hammers on each end, powered by the water from a local stream. A pleasing by-product of the process is that the town is permeated by the soft "thump-thump" sound of a heartbeat. Teapots, plates, bowls, and cups are thrown on kick wheels, and all pottery is fired in wood-burning kilns. You can wander through the town's one narrow road and stop in each of the ten workshops to view the many different aesthetic manifestations of Onta's trademark cream glaze with chocolate-colored notches. Each potter has his own style, yet—following the Mingei tenet of the "unknown craftsman"—all of Onta's pottery bears the town's unique mark, rather than that of any particular artist.