Weekly Highlight: SETO Hiroshi 瀬戸浩 (1941-1994) A lost hero. Part I: Mashiko
We begin our weekly highlights for 2016 with a three-part story of a forgotten potter whose short life and great work can serve as an inspiration for all of us in the New Year and beyond.
Mashiko 益子 is a small town, two hours by bus north of the metropolitan center of Tokyo. The ride holds little visual interest, save for the occasional group of buildings and warehouses or a low sweeping vegetable field. But at the end of the ride one comes to Mashiko, a town that renowned potter HAMADA Shoji 浜田庄司 (1894-1978) helped to establish as a major ceramics center in the early 20th century. Hamada's friendship with legendary British potter Bernard Leach (1887-1979) helped to carry the Mashiko tradition to St. Ives and beyond, solidifying Mashiko's respected international status.
Because of Hamada, Mashiko became a small village full of big pottery stars: Living National Treasure SHIMAOKA Tatsuzo 島岡達三 (1919-2007), KAMODA Shoji 加守田章二 (1933-1983), TAKAUCHI Shugo 高内秀剛 (1937- ) and many more have since claimed Mashiko as their hometown. Meanwhile, potters such as ITO Motohiko 伊藤東彦 (1939- ), WADA Morihiro 和田守卑良 (1944-2008), and KOINUMA Michio 肥沼美智雄 (1936- ) popularized the neighboring village of Kasama 笠間, home to the Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum, which often showcases the best pottery in the region.
Though the great Tohoku earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 did not directly hit Mashiko, it did unfortunately impact the pottery industry there. Fewer people now visit Mashiko than before as the earthquake destroyed many historical sites and many great works of art, including several of Hamada's iconic platters.
Our hero Seto Hiroshi also called Mashiko home.
He studied under TOMIMOTO Kenkichi 富本憲吉 (1886-1963), KONDO Yuzo 近藤悠三 (1902-1985), FUJIMOTO Nodo 藤本能道(1919-1992). He lived in Tomimoto's upstairs for a few months. He classmated with MIYASHITA Zenji 宮下善爾 (1939-2012) and close friends with KAMODA Shoji 加守田章二 (1933-1983) who was eight years older, like a big brother to him. KURIKI Tatsusuke 栗木達介 (1943-2013), a recently passed star, was like Seto's younger brother.
On a recent December morning, we enjoyed a visit with his widow, Mrs. Seto, who met us at the bus terminal and drove us to her late husband's studio. In this humble space, we were shown how the artist lived, worked, and dreamed as he struggled with and created great works from the Mashiko clay - next week we'll share his story with you.