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ah leon and global craft perspectives

updated sat 31 may 97


Mark Richard Leach on sun 11 may 97

I love this list!

In regard to Ah Leon, I have the following response to offer. Whether a
potter spends 15 minutes on a tea/coffee cup or a ceramic sculptor spends
years honing an object to what is, in his/her mind perfection, the net
concern ought to be the same.

Here's a good example. I have 4 coffee cups, all wheel-thrown. All four
appear to be formed and glazed alike. Truthfully, each is a modest
variation upon a singular form, just as they should be in a set. They
hang on my kitchen wall and each morning I look carefully for the same
one! Why? Well, for several reasons. One, because I get extraordinary
pleasure from holding a well-wrought handle and perfectly balanced
container; two, when the lip of the cup meets mine and the hot beverage
transfers, magic begins. In part, it has to do with the softness of the
waxy satin glaze but the cup's exquisitely proportioned lip also plays a
role. And I thoroughly enjoy holding the cup by its handle...its that
comfortable! Now I purchased these cups 12 years ago in Montana and
though I use them daily and they are thus very familiar to me, my
connection with them has nevertheless deepened over the years. If
pressed, I might describe them as utensils that have taken on a
fetish-like quality. Who would have believed that 12 years later that I
would honor these vessels more than the day that they were bought? On
the other hand, I'm not so surprised and here's why!!!

Italian designer and manufacturer Alberto Alessi has often spoken of the
role craftsmanship and artisanry play in creating objects. He has
remarked, for example, that "...handcrafts and artistic design encompass
two general human concepts which have most certainly not lost their
importance in our consumer society. One is the single-minded quest for
quality. The other is job satisfaction." Quality and satisfaction are
timeless just as ideas thoughtfully expressed in either verbal or visual
terms become touchstones for pleasure.

I return now to Ah Leon's "Bridge" and to other pieces of his imaginative
and technically provocative work. Here's my take. Leon is Tiwanese.
The geography of Tiwan and China are intimate and one would expect that
tough they sometimes find themselves at political and cultural odds with
each other, that there might be things about one another that each
believes is worthy of admiration. Chinese YIXING ceramics is amazing
material and among the high points of this heritage is the way the genre
epitomizes nature. Think of the many beautiful and haunting export
pieces, even those of today's YIXING potters. Incidently, the Mint now
owns several due to New York developer Allan Chasanoff's generosity.
Leon may indeed want to indirectly honor the Chinese export tradition by
using the bridge as a symbol for utility (bridges clearly serve useful
purposes). The clay is also fashioned in such a way as to mimic
nature/natural materials. But Leon adds other dimensions and meaning to
the concept of use. He varies scale and display site and in doing so
creates the possibility for the bridge to function as icon and metaphor.
As an outsider to but nonetheless an admirer of the ceramic heritage of
Tiwan, I constantly find myself dwelling upon the richness of Mr. Leon's

That a Tiwanese gentleman labors for several years on one piece causes me
to feel great HUMILITY and RESPECT.

Mark Richard Leach
Craft and Design
Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte