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japanese market position / us potters $ success

updated sun 13 jul 03


John Baymore on sat 12 jul 03

But things are changing over there very quickly. The culture is changing=

fast, traditions are changing, etc.

Cindi...... very, very true! Some of that is good...and some is quite

A number of years ago, I was in Tokyo on a business trip and had to fly t=
Hiroshima with a Japanese colleague. As we were getting a cab at the
a person walked by who was dressed in "traditional" Japanese clothing, an=
colleague commented that he was a famous potter. I don't think he knew o=
interest in clay, so the comment came out of the blue. Just wonder how
North American or European businessmen would know of the names of well
potters, let alone recognize them on sight.


Yeah... good point and good example. Other than other potters...... or
maybe other artists in other media........ the likelyhood that an "averag=
person" here would have been able to point out Peter Volkous walking by i=
an airport is pretty slim . If you brought up the name to someone
here..... "You ever hear of Peter Volkous?"..... they'd probably say, "No=
who does he play for?"

In some ways, in Japan the really top potters seem to have a profile in t=
public eye that is far greater than even someone like glass artist Dale
Chihooly has here. While certainly not EVERY SINGLE Japanese is aware of=

them..... with probably a higher percentage NOT being aware as each
sucessive year passes...... I think that currently a higher percentage of=

Japanese people might be able to recognize some of the better known potte=
on sight. Mainly because those potters get detailed mainstream media pre=
coverage more often than visual artists do here in the USA. So they are
somewhat more akin to a pop music or film artist over here in the
west.....although not anywhere NEAR the profile of an Emminem or a Britne=
. Over there either, for that matter .

I have mentioned this program here on CLAYART in the past......... there =
a great mainstream TV show in Japan
called "Pottery Pilgrimage" (Yakimono Tambo) that visits a different
potter each show. The level of the profile and the involvement in
documenting both process and aesthetics is reasonably deep. I subscribe =
TV Japan here in the US....... among other things to TRY to help me with =
poor language skills.... and that show is always a HIGH POINT for me
(along with the Sumo tournaments ). Coincidentially, Robert' Yellin's=

( latest email newsletter that I got today=

mentions the new crop of ceramic specific magazines that sprout up each
year over there and does a quick review of some of them. Robert also
writes a regular column in The Japan Times =

newspaper that is solely about pottery.
These kinds of things are everywhere over there. Richard Mahaffe's
recent comments here about the Japenese women's comments about how he
should be raising his prices there (which were already set at 4X his US
prices) and the high prices I have received for some work over there.....=
are just another indicator of the differences in precieved value for

Unfortunately...... we don't have a program like "CLAY TALK" over here on=

NPR . With..... Dunt and Crack
the Cristobalite Brothers. Ron and John would answer call in
questions from potters having problems with their glazes. (Sorry
guys...... had to say that ). (If you listen to'll get
this.) =

I will deliberately try try to keep the actual identity of the following
person unclear in my next comments...............

Within the last year, I had the opportunity to hear a VERY well known
American potter speak to a workshop group. This person is likely a
household name in most CLAYART'ers vocabulary. You have seen and probabl=
"drooled over" her/his pots in the ceramic mags. They are in numerous
museum collections. They are prominent in recent exhibitions. You'd
probably really like to own one of their pots. You probably aspire to be=

as successful in clay as she/he is. To equate this person to a Japanese
potter...... she/he would be one of the "biggies". Probably not the
equivalent of Shimoaka-sensei or any of the other "National
Treasures"............ but probably the only American equivalent of THAT
"prestige" might be the late Peter Volkous
. This person would be one of the most suceessful Japanese potters OTHER=

than one designated a LNT. Anyway....... this is not a "struggling" pott=
........ this is someone who is pretty much at the "top of their game" he=
in the USA. =

This person is not a college or university professor who also makes
pots....... although she/he does teach workshops and occasionally does
guest instructor stints. Thier work is very distinctive
functionally-oriented pots....not sculpture. This person makes pots that=

might be termed "personal"....... not pots that follow the "latest market=


This person explicitly explained to the assembled group that if it were n=
for her/his significant other's good job, economically they could not
survive on the claywork income. =

You would expect from the clearly "high profile" in the ceramic art worl=
that this person was making a reasonable living at his/her craft. He/she=

stated that is not the case. It was not that it took two of them working=

together to make a normal living......... which is the NORM in current da=
America for most folks.... and would be pretty much EXPECTED, potter or
not. It was that without that much larger significant income...... the
money made from being a potter would just not "float the boat" if the oth=
person did not have that pretty good paying job. I GREATLY applaud
her/his honesty in openly sharing that quite personal information with th=

I also greatly lament that such an unfortunate situation exists here in t=
USA. =

This is not a "starving artist" on the way up....... this is one of
America's reasonably recognized professional artists. That she/he WOULD =
relatively insolvent if it were not for another prime source of income is=

pretty shameful for our country in the 21st century. And that other sour=
of income =

is not some form of public =

cultural stipend to "sustain and support the arts" either......... like t=
LNT support is in Japan. It comes from another person's hard work.

Now....... many folks who "make a living in clay" in the USA and DO make =
all work...... there ARE some......... have often done so =

by living a lifestyle that minimizes the expenses side of the equation. =

And that is a wonderful thing and probably better for the planet.
Sometimes they also don't have any kids.....which REALLY tends to "up"=

the ole' bills . There are others that solve the financial issues b=
making pots that are heavily oriented to "market forces"...... and they
make mainly what sells in order to "pay the bills" and live what they
define as a normal lifestyle. (I know one of these that literally grosse=
millions of $ here in NH.) Some solve it by making two "lines" of
work.... the one that pays the bills and the one that is the pots they
actually WANT to make. But it was clear from this person's comments tha=
to live what might be described as a lifestlye comparable to say maybe a
good car mechanic, mid-level office worker, or something like that.... an=
to NOT change the work he/she wanted to make in a more commercially drive=
direction.......... it was just not going to happen.

In my estimation, in Japan, ...........without changing a thing about the=

pots....... this particular person would likely at least live a basically=

middle class lifestyle ........ and likely be able to do that without th=
significant other's income at all. =

Yes, the competition in Japan is fierce for a potter, as I mentioned once=

before. The grass over there is not THAT green. There are a LOT of
potters and the average person buying pots often is more descriminating
about the pots that they buy . So you better be good, or you'll be
pretty poor over there too . And like anywhere...... sometimes it al=
requires a dose of "luck", not to mention a good hand at marketing, PR, a=
people skills. And having the "right" sensei or connections is a BIG hel=
in Japan....bigger than it is here in the USA. But if you manage to "ma=
it" as a well known and respected potter in Japan......... you don't
typically need a partner to REALLY pay the bills.

So just another not so subtle indicator that the market for potters reall=
IS somewhat different over there from over here . =

When an unskilled burger flipper here in the USA makes just about $10 an
hour, a car mechanic gets something like $50-60 an hour, a lawyer get
$100-200 per hour and the highest paid profession in the world ....a
plumber......... makes some astronomical sum per hour exceeding Bill Gate=
net worth ....... why can't a "top of his/her game" professional US
potter make more than something approaching minimum wage or so?
(Rhetorical question)

All this, MOST IMPORTANTLY, is an indication about the seriousness for us=

collectively to work on addressing this particular issue in whatever smal=
ways we each might. We will NEVER re-create the Japanese appreciation fo=
handcraft and pottery here. It is a fluke of fate or God over there to
start with. But hopefully we can impact at least a LITTLE of the pubilc'=
preception about the ceramic arts here in the USA. We owe it to ourselve=
to TRY. We need a "Got CLAY" campaign of some sort .

Niel Young's album comes to mind....... "Rust never sleeps."



John Baymore
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086-5812 USA

603-654-2752 (studio)
800-900-1110 (studio)

"Earth, Water, and Fire Noborigama Woodfiring Workshop: August 15-24,