In a tranquil corner of the Honolulu Academy of Arts is a mini petrified forest—three branchless trunks stand sentinel outside the gallery of modern and contemporary art. The stoneware sculpture, Ceramic Forest—Three Trees, was made between 1975 and 1980 by renowned ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu, who passed away on Wednesday. The work is a stately testament to the talent of this influential artist who started her art studies right here at the Academy and went on to be a revered professor at Princeton University from 1967 to 1992.
In a 2006 review of Takaezu’s solo exhibition at New Jersey’s Hunterdon Museum of Arts, the New York Times called her “an alchemist, transforming base materials—mostly garden clay and mud—into museum-grade sculptures.”
The Academy and Takaezu share a long history. The artist had exhibitions at the museum (the last a joint retrospective with The Contemporary Museum in 1993), and the museum owns 27 pieces by her—25 ceramics, 1 painting, and 1 textile.
A year ago—on March 2, 2010—Takaezu was in town to see her sister. While in Honolulu, she visited the Academy to see her works in the museum’s collection. Courtney Brebbia, Collections Manager of the European and American Art Department, and Susan Thomas, Conservation Technician and friend of Takaezu, and staff photographer Shuzo Uemoto led the artist on a tour of her works in the vaults then had lunch at the Pavilion Cafe.
In January 2010, Uemoto shot Takaezu’s works from the Academy and The Contemporary Museum’s collections for the just-released book The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence, edited by Peter Held, Curator of Ceramics at the Arizona State University Art Museum and Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
Takaezu, born in 1922 in Pepeekeo on Hawai‘i Island to Japanese immigrants, was an internationally seminal figure in ceramics. To Hawai‘i she was a beloved daugher of towering accomplishment and her passing is mourned at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.