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Yoshiko Takahashi and Georgette Zirbes

Forging a New Path: Women in Japanese Ceramics

Yoshiko Takahashi, a woman with dark hair wearing a white shirt and black-framed glasses, carves a clay sculpture with a tool.

Friday, April 14, 2023
5:30 pm


In-person Event

U-M Museum of Art
525 S State St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109


Penny Stamps Speaker Series
Open to the public
Free of charge
Watch Video

Ceramics artists Yoshiko Takahashi and Georgette Zirbes discuss the influence of the Shigaraki tradition on their work and the intergenerational global exchange among American and Japanese artists that helped to pave the way for women ceramics artists.

This program is presented in connection with the UMMA exhibition Clay As Soft Power: Shigaraki Ware In Postwar America and Japan, on view through May 7, 2023. Known for its earthy tones, rough clay surfaces, and natural ash glazes, Shigaraki ware is celebrated as one of the Six Ancient Kilns” of Japan, ancient sites of pottery production and cultural heritage in which wares have been produced from the middle ages to today . 

Until the mid-twentieth century, women in Japan played supporting roles in ceramic production. After World War II, the number of women ceramic artists in Japan gradually increased as access to education and professional development expanded. A robust exchange with American women ceramic artists contributed to this shift as well. U‑M Professor Emerita Georgette Zirbes was one of these American artists. By the 1960s, a notable number of women had founded their own ceramics studios, carried out every step of production from modeling to firing by themselves, and produced ceramics not only to earn a living but as a means of self-expression. The current generation of women artists such as Yoshiko Takahashi has inherited the legacy of the remarkable independence of Zirbes and others in her cohort.

Join these two artists along with exhibition curator Natsu Oyobe for a deep dive into their work and the influences that continue to connect them today.

The program will be followed by UMMA Feel Good Friday. Stick around for an evening of programming inspired by the Clay as Soft Power exhibition.

Yoshiko Takahashi was born into the family of Takahashi Rakusai, a lineage of makers of Shigaraki ware that started in the nineteenth century. She will be the first woman artist to succeed to the Rakusai name. Takahashi studied ceramics at the Kyoto Prefectural Ceramicists’ Technical Institute and the Shigaraki Ceramic Research Institute. After graduating, she became a studio technician for the artist-in-residence program at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, working in the stimulating environment of international and national artist exchanges. Now an independent artist in Shigaraki, she regularly exhibits her works in museums and galleries throughout Japan and the United States.

Georgette Zirbess artistic practice has been informed by her experience and research in Japan and Eastern Europe. After receiving an MA in ceramic art from The Ohio State University in 1964, Zirbes was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Japan and studied with two masters of the woodfired, unglazed ceramic tradition: Fujiwara Kei (1924 – 1977) in Bizen and Takahashi Rakusai III (1898 – 1976) in Shigaraki, where she learned about asymmetric forms and interventions into clay surfaces. In 1987, another Fulbright grant allowed her to spend six months studying ceramic traditions in the former Czechoslovakia. While retaining her studio practice, she was a devoted educator and in 1970 she established the studio art program at the Residential College at the University of Michigan; she later became a faculty member at the University’s School of Art and Design, where she taught for thirty-five years. In 2006, she was named an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor by the University of Michigan in recognition of her dedication to teaching. A retrospective exhibition was held at her undergraduate alma mater, DePauw University, in 2017.

Established through the generosity of Dr. Herbert Sloan, the annual Doris Sloan Memorial Program honors one of the Museum’s most ardent friends and supporters, Doris Sloan, a long-time UMMA docent.

This program is presented in partnership with the University of Michigan Museum of Art and sponsored by the Japan Business Society of Detroit Foundation and Takahashi Omitsu. 

Lead support for Clay as Soft Power: Shigaraki Ware In Postwar America and Japan is provided by the U‑M Office of the Provost, the Japan World Exposition 1970 Commemorative Fund, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Michigan Arts and Culture Council, and the U‑M Center for Japanese Studies. Additional generous support is provided by the Japan Foundation, James M. Trapp, Nancy and Joe Keithley, and the William C. Weese, M.D. Endowment for Ceramic Arts. 

Series presenting partners: Detroit Public Television and PBS Books. Media partner: Michigan Radio.


Content Notice

In accordance with the University of Michigan’s Standard Practice Guidelines on Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression, the Penny Stamps Speaker Series does not censor our speakers or their content. The content provided is intended for adult audiences and does not reflect the views of the University of Michigan or Detroit Public Television.