Portrait by Franco Salmoiraghi

Master Potter Clayton Amemiya

Hawaiian ceramicist collaborates with nature

Clayton greeted us with aloha. He toured us through his garden and it became clear that the garden had been created with the same heart and spirit we were soon to see in his ceramic work. Clayton Amemiya is a humble man with a passion that beams throughout everything he creates.

A Master Potter influenced by Asian history and the tumultuous environment where he now lives on the Big Island in Hawaii, Amemiya was born and raised in Honolulu on a Dole plantation where his Japanese Father was a foreman. In his early 20s, Amemiya became a United States Vice Consul, a diplomatic position at the United States Consulate General in Okinawa.  He was in Okinawa for 13 months, after which time he was transferred to the United States Embassy in Tokyo. 

  • Carved vase form with round shadow at top revealing actual color of the clay body
  • Large platter form with carved, circle design with natural ash glaze
  • Hapu'u fern shoot soon to unfurl
  • Large platter forms with accumulated rain water for cats and chickens
  • Once fired vases and bottles stored in workshop, awaiting second firing
  • Clayton Amemiya with Mama. Portrait by Franco Salmoiraghi.
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While living in Japan, he was introduced to Seisho Kuniyoshi, a ceramics artist with whom he began studying a broad variety of pottery forms and styles.  Seisho’s mentor and teacher was Hamada Shoji, one of the greatest ceramicist of his time.  In 1976, Amemiya purchased three acres of land in Waiakea Uka in northern Hilo, Hawaii for his home studio and abundant garden.

In 1986, his mentor and friend Seisho came to Hilo to build a traditional Anegama Kiln (Japanese: 窖窯), sometimes called a cave kiln since it is semi-subterranean. Anegama pottery is unglazed, yet still has a glazed-like effect caused by the patina built up from the wood ash and high heat. One firing will last 80-100 hours straight. Amemiya will have several people on hand to assist around the clock. He will gather work for 3 months to prepare for each firing. A typical kiln load consists of works such as bowls, cups and bottles, as well as larger planters and jars. During the nearly 100 hour firing period, the kiln will reach temperatures above 2,000 degrees. The fire will turn black then red, orange, yellow and at 2,000 degrees, when at its hottest temperature, white. Finally, only when it is white can you clearly see into the back of the kiln exposing the final work.

Many of his pots have carved motifs inspired by the volcanic landscape of the Big Island. The way the lava flows and ripples downward towards the sea, the terracing of the taro fields; these all are motifs commonly found in Clayton’s pottery. His mentor taught him that technical does not matter… the work can still prevail and be strong when it comes from the heart. His artwork can be found in both public and private collections throughout the world. I was honored to have spent time with Clayton Amamiya and photograph his creations.

 

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