Crafts Study Centre visit Japan with ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant

Professor Simon Olding,  Director of Crafts Study Centre travelled to Japan in January 2019 with an ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant. This is the report from Simon’s visit.

The purpose of my research trip was multifold.  First, it was to investigate the possibility of holding an exhibition in 2020 at Crafts Study Centre (CSC) of Bernard Leach’s drawings and etchings and other two-dimensional work.  This exhibition would act as special celebration of the centenary of the founding of the Leach Pottery, St Ives, by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada. 

Secondly, I sought to develop a professional partnership between the (CSC) and Gallery St Ives, Tokyo as a means of developing potential museum connections and advancing the possibility of a Leach exhibition in Japan that in part would draw from the CSC collections. 

Thirdly, to build on existing connections with art museums in Japan and to visit for the first time the significant holdings of Bernard Leach in key Japanese art museums as well as build on contacts at the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art and the Mingei-kan (Japan Folk Craft Museum).

My initial meeting was with the Managing Director of Gallery St Ives, Koichiro Isaka.  Koichiro had generously investigated the opportunity of engaging with a Leach exhibition in Japan in advance of my trip, and set up a key meeting with the Director, Chief Curator and Assistant Curator of the Kawasaki City Museum.   The museum expressed specific interest in borrowing two dimensional works from the CSC’s collections (and drawings from The Leach Pottery, St Ives) and invited me to curate a section in a major exhibition on Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach in 2020.   This would be a prestigious loan and curatorial intervention which I believe would not have happened without this research trip.  The CSC will be seen as a responsible and serious lender to Japanese Art Museums, and this in turn will promote the CSC’s collections for future research.

Another important meeting was with Dr Sadahiro Suzuki, the Leach scholar and Yuko Matsuzaki, Curator of the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art to develop a clear understanding of planned Leach events in 2020 in Japan.   From this meeting we are working on an idea for Dr Sadahiro Suzuki to edit and publish a collection of Leach letters recently acquired by the CSC, and he is a vital advocate for CSC in its future dealings with the Mingei-kan.  Both Dr Suzuki and Yuko Matsuzaki have expressed their intentions to return to the CSC for research visits on the Leach archive.

I also had a meeting arranged by Dr Sadahiro Suzuki with the leader of the Curator’s department at the Mingei-kan, as well meetings at the exemplar Kawai Kanjiro’s House museum.   I now wish to encourage the Curator there to make a special exhibition of one highly important early Leach vase in 2020, as well as undertake new research on the CSC Leach archives that will hopefully appear in the 2020 exhibition in the Kawasiki City Museum.  

During this trip I was able to visit significant museum collections relating to Leach and Hamada for the first time, most especially the Ohara Art Museum, with the craft art gallery and its connected holdings of the Folk Art leaders.   I now have a deeper understanding of the holdings of Leach in Japanese art museums as well as an enriched understanding of the Folk Art traditions there.   In addition through proximity with the artefacts on display, has enabled me to understand more clearly the connections between them and the importance of the work of Kawai Kanjiro, Shoji Hamada and Tomimoto Kenkichi on Bernard Leach. 

In addition to these meetings I manage to visit exhibitions at Gallery Gallery in Kyoto,  21_21 Design in Tokyo and a private ceramics gallery in Kyoto.   However, it was disappointing that the Asahi Villa Museum of Art had withdrawn their Leach collections from display prior to a new exhibition planned for March 2019, but the Assistant Curator promised to send a catalogue of the show which will be important for future research.

Key to the success of my trip was having an advocate in Japan, so that the key contacts and meetings were arranged in advance.  This was also true of the unsolicited meeting arranged for me by Dr Suzuki at the Mingei-kan.  The trip was intensive, with four city stops, which on reflection may have been over hasty.  On another occasion I should have liked to book actual research time on specific artefacts or archives as a corollary to the trip.

From this trip my personal and professional contacts with curators in Japan has significantly advanced.   Japanese museums are also now better informed about the Leach collections at the CSC.   I will develop ideas for a CSC exhibition on Leach in 2020 enriched by a new understanding of his work in Japanese public collections, a number of which I have been able to see for the first time.   Therefore, I will seek for research funds from within the University for the Creative Arts should the exhibition idea proceed, as a further research visit to Kawasaki may be important.

I feel more confident about curatorial connections and exhibition delivery with my Japanese colleagues, and there is scope for new research activity as a result.  I believe these relationships are best developed by personal contact, and this was a very key feature of my trip.   Japanese museum colleagues had not considered a connected advertisement of the UK and Japanese Leach exhibitions in 2020, and this trip I hope will establish a mutual approach to the centenary events in the UK and Japan, fostered by this international exchange.



‘This trip has advanced the professional reputation of the Crafts Study Centre in Japan and will enable new research visits by Japanese curators to the CSC leach holdings.’

Alison Britton, Chair, CSC Trustees