Introducing Artist Amy Kennedy and a visit to the Feldspar Mines

Amy is a ceramic artist from Australia. She has a seemingly very mathematical approach to working with clay and glazes with amazingly creative, beautiful results.


Amy is an artist in residence at Shigaraki.  She (as have all of the artists) has been generous in giving information about the studio, their processes, the town, Kyoto, or wherever we need help in going about our daily lives. Below are some of her results from tests.



Amy has been here for two months and her tenacity with working with the local materials is admirable in constructing one piece of work by the time she leaves the residency the end of this month.  Check her out at

one of Amy’s works on her website


And…. the visit to the Feldspar Mines

If you don’t know, feldspar is a material ceramacists use in making clay and glazes.  There is a local mine west of Shigaraki, Hata feldspar.  The chunks of feldspar in the clay are what give the local clay the rough characteristics in the wood fired kiln, but the feldspar is also used to a greater extent in making concrete and paper and as resources go,  this mine is becoming depleted.  We really appreciated the opportunity to visit first hand, bring back some samples for hammering and sifting and just feeling this wonderful material.

beginning of our trek to the hill behind (there is a road around)


clambering about getting our samples


And  something extra!  Debra and I on an outing met this ‘dog’ we can’t identify, but it was a happy encounter.

do you know the breed?

Yeah, a Field Trip!

Our hosts took us to the Shigaraki Ceramics Research Centre downtown – soon to be located across from the Shigaraki Cultural Park.  The range of clays and glazes they develop is phenomenal and what is impressive to me, is they make their research results available to anyone who is interested – nothing secretive here, but you need an interpreter or you need to read Japanese to get the recipes.

As an extra bonus, there is a small exhibit of master potters, including National Treasure Hamada whose plates I feature below.

Beautiful plates by Hamada – an artist who has influenced many Vancouver ceramacists work through the years..

Akira and Amy examining an innovative way of processing clay

one of the many ways of testing glazes

a chemistry lab that most of us would love to have at hand, but we can benefit by their results!

there are rows and rows of glaze archives

And to top the week off.... on Saturday, David Helmers, an Australian ceramic artist at the residency had a well attended opening of his work at Fukuji Gallery in Shigaraki.

detail of one of David’s pieces – quite the feat in clay!

‘Animal Matter in Enchanted Space’ –  by David Helmers

Week 2

Surrounded by a moat…we sleep in the upper building

the local Shigaraki train –

Debra hard at work – a model for us all

We are now into what seems like a working routine, but it never really is.  How can it be a routine when we are in Japan?  I’ve attached a photo of the exterior of one section of where we are staying- it is that drab brown and grey, no green but at the end of next month it is hanami season and you (and we) will see the contrast.  It is already getting warmer – the other artists say we are just getting used to the cold and damp and warmth is an illusion.  No matter, it makes me feel warmer and that’s what matters!  We added another two working artists to our group today, both from Japan – all is well. We are a good mix of people and ideas – lots to learn.

The smallest anagama kiln on site – it takes 80 small bundles of wood to reach temp!

view outside my door – the studio is behind the trees


Cafeteria and museum up the hill from the studio

My first throwing with the very plastic Shigaraki clay

My studio space – note the space heater! There is also a heated floor in most of the studio.

From Tokyo to Shigaraki

Yes, Debra and I have arrived in Shigaraki! We have been here for six days after a thrilling week in Tokyo. We stayed in an area I’ve not been to in Tokyo before – Hiroo – between Shibuya and Roppongi – a combination of very small hole in the wall restaurants and shops and hotels, skyscrapers, etc…they use every inch of space.  It was cold while there – big wet flakes of snow when we went to the Tokyo National Museum that became a bit magical as we walked along the famed Ueno Park path and saw one lone cherry tree in bloom covered in snow with the pink petals peeking out!  We momentarily forgot how cold we were!

Snowy February day in Ueno Park, Tokyo

Locals are as polite and friendly as ever and I’m getting my feet wet trying to speak Japanese and after studying so hard, but in situ, it is more challenging. I blame it on the jet lag but I think I lost my brain for a bit! But, I will keep studying and practicing and hopefully, it will become easier. Google translate is great!  Deb and I have had a good start to our trip – so many things familiar yet so foreign. A few different social codes – no talking (reading is fine) on cell phones on public transportation or in restaurants, talking softly (if at all) in galleries, etc.  I guess  the large population makes this necessary and I don’t mind and appreciate  it for the most part.

Flower shop in Roppongi

14th c. Tokoname ware, Tokyo National Museum

Shigaraki is a small pottery town that has the ‘Tanuki” figure as mascot – see the photo! We arrived last Wednesday in this lovely rural town where  few people (except at the residency) speak any English.  There are other artists with us, mainly from Australia but one from Hong Kong who now lives in England; a Swedish couple who just finished a 3 month residency at Jingdezen, China; and a Swiss – that makes 9 guest artists including Debra and me.  There are also 4 (I think) invited Japanese artists who are doing very large scale work – their kilns and facilities are fantastic, as are their technicians and we have received a warm welcome by all.

Our welcome committee -Tanuki abound

My room is very similar to my Hungarian residency – single bed, but with the addition of a fridge and toaster oven to get me through the night as well as a private bathroom with a lovely little ofuru tub which is my private onsen at the end of the day.

I am using a local white stoneware clay and will try my hand at throwing with their black stoneware. It is very plastic and responsive and while I was working in the studio today, my white porcelain slip arrived from Tajimi, so I will begin casting work with that tomorrow! Enjoy the few photos I have attached and hope to say less and send more pics, even though as always, I have lots to say but I will try to resist!

Back Home and Transitioning Again….

Snow on our day of leaving – a bookend for our arrival

It was difficult saying goodbye yet again to our colleagues at ICS, but Debra’s lovely husband Terry (T-Bones) met us at YVR to take us home. As always, it is good to be back recognizing we had spent 5 weeks without TV and deliberately not following the news – almost a reverie! It takes time to integrate back to ‘normal’ life and recover from jet lag.

I realized mid-way while away that my blog was not being sent as I thought it was. I had hoped to keep you up to date on what I was doing and am sending the series from the last five weeks to you in one notice – my webmaster Mia of Kits Media has been able to readily fix it! I should have thought to ask her while away in Hungary.

sorting out for my studio

I had intended on immersing myself in my work using what I had learned right away, but I have been persuaded to completely revamp my studio (which was really needed) but it is a huge job. The upside is it will give me a fresh start, and if you are interested, I’ll keep you posted.

If you would rather not receive these blog emails, please let me know and I’ll take your name off the list.

Shelving for a fresh start – very exciting for me!

Unloading the Kiln and Leaving Again…

Jakob has loaded the large gas kiln with some of his large pieces on top along with Debra’s Kecskemeti goats – my tiles and tests are along the base of the kiln.

Klari, ever positive, unloading the kiln and examining the glazes… she says I need to return to obtain the formula for a luscious black glaze on one of my tiles – see below!

The black glaze recipe with the cobalt breaking on the edges… Herend porcelain fired to 1320 c.

A very successful baby on the roof tile by Debra – her donation to the collection – a wonderful gift.

Our night walk on the way to our dinner at ‘Spaletta’ a wonderful restaurant near by – every meal we have had there has been delicious!


We are packed, boarding passes downloaded, and are ready to go early morning.  It has been a wonderful few weeks here at this very different time of year for us. It remains cold with few residents, but everyone has been helpful as always and we are  made to feel so welcome.  I’ve learned so much and have ideas to work with for a long while.  Debra and I have spent our time well working together for our last five weeks – I feel very blessed an privileged to have such a strong professional and personal friendship with her.

Off to Frankfurt tomorrow and Vancouver on Thursday. I’m looking forward to home and loved ones but there is a tug at my heart at leaving here.

Finishing and loading our glaze firing…

We spent much of Friday and Saturday decorating and glazing our work – doing most of it outside in the -2 degree weather, but it was sunny!  Klari had mixed the glazes she recalled we liked and Jakob came to load the bisque with her on Thursday and then he came in again on Saturday and Sunday, his days off,  to load a large kiln and and to begin firing on Sunday!  We had to call him in on Saturday because the heat in our rooms had a ‘malfunction’ through the night and it can become cold very rapidly when it is -5!  We were most grateful to him and for our liaison Steve Mattison for getting in touch with him so quickly!

As always, I am feeling conflicted at our time ending here – it is such a refuge in so many ways from modern life – and it is such a privilege to work here, but more on that later…


‘Fragola’, a pastry at Vincent’s’ to satisfy a sweet tooth along with a beautifully brewed pot of tea!

The local Calvanist school off the main square – beautiful acoustics for concerts heard other years…

The Cifrapalota – Debra was in an exhibit here and this is what compelled us to visit in 2008 and apply for residencies in 2010, 2013 and 2017.

Debra in the spray booth

chimes at the Leskowsky Musical Instrument Collection entrance – where hundresd of classical, folk and experiment instruments are on display and where visitors can try them out. Simply wonderful place!

our studio with the lights on…

Jakob working on loading the large gas kiln on Sunday!

Long Rewarding Days…



My room – toasty warm with everything I need – shower not in this view, but it is there, and needed after a day of sanding and filing plaster…

assorted glassware for casting

triangular cast filled with slip

The plaster workshop with the beautiful table used on other visits, but as the temperature is quite frigid now, I have been relocated to a cozy room.

Week Three

Debra and I have just returned from our restaurant around the corner from ICS – Kiskubaci Etterem.  The waitress recognizes us from 2010, 2013 and from a few short visits by Debra and Terry in the interim.  She is happy to look after us, serve the favoured goulash and cabbage salad with a sauerkraut flavour, and of course two large flutes of Hungarian beer.  They seem to be one of the few places that does not cater to the German custom of steins and we like this.   There is always enough for us to ‘pack’ and add to our soup or hot lunches which we enjoy this time of year.

We continue to work hard in the studio, Debra in particular and we both recognize this as a privilege.  Last evening, we were treated by Gabi Kuzsel, who took us through the cellars of the ICS to look at the collection that has been amassed by ICS residents and guest artists for the last fourty years and, we are included in it as past residents.  It is awe inspiring, but we regret that there doesn’t seem to be the funding to catalogue, document, photograph and all of those things necessary for preserving the historical background of the artists and these pieces.  Gabi  curates exhibits in Budapest at regular intervals, but as this is such an exciting, historical collection, Debra and I wish for more.  But of course, we wish for this in Vancouver and Canada as well.

my ‘square pillow’ tile – the angles at the corners are causing challenges for casting… it is 19x18x43/4 cm and is fired to 1220 centigrade, cool for Hungarian firing and it will shrink close to 20%.

Morning coffee in the library – a favourite spot for me. All is quiet, surrounded by books and morning light.

One of the outside corridors with the low light at the end of the day… very romantic and soft…

We are getting ready for a bisque firing tomorrow and are looking forward to the results from the Laser kiln glaze firing to try to determine how we are going to proceed with the glazing after the weekend.  I am looking forward to seeing how my geometric forms bisque and specifically high fire.  Gabi thinks my pillow forms may have a bit of a collapse because of the angled corners. They have been a challenge to cast, but I am determined to  find a way to make the form work as I am so fond of it.


The upper floor library – a constant place of repose…

Last week it was freezing rain, now….

Boots were the rule of the day and night! Good for 20 below which we didn’t quite need, but almost.

Las week we could’t venture out because of freezing rain- scrambled eggs in. Debra took this photo outside our front door where cars were slipping and sliding – see the ice ruts below.

Treacherous for walking and driving


The cold and ice were last week.  This weekend we saw all the ice and snow melt and we were able to go out in t-shirts and vests in the sun, but more snow is due on Tuesday.

A gift of orange palinka from Klari and Jacob surrounded by my master moulds with casts in the background.

some casts and lattice-work, texture and trying the new form out

Debra working on a roof tile with a baby