One morning in January, it was with immense joy that we hopped on a train from Kyoto bound for a small station in Shigaraki where we were to meet Momoko and Tetsuya Otani – husband and wife, potters, and parents to three daughters. The Otanis are interesting because although their work is distinct and their brands are separate entities, it’s difficult to speak of one without the other as they not only share a physical studio space and kiln, but their studio is also an extension of their home.
Since Momoko and Tetsuya work and live on the same property, and even have a showroom on the premise, it feels as if their work and private life are one. Our conversations start with work and always inevitably integrate anecdotes of personal life.
Such a wonderful life they’ve built for themselves in the Shigaraki mountain tops! Their three daughters and golden retriever ran around the house while we all talked over tea about their upcoming exhibition at our store in August (details coming soon!).
Their cupboards and shelves are full of beautiful works – some very familiar pieces by friends but mostly of their own pieces. Their individual pottery style is very different from one another but their collections can be used at the same table setting in a harmonious way.
Tetsuya’s smooth white pieces against Momoko’s decorative works are in many ways the perfect combination and there was no better place to see how they play off of one another then in their recently built showroom.
The top of their kiln is lined with pyrometric cones that absorb heat to determine how a kiln fire is progressing. Each firing can only hold a certain amount so when we looked at the number of pieces drying on the shelf that are in line to enter the kiln, it really put it into perspective the limited quantity they are able to make. It really is just two hands making each piece! We started preparing for our August exhibition with the couple two years ago and even with that much notice, creating all the pieces for the show with their busy schedule seems like an insurmountable task. We will all be able to breathe easy come the opening on August 18th!
Once in their studio, it was clear that they each had their own working space. Momoko’s area is colourful with paintbrushes, bright green paint and pencil crayons lying around. She has all kinds of tools for scratching and marking and an inspiration wall pinned with pictures of lotus flowers and cats.
Watching Tetsuya quietly sitting as he made a strainer for a teapot, one tiny hole at a time, gave us a lot of insight into his work. The lifestyle of a potter seems well suited for his temperament. The whole time he was doing this, he had a smile on his face. Not all people have this kind of patience.
On the other hand, there’s an artists’ sensitivity that Momoko brings to the table that is nothing short of inspiring. I look at her hand painted and sgrafitto works with all of their colour, strokes and texture and think that she has a talent that only a handful of people apply in their everyday professions. She has managed to do what she loves and make a living out of it.
We’ve always known Tetsuya is a coffee lover, with all of the coffee accessories that he makes, like the pour over coffee dripper. But it was only on this trip that we discovered the extent of his coffee making mastery. He’s broken the steps down to an art involving scales and timers (and iphone light!). We were so entranced by this moment that we knew we needed to have Tetsuya do a drip coffee demo at the store in August for everyone to enjoy (again, details coming soon)!
It is always sad to say goodbye to this amazing couple but we can’t wait to reunite in August. For all the ceramic lovers out there, if you can make it to the exhibition it will be well worth it. The whole family is coming to NY including their three daughters and we will have their full range of works outside of what is currently online. It’s going to be a fun one!
Thank you to the Otani family for the incredible hospitality!
Photos by Armando Rafael Moutela.