On Two Fronts

Art—These saké cups are formed using a mould, Japanese handmade paper and lacquer.  The coloured finish is achieved using tin and pigment.

Kunikatsu Seto—Art and Standard
Craftspeople all over the world consider themselves fortunate if they have customers who will buy one-off expensive items as well as more everyday repeatable pieces of their work with a more reasonable price tag.  Some potters, for instance, are able to exist by only making pieces of “studio craft”, for an exclusive clientele.  Others without the necessary reputation to exist from such sales, do nevertheless manage to produce repeatable tableware of high quality to enhance a dinner table and make a living at it, too.

Art—This champaign cooler is made using insulation and then decorated with Japanese handmade paper.  Photo courtesy of Kunikatsu Seto

What helps to make this possible is the fact that ceramic tableware is almost universal.  For woodturners, however, this is something of a restriction.  Tableware made of wood was the norm in many countries until ceramics became preferred, so that nowadays most turnery is for display and to be admired for its form and interesting grain alone.  It is not used.  This is most definitely the case in the UK.  Of course, I certainly do not want to decry such work but I am sure that many woodturners, be they amateur or professional, would be delighted to be able to turn and sell one-off “art” pieces alongside everyday “standard” pieces of tableware, for instance.

Standard—Nest of three bowls.  They can all be used as bowls, and the smallest one can become a lid to the largest bowl.  Photo courtesy of Kunikatsu Seto
The biggest stumbling block is undoubtedly how to finish wood.  Historically an oil was a common finish for treen—household goods made of wood.  In some cases just using plates gave them a “finish” thanks to the food placed on them.  Nowadays there are suitable synthetic finishes but in many respects none as good as true, natural lacquer.

So, if a craftsperson could make pieces of one-off “art” as well as “standard” pieces of tableware in wood and finish them with lacquer—a durable, food-safe finishsurely this would be the answer to a number of dilemmas that plague such artisans.

Art—This box is made of Ate wood.  The wood was split, left as it was and then coloured to give the appearance of snow settled on a piece of rock.  Photo courtesy of Kunikatsu Seto

Standard—A two tier stacking box made of Ate wood—a type of Hiba.  A coarse cloth provides character by defining edges and corners.  Photo courtesy of Kunikatsu Seto
For Kunikatsu Seto this confluence of the merits of suitable materials and creative drive are more than so many craftspeople could ever wish for, even in their wildest dreams.

Kunikatsu has been designing and making pieces of lacquerware for more than 40 years, an endeavour which started after he met the British potter Bernard Leach (See Snapshot 9: Inspired 7th July 2015).  He clearly has a talent for this work.

Standard—Deep bowls and spoons for thick soups and stew-like dishes.  The thick coats of black lacquer have a matt finish.  Photo courtesy of Kunikatsu Seto

Some of his creations can be seen at his stylish gallery and workshop near the Kawaratagawa river in Wajima.  And he really has been able to produce “art”—with function too—and “standard” pieces of lacquerware, which he exhibits at the gallery and at many other locations all over Japan.  He’s a lucky man!

Gallery QUAI, www. seto-kunikatsu.com/

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