Clayton Amemiya

I have been producing wood fired ceramics for over 30 years in upland Hilo, Hawai'i Island.  The vast majority of my firings have been with Ohia (Metrosideros polymorpha), due to it's availability as firewood, but I have used a variety of woods like lychee, keawe, eucalyptus and pine.  My kiln, an anagama (tunnel kiln), fires pots for approximately 100 hours using over two and a half cords of wood.  This long firing produces fly ash that covers areas of the finished pots in a natural glaze.  I sometimes rub oxide powders such as cobalt, copper and manganese on parts of the surfaces to create markings of blue, purple, black and green.  At times, the intensity of the firing causes the accumulated ash to form drips. Another element in my work is to carve lines and grooves on the surfaces, reminiscent of patterns on lava and sand.  The Hawai'i Island environment is a strong influence in my work. 

Another source of inspiration is the medieval pottery of Japan, particularly the tsubo (jars) from areas such as Tokoname, Tamba, Shigaraki and Bizen.  Also, the multifired works from Iga, especially those produced during the second half of the 1500s, have encouraged me to fire some of my pots up to three times.  Exposure to flames for upwards of three hundred hours changes the appearance of the pots, adding burn marks and areas of thick ash glaze.

My first experience with making pottery occurred in Okinawa in the mid 1970's, under the guidance of Seisho Kuniyoshi (1943-1999).   He travelled to Hilo in 1986, and together we built the anagama that I use today.  Although the kiln has been partially rebuilt due to earthquake damage, the general design has remained the same.  It took a number of years to learn how to fire such a kiln, and I made periodic trips to Okinawa that coincided with firings of Kuniyoshi's kiln.  Hands on experience is necessary to learn anagama firing techniques and even though I have had many years of experience, each new firing presents a challenge.  A dedicated group of assistants has enabled me to fire the kiln two to four times a year.    

The kiln during the final stage of firing.

Photography by David Dow.