From 1967 to 1992, Princeton University was blessed by the presence of a "national treasure," Toshiko Takaezu, as a faculty member in the Visual Arts Program. Her legacy continues to the present and future.
Across twenty five years, Toshiko Takaezu contributed her genius, her energy, her example and her pedagogical skills to the University, to all who knew her, and to many who never met her in person but were able to admire her works in public places. In grateful admiration Princeton recognized Toshiko Takaezu by awarding her three of its highest honors:
• The Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities in 1992
• An honorary degree as Doctor of Fine Arts Honoris Causa in 1996
In awarding this honorary degree, the President and Trustees described her in the following terms: "An artist of exceptional gifts, she has created objects in which the ancient craft-traditions of Asian ceramics are fused with a wholly original modern sensibility. Moving pottery beyond the utilitarian to the purely sculptural, her work has brought her world-wide recognition and taught us to see new forms and colors. Generous and inspiring teacher, mentor and role-model, she has encouraged generations of Princeton students to use their creative powers not only to mold and sculpt clay but also to shape and center their lives."
• The Belknap Visitorship in the Humanities in 2004
This program recognizes exceptional writers and artists. The roster includes Eudora Welty, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nadine Gordimer, Roy Lichtenstein, Athol Fugard, Doris Lessing, John Updike, Edward Albee, Czeslaw Milosz, Frank Stella, Arthur Miller, Merce Cunningham, Maurice Sendak, Chuck Close, Don DeLillo, Richard Serra, Meryl Streep and Ian McEwan.
During her career, Toshiko Takaezu performed three different kinds of transformations:
1. She transformed the lives of individual students
Ms. Takaezu instilled in generations of learners a sense of art, discipline, and the possibilities of clay. On the first day of class, she would instruct students to trim any long fingernails. Even Brooke Shields, Class of 1987, obeyed the rule, in preparation for beginning her ceramics course. According to legend at least, Prof. Takaezu was the most difficult grader on campus: applying the hammer rule. In other words, she would take a hammer and destroy any objects that were not up to par. She will be able to tell us if that particular legend is true.
Each semester she invited her classes to come to her studio, which is a magical place, to see where her work is created and to learn the ancient Japanese art of Raku firing.
In 1987, she arranged for Kichizaemon Raku, the 15th generation of his family to produce this unique ceramic ware, to spend two weeks in Princeton as a Short-Term Fellow of the Humanities Council. He worked with students, demonstrated his method, fired pottery in the ancient Raku manner, and presided at a Japanese tea ceremony, which is so closely linked with Raku ware and with Japanese culture. This was an unforgettable experience for the students and for the campus community.
Toshiko Takaezu's students revered her and do so still. On the occasion of her 80th birthday, alumni of her courses, Ceramics 211 and 212, filled a treasure box with messages expressing their gratitude and admiration.
2. She transformed the Visual Arts Program
During Toshiko's years on the faculty, the Visual Arts program was directed by Professor James Seawright, the noted sculptor, who was an enthusiastic admirer. When introducing her at the Behrman Awards ceremony, he spoke eloquently of Toshiko's importance at Princeton, where she was one of the inaugural faculty members in the fledging Visual Arts Program. He also talks about impact on students and on the wider world. Professor Seawright's remarks are appended.
3. She transformed the campus
Toshiko Takaezu's art figures in the permanent collections of all major museums, but one can also see some of her most beautiful works at Princeton University. Three pots, in her inimitable blue glaze, are featured in a lighted vitrine in the main corridor of the Lewis Center for the Arts, where Toshiko taught. They were given to the University by two alumni in memory of their friend, John F.X. Pozzi '78. Other of her works are housed in the Princeton University Museum, where a retrospective of her art is now being planned. And then there is the bronze Remembrance Bell in the center of campus. When the University sought to commemorate the victims of 9/11, President Tilghman recognized that the best possible tribute was one of Toshiko Takaezu's unique bronze bells. The architects and landscapers designed a lovely space around the bell. It is now a place for quiet recollection, under the peaceful influence of this masterpiece. The bell is a testimony to the variety of genres and media in which Toshiko excels.
All of this suggests how much we have been blessed by her presence.
Carol Rigolot, Executive Director, Humanities Council
Toshiko was an inspiration for me and a generation of students at Princeton. She created a home for the ceramic arts in 185 Naussau with a collection of part-time studio assistants including her current apprentice. I had the opportunity to spend a year as a studio assistant and a summer as her apprentice at her home studio in Quakertown. She taught me so much-not just about clay, glazes, and firing, but also gardening, cooking, friendship, and as a role modelof a balanced life permeated with art.
I remember thinking that Toshiko was extremely stern when I first encountered her in the ceramic studio in the basement of 185 Nassau. She made us work really hard in what was a non-credit (!) course, kneading clay over-and-over-and over again, making coil pot after coil pot, before even being allowed to use the potting wheels, cleaning up all sorts of things in the studio. But she wasn't stern at all, just instilling discipline and rigor into our work, and when she brought our class to her studio for a fall Saturday to fire our pots in a raku kiln, it was a truly memorable experience including the roast pumpkin she fed us. Toshiko was one of my thesis advisors, and told me my work was derivative, and it made me respect and love her even more. Through the years after leaving Princeton, I have thought of her often, viewing her work in various museums across the country including Chicago, Honolulu, NJ, among other places, and visiting her a few times in her studio. Although my career path did not lead in the direction of the creative arts, the lesssons she taught me have stayed with me, far more ingrained in my memory than any of my finance or business professors. I realize now she was one of the warmest, caring professors under whom I have had the chance to study, and she will stay in my heart forever.
When I first met Toshiko I was in awe of her. She stood so straight and had a somewhat commanding expression; however, upon getting to know her, I found she was generous, caring, kind, and loved to laugh. I remember fondly the many dinners she hosted in the Princeton University Ceramics Studio at 185 Nassau Street, where chickens were encased in clay, baked in the kiln and came out quite succulent and tasty. Each semester she hosted a Raku firing for her students at her home in Clinton, NJ. These were special occasions -- very energetic and redolent with good food and lots of smoke from the kiln. Toshiko was a presence, a good friend, and I shall miss her. My sympathy to her family.
I was blessed with first meeting Toshiko when I was very young and she was attending Cranbrook Art Academy. She was so often at our home that she family. She taught me to eat with chop sticks when I was five. To this day I carry chop sticks with me everywhere I go and use them daily. I never fail to think of her. I can still hear the music of her voice. She was wise and creative and wonderful! She taught me many things, the most valuable lesson being that a real artist works hard. She did and enriched the world with her being and her work. I treasure her memory!
Toshiko Takaezu, now there was a name and pronunciation unfamiliar with any synapse firing in my brain in 1968. I had noted that the attributed artist of this work was from Clinton, New Jersey. This geographical fact wowed me as much as the hand built slap of ceramic with its super nova, big bang crash of starrier locomotives layered and glazed into the surface being displayed in front of me. This was the very first time that I was to realize not all artist who had work in museums were long dead and that at least one lived in my own home state of New Jersey!
I was first introduced to you by happenstance at the Clinton Art Gallery sometime in 1970. At that time I was as much humbled as wowed by the presence of your being. You and I were never close but nor did we ever seem distant. Over the many years the lines of our lives would pass by each other from time to time and then go just as easily on there way. I got to see a creative artist grow greater, observe the ways of a powerful woman and be graced in your presence. We are all children of star dust set free in a infinite universe. Tosh, having seen your imp from time to time you knew better then most how to run with that freedom. Dearest, even now your reflected light shines on in the many human hearts you've touched and in the glazed surfaces of all your bold, vibrant and courageous children of clay.
Anything I can say here about Toshiko is inadequate to the amazing person and teacher that she was. I still have some of my sorry little clay pieces in my home, and I tell you, I am more proud of them because of her comments on them than I am of almost any of my other accomplishments.
She was sincere. An antidote to the pressure of University life, although she imposed a strict discipline of her own. Her studio at 185 was a haven, a place of life, and tangible, thumpable, solid clay. It was a lifesaver for me, as I'm sure it was to many other students.
I am only sorry that I did stay in touch with her over the years. But she has stayed with me.
The memorial service for Toshiko Takaezu at Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, NJ on Saturday, July 9, 2011 included remarks by Jack larsen, Carol Rigolot, Jeff Schlanger, John Mosler and others. Carol mentioned that Toshiko had taught over 400 students during her years at Princeton and that many responded when asked for testaments about her influence in their lives.
I can relate to David Ledger's comment above when he addresses Toshiko in the present tense. Her influence and friendship have impacted my life for thirty years. She is still with me and will continue to be as long as I live. I think there are HUNDREDS who feel the same way. What she accomplished and the people she touched in her one lifetime is truly amazing!