Updated: Dec 27, 2022
For the last six months, Joy Brown and I have been working to produce a film about her ceramics, her sculptures, and a recent mural commissioned by a museum in Japan. This film, we agreed, was to capture the essence of the creations that come to life inside the firewood-burning anagama kiln that Joy built with her own hands at home in Kent, Connecticut. The kiln originates from an ancient model brought to Japan from China and Korea in the 5th century, and the clay she uses has many of the same properties as the one she first learned to work with in Japan.
As with many other traditions brought to America, anagama kilns have found a place of equilibrium in the local folklore. Paul Chaleff, a friend of Joy and one of the pioneers of anagama potters in America, thinks that there are about five hundred such kilns in America today. I spoke with Paul on several opportunities since Joy and I started working on her film. He also said that the creatures of human proportions that come out of Joy’s kiln remind him of the terracotta funerary figures known as Haniwa. Come to think of it, there is a certain closeness, perhaps in the way the eyes are carved by the artisan or in how the creatures look at us as we look at them. But Joy’s figures are not meant to be buried with the dead but to accompany the living. They are essentially an American reincarnation of a concept that evolved out of the Kofun period to embrace those who adopt them to illuminate a yard, a patio, and a meditation room. As I mentioned before, Joy Brown and I have been working to produce a film about her ceramics, and I’m learning something new every day.