Episode 2 — History
The Rich History of Mosaics in Japan.
Episode 2 delves into the Japanese tradition of ceramics, which is one of the oldest in the world. This long tradition is reflected in the architecture and design throughout Japan, and the way in which it has evolved over the centuries.
The Artedomus team’s first visit on arrival in Japan was the Third Imperial Hotel. After Frank Lloyd Wright’s second Imperial Hotel was dismantled in 1967, much of the building was reconstructed at the Meiji-Mura architecture museum near Nagoya. Visiting the site, the original details of the ceramics used can be seen. “The brilliant thing about walking up to the Imperial Hotel here at Meiji-Mura is that the façade’s exactly as it was when it was in Tokyo,” says Phil Brenton, Artedomus managing director. “You can see all of the phenomenal details that Frank Lloyd Wright worked with the collaborators at INAX to produce.”
When Wright was designing the Imperial Hotel, he found ceramicists in the Tokoname area with the skill to realise his vision. “The business that started to make these tiles and these handcrafted elements is the INAX that we deal with today,” Phil explains. The clay from the Tokoname area is the other key element that characterises INAX tiles and that gave the Imperial Hotel tiles their distinctive colouration. Clay has been an important material throughout history. While not all countries had access to stone and quarries, clay has historically been a readily available material. In Japan, clay was used not only for tiles but also for other elements of construction, and the company that was the pre-cursor to INAX had a long history before the 1920s, when the tiles for the Imperial Hotel were commissioned, making clay water pipes.
Filming the Expert Series Japan, Artedomus visited the original kilns in which the clay pipes were produced and observed the traditional salt glaze that was used on the pipes still present inside the kiln. Some of the pipes themselves can still be seen lining the pathways around the town, examples of “very functional ceramics that gave rise to the very beautiful ceramics that we now see all through Tokoname and the ones we see from INAX,” says Phil. The timber buildings in the area, blackened by the smoke from the kilns that have been operating in Tokoname for over 100 years, are now home to ceramic artisans, with whom Artedomus has developed not only close working relationships but also genuine friendships.
“Since we’ve started working with INAX it’s been an incredible privilege for us to get learn from people who have been in the tile industry here for a very long time,” says Phil. “Sugiyama san has become a very dear friend of ours.” The relationship with Sugiyama san and INAX has been integral to the development of the range of tiles Artedomus has been able to bring to Australia. Says Matthew Croll, “He’s managed to guide us to places that I guess we would never have seen and thought to go, but he takes us to the places that are special.”