My Journey

Early Beginnings

Born in England but raised in Japan and the U.S., I was exposed to a diverse range of pottery at a young age, especially since my Japanese grandfather collected East Asian ceramics. I remember playing in his study as a child, surrounded by pots rooted in historical tradition.

My family moved from Tokyo to Los Angeles during my teenage years and I spent most of my adolescence in the U.S. I took my first ceramics course my freshman year of high school. I found throwing absorbing and meditative in how it demanded unwavering focus. As I continued I naturally gravitated towards the wheel, especially since the more I put in, the more I got out of it. By my senior year, I was mixing my own clays, slips, and glazes, and experimenting with sectional pieces to build larger pots.

Returning to Japan - Tamba

After graduating high school, I took a gap year and returned to Japan to work with a potter, Masafumi Onishi, in Tamba, Hyogo prefecture, central Japan. Although I was lucky enough to experience firing gas kilns in high school, I was curious about atmospheric firing and  yakishime, unglazed wares fired at high temperatures in traditional Japanese wood kilns. Tamba is one of Japan's six ancient kilns (Rokkoyō), and traces its history to the end of the Heian period (794-1185 CE). Today, it consists of around 70 potteries clustered along a 3 km stretch of road.

I spent a year at Tamba working under Onishi-san as a studio assistant alongside his apprentice, Kazuhito Otsuki. Onishi-san is a fourth generation potter, trained in Seto, Aichi prefecture and heads up Tanbugama. Under Onishi-san's tutelage, I learned how to throw faster, use press molds, and fire a noborigama, a multi-chambered climbing wood kiln. I spent much of my free time working on building larger, sectional pieces as well as throwing one-off vases; I had little interest in tableware then.

College Years

After my year at Tamba, I enrolled at Harvard University where I majored in history. I felt it made little sense to directly combine my academics with my ceramics, although this boundary would become more permeable overtime. I was fortunate to have access to a great ceramics program at Harvard, and I spent a lot of my free time at the studio making pots for soda firing. Yet I felt increasingly conflicted about the amount of time I could devote to ceramics, constrained by my academic, extracurricular, and social obligations.

I decided to take another year off to pursue ceramics again in Japan, but now in a different setting. I was introduced to the Nakazato family in Karatsu, Saga prefecture, southern Japan. After my sophomore year of college, I traveled to Kyushu to start my new life in Karatsu.

Returning to Japan - Karatsu

From the summer of 2018 to 2019, I spent a year in Karatsu living and working at Ryutagama under master potter Taki Nakazato. The Nakazato family are the preeminent pottery family in Karatsu, tracing an unbroken lineage of hereditary ceramic practice to early 17th century. Ryutagama is an offshoot of this main branch of the Nakazato family, started by Nakazato Takashi, Taki’s father, in 1974. Takashi sensei and Taki sensei developed a different philosophy at Ryutagama from Nakazato Tarouemon Tobo, centered on functional, modern pots influenced by Karatsu’s tradition but reinterpreted with a focus on food. Takashi sensei also pioneered a type of yakishime (unglazed ceramics wood-fired at high temperatures) called “karatsu-nanban,” building upon his experience at Tanegashima, a small island to the south of Kyushu, in the early 1970s investigating its indigenous Yokino ware. 

My time at Ryutagama was an extremely formative experience for me, which required me to rethink from scratch my approach to ceramics and my skills as an artist and craftsman. I lived on-site in the apprentice’s hut alongside Taki sensei’s apprentice Atsushi Shimomura. While I wasn’t an apprentice, I lived and worked like one and completed the first year of what is typically a three-year curriculum. 

My primary responsibility at Ryutagama was the day-to-day operations underlying the running and maintenance of the pottery. I cut hedges by hand, numerous lawns and slopes with a brush cutter, chopped wood for kilns and a wood stove, dug and processed clay, glazed the sensei’s work, loaded and fired kilns, polished finished work, and occasionally helped catalogue and pack pots. While my daily employment was not on the wheel, in the evenings and on my days off I practiced the wheel, working my way through a rigorous curriculum designed to teach me how to production throw off the hump and become proficient in a tool endemic to Kyushu, the gyubera. 

Taking part in the end-to-end work required to properly run a studio and produce a high standard of work taught me so much about best practices in ceramics. In particular, two lessons stand out: first, respect for the raw material we work with, including clay recycling and waste limitation, and second, function-oriented design for tableware. Part of my responsibility at Ryutagama was to assist the sensei in entertaining guests--serving drinks, assisting with simple cooking tasks, clearing dishes, cleaning up, etc. At these events, we would eat and drink family style, using Ryutagama’s tableware. This kind of exposure was one of the most valuable and cherished memories of my time at Ryutagama. The integration of cooking and pottery planted a deep-seated interest in functional tableware that forms the core of my practice today. 

2019 - Present

After Karatsu, I returned to the US to continue my studies in college. At the Harvard Ceramics Program, I shifted from soda firing to regular gas reduction and began focusing on formulating my own high-fire white slip and transparent glaze recipe, as well as experimenting with techniques I saw in Karatsu such as mishima, hakeme, and kohiki. I began collapsing the divide between my academic studies and ceramics too, investigating Thai-Khorat earthenware ceramics in Northeast Thailand as well as syncretic ceramics in late Roman southwest Britain. In March 2020, we vacated campus due to COVID-19, and I lost access to a ceramics studio for most of the following year. In May 2021, I graduated from college, and I spent a lot of the summer throwing pots near my partner’s home in northern California, and learning from a potter friend in the South Bay. In August 2021, I moved to Los Angeles with my partner to start a new job (unfortunately not ceramics related). Now I make pots in my free time at a studio in Culver City. I hope you find something you like!


Amanda Y. Su and Michael D. Wallace, "Creating Pottery to Destroy," The Harvard Crimson, April 11, 2019.