j. b. blunk in japan

j. b. blunk working at a pottery wheel in japan, 1954 (from pacific stars and stripes aug 5, 1954)

j. b. blunk working at a pottery wheel in japan, 1954

The picture above of the artist and sculptor J. B. Blunk is from an article in the newspaper “Pacific Stars and Stripes” dated Aug 5, 1954, titled “Yank Lives in Japan For $6 a Month”.

The article describes how Blunk had lived for two years beginning in 1952 studying pottery in Japan with the master potters Rosanjin Kitaōji and Kaneshige Tōyō. The hook of the story in the paper is that Blunk managed to get by on the money he received for mustering out from the Army, along with some income he earned from performing in a documentary film for the State Department.

The film Blunk performed in was titled “Arts of Japan” and was produced by the American Embassy in Tokyo in 1954 as a part of their effort to educate Americans about Japanese culture. The thirty-minute film depicts a young American artist (played by Blunk) who visits a number of masters of Japanese arts and crafts, including the printmaker Shiko Munakata and the potter Shoji Hamada. (source: “Pacific Stars and Stripes”, January 8, 1954.)

Blunk was discharged in Japan in September 1952 after serving in Korea early in the Korean war, and wanted to pursue the study of Japanese ceramics and pottery. According to the biography “The Life of Isamu Noguchi” by Masayo Duus, Blunk had met Noguchi and his wife Yoshiko Yamaguchi at a Tokyo craft store while he was still serving in the army. The couple were living at the time with Rosanjin at his spread in Kamakura, and Blunk was introduced to the master potter when he visited them there. He studied for a few months with Rosanjin, but found the cost of living expensive in Kamakura.

While at Rosanjin’s home and pottery Blunk was introduced to Kaneshige, the master of Bizen ware pottery, who lived and worked with his family in Okayama Prefecture. Blunk moved there to work and study with Kaneshige. He took his meals with the ceramist’s family while staying nearby in a room in a farmhouse, which enabled him to live very cheaply. In his spare time he would work on his own pieces of pottery. He had a show of his pottery and drawings in August 1954 in the Choukoron Gallery in the Marunouchi Building in Tokyo, and according to the article was scheduled to leave Japan on a freighter for the U.S. in September 1954.

I have been drawn for awhile to the earthy, rust-colored look of Bizen ware pottery, which is fired slowly with a wood-fired kiln and has all kinds of imperfections and accidental effects, and can see how this approach must have made a major impression on Blunk.

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