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Heart and Soul in Your Hands
 for the Japan Times (May 8, 2002)

Pieces by Mark Hewitt

Pieces by Mark Hewitt

Mugs (top) and
Lidded Jar and Jug

Artist Mark Hewitt

A list of the things we humans take for granted would be long indeed. Not wishing to embark on a colossal environmental, spiritual, or humanitarian itemization, I'll keep my list real short. One item, in fact: a clay mug.
Mark Hewitt's mugs, lidded jars and jugs are common clay made magnificent.

You read right. A simple clay cup has the ability to give you nourishment for both body and soul. As Frank Lloyd Wright wrote, "Whether people are fully aware of it or not, they actually derive countenance and sustenance from the 'atmosphere' of the things they live in and with."

I know many of you might be reading this while sipping coffee or tea from your favorite mug. Step back and notice the item in your miraculous hands that holds your favored wake-up concoction. Have you ever paid it much attention? Have you ever thought about the varied processes that went into its creation? Does not a fine clay mug bring you comfort and joy each time you use it in your daily ritual?

Now I'm not talking about any ol' mass-produced mug, but one where the soul of a potter is also held in your hands -- a mug like those made by North-Carolina-based Mark Hewitt.

It's taken Hewitt 20-odd years to make his long overdue Japan debut, but it's here now, at
Yufuku Gallery in Tokyo until May 24, 2002. The display includes large "Ice Tea Ceremony" vessels, superb plates and lidded jars -- and, of course, mugs. Click here for photos from that exhibition.

In an essay some years back, he wrote of just how significant a mug can be. It's worth quoting at length, so here's an excerpt describing how he feels about the one he often travels with:

    "Of course, on a rudimentary level, it is something I drink out of, a useful functional object. It works, it does its job. But it also has therapeutic value. It is a talisman of hope amid the confusing prattle of the world. It is an abstract object with substance, shape and color that provokes my poetic sensibilities, an exploratory lens to understanding that draws me into deep meditations. It is an object with historical significance, in that it relates to all other mugs and pots that have ever been made. It is an ideological object that attempts, in some modest way, to resist and redress the imbalance of global capitalism. It is an economic object, because having failed ideologically, it must live in the real world and I might have to sell it."

    "The mug is a product of materials, skill and the rhythms of a lengthy wood firing. Through repetition, refinement, insight and concentration, its aesthetic value rises above the ordinary, standing as a reflection of all that has gone into it. It is a beacon of thought and energy, shining brightly in the dark."

Now that is enough to make anyone's kokoro mug runneth over!

Yet Hewitt is a
mingei (folk craft) potter of the highest order. His studies with Michael Cardew mean that he is a mago-deshi ("grandchild apprentice") to Bernard Leach.

Hewitt's works, and his words, are crafted with the utmost care. His pots are well-designed, thoughtful, confident, yet not obnoxious; pleasing to the eye and well-suited for the table. His philosophy knits together folk traditions from many parts of the world, yet no ceramic influences are stronger in his work than those of Japan, Britain and North Carolina (yes, the United States does have some pottery traditions!). Like a wise man, Hewitt took a bit of spice from this folk-craft bag, and a pinch from another, mixing them up into a blend that's all his own.

He's been influenced by others, like Leach and Cardew, but has never become a follower; that's what separates him from the majority of mingei-influenced artisans. Why else would an English-born lad with pottery in his genes (his grandfather and father were directors of Spode bone-china company) decide to build a kiln in America's Deep South?

As he put it:

    Well, I worked with Cardew for three years in the U.K. and then came to the U.S. to work with another one of his apprentices, Todd Piker. While I was in Connecticut I met my wife and decided to stay. While we were looking for a place to live we went on a trip around the South where there is an extant folk tradition, and there were a few old-timers dotted around in interesting places making very quirky pots. We just chanced upon our current location while there.

    Interestingly, my mother was born in South Africa, and her family belongs to the great British imperial diaspora. They were functionaries of the British Empire. Her father was a banker who was born in India. His father was an indigo planter in India who was born in London. His father was a lawyer born in Scotland, and his father was the Sheriff of Skye! I have traveling genes on one side of my family and pottery genes on the other. So to end up in North Carolina making pots makes perfect sense.

Hewitt's pottery makes perfect sense as well, with its beautiful salt glazes and deep amber glazes often embellished with pieces of melted blue glass. His pieces, good ol' wholesome pots as they are, nonetheless have perfected shapes and pleasing designs. They make any moment in time, even a sip of morning coffee, something special.

Mark Hewitt is showing at Yufuku, 2-6-12 Minami Aoyama, a short walk from Aoyama 1-chome subway station; (03) 5411-2900. Closed Sunday. An interview with Mark
can be read here, or you may wish to visit Hewitt's own web site at

If your computer has Japanese-language capability, a comprehensive list of upcoming exhibitions can be viewed on Robert Yellin's Web site at

The Japan Times: May 8, 2002
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