Saturday, February 19, 2011

Revisiting "Bridge of Fire"

I had been making pots for only a few years when I saw the documentary film "Bridge of Fire." It was the story of collaboration between the American potter Malcolm Wright of Vermont and the 13th generation Japanese potter Takashi Nakazato of Karatsu.
When they were young men, Wright worked with Nakazato in the studio of Tarouemon Nakazato, Takashi's father and a Japanese Living Treasure. They lost track of one another over the following 20 years, but came together in the early '90s to make pots in each other's studios, fire in each other's kilns and have their work together documented brilliantly by filmmakers Dorothy Olson and Alan Dater. The film is available from Marlboro Productions in Vermont. Go to to find it.
I watched that film over and over again in the early '90s, watching the way the two men made pots - Takashi pounding down into ten pounds of clay to secure to the wheelhead what would become the base of a large jar; Wright extruding clay, then cutting apart and re-assembling the extrusions; both men serving their families dinner in the pots that came from the woodfired kilns.
In 1997 I went for two weeks with my friend Lorraine Colson to Anderson Ranch in Colorado, for a workshop with Takashi and Doug Casebeer. Takashi, whose English was good but not often used, taught by demonstrating. He made and fired many, many pots in those two weeks. All the time with a seriousness of purpose but a very easy laugh and a light heart.
I hadn't looked at the film in more than 10 years until yesterday. I sat down late in the afternoon and rediscovered why I loved it so much so long ago. The film is as fresh as it was in 1992, and as relevant. And having spent more than a decade making pots professionally, I saw many more things in the making process that I am sure I missed when I first saw the film. I'm going to have to watch it a few more times.
The images above were not made by me, but were taken from a variety of websites, including the large jar by Nakazato, from the Anderson Ranch site. Top, Takashi, with his pot below his photo. Third image down, Malcolm, with a wood-fired pot of his below that.

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