Refining Rookwood: Shirayamadani and Sympathetic Appropriation in Cincinnati, 1887–1915

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Christa Adams, Cuyahoga Community College
In this poster presentation, I discuss my research analyzing the impact of Kataro Shirayamadani (1865-1948) on stylistic shifts and production at Cincinnati’s Rookwood Pottery Company. My research examines Shirayamadani’s work at Rookwood from 1887, when he arrived in Cincinnati, to 1915, when he returned, briefly, to Japan. Rookwood’s founder, Maria Longworth Nichols Storer (1849-1932), expressed interest in producing ceramics with motifs derived from Japonisme; her efforts in this vein are well documented. However, prior researchers do not explore other, non-Orientalist factors that prompted Storer to seek out Japanese artisans to work at Rookwood. In this presentation, I contend that Storer sought to elevate the perceived value of American-produced ceramics by employing master artisans from Japan, a country with a well-established tradition of fine ceramic production. Her actions indicate that she participated in what I call sympathetic appropriation. I argue that Storer was not solely motivated by Orientalist ideals in her efforts to enhance Rookwood’s cachet; instead, it is apparent that she equated Japanese methods of ceramic production with technological and aesthetic superiority. Storer’s recognition of this existent pedigree prompted her to engage Japanese artisans like Shirayamadani at Rookwood. Shirayamadani thus functioned as a conduit linking Rookwood ceramics to an already established, documented, historically grounded system of production. In this way, the Rookwood ceramics created by Shirayamadani possessed both ideological and tangible links to traditional, and highly regarded, Japanese methods of ceramic production. His presence at Rookwood thus elevated the cultural and material quality of these American-produced ceramics.
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