SEATTLE — The passing of Akio Takamori last Wednesday has resulted in an outpouring of sadness and loss. All the ceramic blogs have posted tributes. In some ways when I wrote of Akio in mid-December it was the beginning of a farewell. He had stopped chemotherapy. My partner Mark Del Vecchio and I had been following his progress closely. Mark’s post on Facebook over the weekend said all that I could say for the moment and better:
Above image: Akio Takamori with his two self-portrait sculptures, March 7, 2002. Photograph by Greg Gilbert for the Seattle Times.
Wasn’t sure when I would eventually get back to Facebook and it took a sad moment to get me here. Losing Akio Takamori this week was a devastating reality for Garth and I. We have known Akio since 1980 and watched his career blossom, become married to a wonderful woman, had two terrific children and we remained always the best of friends. This photo, which is a Polaroid, I took in 1984 in the Garth Clark Gallery New York was Akio’s first show with us there. And it was shortly after he and Vicky got married. I love these two people, always will. And I will miss Akio forever. There was no one like him.
The following is a detailed obituary from The Seattle Times that we republish with thanks. You can read the full obit here. Please join us in leaving your memories of this exceptional artist and man in the comments section below.
From the Seattle Times:
UpSeattle ceramic artist Akio Takamori spent Wednesday working in his Magnolia studio.
He put the finishing touches on some pieces with the help of his son, Peter, and loaded a kiln. Then he returned home, where he died. He was 66.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said James Harris, a friend whose Pioneer Square gallery is showing an exhibition of Mr. Takamori’s new work next month.
Mr. Takamori, who taught at the University of Washington for 21 years, had a career that spanned traditional industrial pottery, ceramic slab vessels and ultimately larger-than-life, sometimes cartoonish figures. His work drew heavily from his Japanese heritage, and from images from art history and culture.
“His work always had a sense of beauty,” Harris said. “And I think that came from a real love of people in the world. He really had a very gentle soul.”
Mr. Takamori was born in 1950 in Nobeoka on Japan’s Kyushu Island, the youngest of three children. His father was a doctor and his mother helped run a clinic attached to their house.
He studied ceramics and industrial design in Tokyo, and apprenticed as a production potter on Kyushu.
Mr. Takamori enrolled at Ferguson’s Kansas City Art Institute, where he would meet his wife, the former Vicky Lidman. Later, he attended graduate school at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University.
He drew early recognition in the 1980s for a series of vessels made up of slabs in human forms, often with sexual themes.
Mr. Takamori joined the UW faculty in 1993 and was a cornerstone of a ceramics program that would be recognized as among the best in the country.
By then, his work had moved from vessels to distinct human figures. He mixed villagers drawn from his childhood in Japan with people in modern settings, as well as political and cultural figures, like depictions of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Japanese Emperor Hirohito with their height difference exaggerated.
“It was extraordinary that he was willing to take these kind of risks,” said Jamie Walker, a UW art professor who helped recruit Takamori to the school. “Here was this guy who was doing funny, highly suggestive sexualized work, suddenly talking about these incredibly powerful emotional, psychological relationships.”
As a celebrity in the ceramics world, Mr. Takamori could probably have gotten out of teaching introductory courses at the UW. But he never asked, and Walker said Mr. Takamori particularly enjoyed the opportunity to help guide students new to the art.
“He did a really good job juggling working as an artist, and a teacher,” said Ayumi Horie, a graduate student of Mr. Takamori’s in the late 1990s. “He was always evolving and growing; it never seemed like he was stuck.”
Mr. Takamori retired from the UW in 2014. That same year, he was diagnosed with cancer.
Recently, he had been creating figures that drew on images of men apologizing, from humbled chief executives to political leaders.
“My interest is humanity,” he told the The News Tribune of Tacoma in 2006. “That doesn’t change, even over a thousand years. Everyone from a 2-year-old to an old man still has love, compassion, appreciates beauty.”
In addition to his wife, Vicki, and son, Peter, of Chicago, Mr. Takamori is survived by a daughter, Lena, of New York.
Services are pending.
Garth Clark is the Editor-in-Chief of cfile.daily.
Please leave your memories of this powerhouse of contemporary ceramic art in the comments.