Crafting community: Cooperative relationships behind the sustenance of the Tamba pottery (tanbayaki) industry

Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

Thursday 16 February, 2023
6:00pm GMT - 7:00pm GMT

Online lecture, via Zoom.
50 min lecture followed by Q&A.
Free and open to all, booking essential.
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Dr Shilla Lee (Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow 2022-2023, Sainsbury Institute)

About the Talk

In the east of Hyōgo prefecture, Japan, is a village called Tachikui, where a community of craftspeople continues to produce Tamba pottery (tanbayaki), known as one of the six ancient potteries of Japan. Archaeological findings of pottery fragments and kiln sites attest to its long history that dates back to the end of the Heian period (the late 12th century), creating the catchphrase “800 years of history”. Yanagi Soetsu, among others, viewed the natural ash glazes of Old Tamba (kō tanba) pieces as the epitome of Tamba pottery’s beauty. However, as old and fascinating as the medieval Tamba pottery is, the pottery village that has been the stage of its production for centuries and the community of Tamba potters has been at the heart of its evolving tradition.

This presentation examines the social constellations of the Tamba pottery community to demonstrate the potters’ ongoing efforts to sustain the Tamba pottery industry today. The findings from fieldwork in Tachikui in 2018-19 illustrate the social foundation of their continued craft practices, which is the web of cooperative relations spread across the village, amongst neighbours, relatives, and co-members of the pottery cooperative. These multiple ties enable the potters to form close relationships and efficiently manage new collective tasks such as promotional activities.

About the Speaker

Shilla Lee is a social anthropologist whose work focuses on contemporary forms of traditional craft practices. She is particularly interested in expanding the conventional notion of craftsmanship by exploring the various socio-cultural influences and government policies that reshape the workshop space and craft skills. She received her Ph.D. from Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in 2022 and worked as a doctoral researcher at Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany, from 2017 to 2022.

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The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK.