Ceramic artist Kazu Oba connects clay with cuisine in Den Show

Pottery and cuisine don't have an obvious connection in American culture, but it's common in Japan for people in the food business to become interested in ceramics as well. That's how Kazu Oba became a ceramics artist, and his pottery work is showcased in the Den Show, an exhibition celebrating the traditions of pottery, cooking and sake.

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A native of Kyushu, Japan, Oba became interested in pottery while working in the restaurant business for about fifteen years. "I don't come from a pottery family," he says, "like many potters do in Japan -- like my teacher is a thirteenth-generation potter. But I don't come from tradition like that."

So he decided to learn the art hands-on, through apprenticeships. In 2003 and 2004 he worked with Takisho Nakazato, one of the most celebrated potters in the world -- and one who emphasizes the connection between pottery and food. "My ceramics teacher would say, 'It's not about the pottery, it's about the food that goes in it,'" Oba says.

"Pottery is such a big part of the Japanese culinary scene," he continues. "It's not a chef doing his own thing on a blank canvas, meaning a white plate. It's really a collaboration between the pottery maker and the people who cook." Having a specific type of food in mind helps potters decide the shape, size and function of a particular piece.

And the pieces are not really completed until they are given a use: "In my mind, the most successful pottery is not something that will stand out, something that might be seen as beautiful," he explains. "In my mind, good pottery is pottery that you look at and go, 'Hmm, so?' Meaning that it needs something, it's not completed. When the food is served in it, it's in the finished stage of the whole process."

Oba is also a sculptor, and has exhibited his sculptures around town, including a show at Walker Fine Art Gallery last month. As with his pottery, Oba feels a sculpture is only finished once the new owner gives it a use -- whether it's setting it on a shelf or filling it with flowers. "What's mostly interesting to me is what you bring into the piece," he says. "Maybe your cat will crawl on it and claim it as his, but then that's exciting. It's more that what I would ever do with my own hands. I like this unknown possibility part of this whole thing."

The Den Show will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, December 21 and Saturday, 22 in the former Ototo restaurant space. The free show also includes kick-wheel demonstrations and beverages served in Oba's designs.

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