A petite woman stands behind the counter at Gallery 23, in Blairstown, so I walk over to a triangular display of pottery and cupcakes on the top shelf. Chocolate swirl, maple… they are clay, stoneware and porcelain, the art of Itsuko Ishiguro.
“I love to make anything functional,” she says, lifting the top of a cupcake off, revealing a glazed container. A functional cupcake. But why? One day she made a cupcake stand and top for just one cupcake. She made a cupcake from clay to display the stand. Ever since, she makes cupcakes in porcelain for its white color and colorful abilities, two dark clays for their natural dark colors, and stoneware that surprises with mutable coloration. “Sometimes the kiln changes the color. I love that.”
Ishiguro looks through the bottom of a bowl to see the translucence on this porcelain known as Southern Ice. “I love white on white and sometimes I like colors. I’m also a colorful person.” Most of Ishiguro pottery is containers, whether vase, lantern, cupcake or bowl. Some are double-walled porcelain which she particularly enjoys making with cut outs.
She is learning to make metal jewelry for a change of pace; differences of the media are important to her. “Working with jewelry or gold for jewelry takes a lot of time – like meditation time but it’s very clean and I only use this much space,” she says, drawing her hands around her body. “Clay is a mess and you need a big space.” It takes a long time to make one piece of jewelry but she can make 12 mugs at one time. Besides, metal can be filed paper-thin but clay cannot. Glass beads are a sure thing. Pick up a pink rod and get a pink bead. Ishiguro gets inspiration from architecture and home magazines, never pottery, and thinks the process through as she walks her dog.
In her native country, Japan, Ishiguro worked as a hospital nutritionist before her husband’s work brought them to America in 1987. She took ESL at Raritan Valley Community College and art classes until pottery claimed her as its own. Eventually, the couple will return to Japan. “Pottery is my life so I want to keep doing this. My dream is to build a studio in Japan with space for our parents and classes for elderly in the community. It’s good for people to have at least one place where they can have a chance to touch clay. I’m very happy to join Gallery 23 and Peters Valley.”