Noriko Pon — traces of her travels

Kazuyoshi Inagaki


Noriko Pon was born in 1944 in the steel town of Muroran in Hokkaido. As a young child, she says her teacher was the natural scenery of the nearby Itanki coastline. Intending to become a journalist she attended Kyoto University but, during the campus disturbances of the 60's, she became disillusioned and left.

Throughout her life, chance meetings and fateful coincidences redirected her life path.

In 1968, Pon's life was radically changed when she happened to see some pottery work by Moto Kato of the Miyano kiln in Seto. She was deeply impressed, and immediately applied to become his student. Though abruptly turned down, she apprenticed herself to a kiln in Tanba in near-by Kyoto. She lived in the workshop grounds there, doing whatever odd jobs needed done, such as making flower vases, and through that hard work she developed initial self-confidence and strength as a potter.

Putting all her things into two cardboard boxes and forwarding them to the Miyano studio, Pon again knocked on Kato's door, who, greeting her this time with a smile, allowed her to join and undergo her apprenticeship in the craft of ceramics.

After four years Pon felt herself coming to a stang-still so, once again, she resumed her journey of self-discovery. This time it took her to the American continent.

Producing no work at first, but having determined that to be a great artist she must first find herself, she nonetheless continued her wanderings there, eventually bringing her to Mexico. There, under a brilliant sun whose gentle light softens both soil and people's hearts, Noriko Pon slowly unfolded.

Having become deeply captivated by the rich and serene life of Mexico's indigenous culture, as well as by its mindset imbued with the magic of gods of protection, spirits and demons, Pon first enrolled in 1974 in the Esmeralda University of Art, followed this with a stay in 1977 in an Indio town in southern Oaxaca, and ending up in 1980 as head pottery instructor at Benito Juarez University's art department, teaching Japanese ceramic technique.

In Mexico, yet another fateful occurrence. There, Pon became enchanted by the snail-shell purple colour used in the dying of traditional textiles made by the indigenous Mixteca tribe. Her focus now was on deepening her friendship with Mixtecans and that mysterious shell-purple of theirs. This time also marks the starting point of her dream to someday establish a museum presenting the snail-shell purple artifacts she was avidly collecting, the indigenous culture that produced them, and her own creations due to their influence. In particular, Pon acknowledges her debt as an artist to her students and their work in preserving their indigenous cultures.

In 1985, the year of the great earthquake in Mexico, Pon left. However, she continually revisits what she calls her other home and the source of her vitality as a potter.

Back in Japan, she moved around continuing to develop her work until, in 1986, she moved to Ishigaki (Okinawa), a place which remined her of Mexico's natural scenery and where she established a Yaeyama-Miyano kiln. There, Pon produced countless pottery murals and such for, among others, a kindergarten, an elementary school, a harbour terminal, and a library. And in all her works she incorporates not only clay from the area but also the local history and culture as a way of acknowledging with gratitude earth's sustaining role for humanity.

Case in point, the kindergarteners who are always touching and playing the mural Pon made for them. Some people find this odd. Pon says otherwise: gChildren sense the power that earth emits, and they know that our hearts and the mural are happy to be near each other." She adds further that: "Kneading clay or playing with mud are the same as playing with the earth. Both the soil and our hands can feel each other's energy. Soil has a power to attract people."

After her parents in Hokkaido died, she wondered what purpose her life had. Around that time, she gots a commission from Yubari, a coal mining town, to do a piece from coal and shale. Pleased with the scenery of the area, in 1993 she opened the kiln Yuparu-Miyano in the remains of a coal-mine in Yubari. There, she produced many works, including a monument made from shale for a local inn, a ceramic mural for the Yuparo bath-house, and the trophy handed out during the Yubari International Film Festival.

Around this time too, she produced the ceramic mural "Plaza Mu" for NHK's Muroran broadcasting office, thereby setting off a nostalgia boom for large ceramic murals. Also from this time, when our centre had no more space and she was visiting Ebetsu to investigate clay-bricks, she made a Christmas present for the centre's children made of clay-bricks and called "Forest music squad". Indeed, using clay-bricks for producing pottery-work was unheard of, hence the present exhibit of her work here in Ebetsu.

In 1998, the Pon-Miyano kiln opened in Shimizu (Tokachi). Her pen-name "Pon" is an Ainu word that means small and endearing. The kiln is directly opposite both an elementary school and a mentally-disabled school called Asahiyama Gakuen. Pon states that: "The students' voices and shapes meld into the natural scenery." Pon also began teaching pottery at Asahiyama Gakuen and Shimizu High School. Students, and later, in 1999, produced among other works a fairy-based mural for the "Freude Lounge" of Shimizu town's hot-bath and a school gate for the Asahiyama Gakuen.

In 2000, Pon produced, among other pieces, ceramic murals for both Mexico City's TAO Hospital and Toluca city's MOA Art School, thus expanding her fruitful colaboration with the Miyano kiln. Indeed, after the end of this exhibition, Pon will resume her travels to Mexico to complete not only a large mural in progress there, but also to give birth to more of her beloved clay children as well as to visit additional new lands.

(Ebetsu, Ceramic Art Centre)