Clay artist Shoko Teruyama works with form and decoration

STORY TIME: Of the narrative designs she uses, Shoko Teruyama says, “Characters are developed based on what I have experienced, but they are not there to tell specific stories.” Photo courtesy of the artist

Although the color palette is in pastels, the imagery is of a marionette girl wielding a hatchet at a chicken. Odd character drawings such as this often make appearances in the work of clay artist Shoko Teruyama — another of her pieces shows an apron-wearing farm animal alongside a birdcage and a mouse-cage. These are strange combinations to be found on ceramics, but the imagery creates intrigue with subtly drawn lines and a muted color palette.

Teruyama is based in Marshall and has been living in Western North Carolina for nearly a decade, including her three-year artist residency at Penland School of Crafts. Her work is currently on exhibit at Penland’s Focus Gallery in a collection that includes large-scale pinched buckets, large hand-built tullipiere, pinched bowls, flower plates, narrative plates and slip cast blue and white cups. It’s worth noting that Penland’s benefit auction will bring crowds to the campus this weekend (see sidebar). Those not attending the auction might want to visit the gallery another time.

Pulling from her life experiences, Teruyama’s pictorial character drawings approach a narrative, but they stop just shy of a storyline. “Characters are developed based on what I have experienced, but they are not there to tell specific stories,” she says. She’s more interested in viewers approaching the drawings and creating their own narratives. While some characters are reused in her work, they do have a life cycle. “I use characters slightly differently each time, until I don’t get inspired,” says Teruyama. “Then they disappear.”

A native of Japan, the ceramicist draws inspiration for her surfacing from that country’s traditional ornamentation practices. “I look at sacred places in Japan like temples and shrines — oftentimes they are highly decorated,” she says. “Even when looking at these, sometimes animals show up among vine patterns to tell stories.”

Teruyama grew up with handmade pottery. “I like it because I can use my fingers and be able to touch to manipulate the material,” she says. And though the forms and surface ornamentation could easily be transferred to alternate art materials, she finds the clay itself to be integral to her artwork. The interplay of form and surface extends to the object’s beginnings. Even while building the shape, she’s simultaneously considering the drawings that will adorn the piece.

Many of Teruyama’s earthenware forms have an underlying functionality, such as a serving dish or a flower vase. She says on her website that they’re appropriate for “sacred spaces of the home like the center of a formal dining room table, a hope chest or a bedside stand.” To develop her imagery, Teruyama uses a scratching technique called sgraffito. After covering an entire piece with white slip, she then carves through this layer to reveal the underlying red clay. Then, colored glazes are applied to further develop the surface ornamentation.

Pattern is used widely in Teruyama’s design, sometimes adjacent to the characters and sometimes as the central focus. The patterns present a visual texture that defines the spaces and adds interest. “I developed vine patterns to wrap around pots and lead your eye around the work,” she says. “Sometimes they represent wind or water.”

WHAT: Exhibition of Shoko Teruyama’s ceramics
WHEN: Through Sunday, Sept. 7
WHERE: Focus Gallery at Penland School of Crafts,


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