Yoshimitsu Ishihara at Guild Gallery

roslyn bernstein
3 min readFeb 12, 2024
Rust Round Jar 8.5"H x 9.5" diameter UNGLAZED CERAMIC

In 1821, eight Federal Style houses were built along Canal Street by Isaac Lawrence (1768–1841). It was just two years after Collect Pond was drained and Canal Street was paved. Only 321 and 323 Canal remain. Among the earliest residents of 321 was the painter Samuel F. B. Morse, known for his development of the telegraph and Morse Code.

Over the years, as Canal Street decayed and the block became known for army surplus, hardware, and then for knock-off pocketbooks and street vendors, the buildings deteriorated significantly. When 321 and 323 Canal were finally bought by the Laboz brothers (Albert, Jason and Jody), a fortune was spent to restore them to their original condition.

In exchange for the historic restoration, the buildings were granted a zoning modification to allow retail on the ground floor and residential on the floors above. So, instead of the handbag stores and souvenir shops, higher end stores began to appear on Canal Street, transforming its identity

One of these changes occurred at 321 Canal where Guild Gallery occupied the ground floor as a ceramics art gallery — one that is currently showing (February 1-April 20) for the first time in America the extraordinary work of the Japanese ceramicist Yoshimitsu Ishihara (b 1971) who lives in Osaka, Japan. It is indeed fitting, that Ishihara’s work, using traditional Japanese pottery techniques is being shown in a building that was restored traditionally, brick by brick.

Rust Tall Vessel 21.5"H x 11.75" diameter UNGLAZED CERAMIC

By the time I visited the gallery, it was one week after the exhibition’s opening and Ishihara was back home in Japan. But I managed to spend a great deal of time there, admiring his hand-crafted wood-fired ceramic sculptures. Ishihara currently lives in the woods of Fukuoka where he has built a nobori -gama kiln or ascending kiln which he fuels with chopped local pine. The ascending multi-chambered kiln was originally imported from China via the Korean peninsula.

Ishihara digs red clay from the hills near his studio, often coating the pieces with the same red clay that he uses to make the forms. His carbonized works are buried in burnt rice hull before firing. It is an ancient process that results in a glaze of blackened earth tones. Other pieces are powdered with fresh rice hull which has the effect of creating a light, white glaze. The work is all hand shaped with simple tools and a very basic potter’s wheel. Each firing takes over 40 hours continuously, day and night.

Black Rust Jar 12"H x 10" diameter UNGLAZED CERAMIC

“The whole process is quite unpredictable,” Ishihara says and “you can expect that the expression of the soil will change, and unexpected things will occurs. I’m fascinated by the way the work is completed outside of my reach.”

The result are truly pieces that are individual, which the Guild Gallery press release describes as works with “wills and personalities of their own.”

The scale of the work on exhibit is very large with one Rust Large Jar of unglazed ceramic measuring 22”H x 18.l75 “diameter and a Rust Large Bowl measuring 9.5 “H x 12.5” diameter. There’s a Rust Cone Vessel 18.5”H x 5” diameter and a Black Rust Jar of unglazed ceramic that is 18.25H x 13” diameter. The twenty seven pieces range in price from $3,500 to $18,000.

Extraordinary work. Truly priceless.

Rust Large Bowl 11"H x 15" diameter UNGLAZED CERAMIC

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roslyn bernstein

An arts and culture journalist for Guernica, Huff Post, Tablet. Books include The Girl Who Counted Numbers,Engaging Art, Illegal Living, and Boardwalk Stories.