Tag Archives: Nagase Hiroko

Japanese ceramics in a baroque Italian city

Here’s a wee snippet of my trip before I forget everything!

Unexpected sunshine in Bologna was followed with unexpected cold in souther Italy. Francesco, David, Ann and me.

Unexpected sunshine in Bologna was followed by unexpected cold in southern Italy. Francesco, David, Ann and me.

Francesco - one of our gracious guides in Puglia. Guaranteed to be able to chat to anyone and get you in to see treasures.

Francesco – one of our gracious guides in Puglia. Guaranteed to be able to chat to anyone and get you in to see treasures.

One of the cities we visited in Puglia was the baroque city of Lecce, which features roman ruins and plenty of over-the-top baroque architecture, as well as some hidden artists’ studios, which you may be lucky enough to visit if you have a local tour guide to introduce you.

On our way in to Lecce, we noticed some colourful ceramic fish set to ‘fly’ above the doorway of a little studio on a corner. The door was closed and locked, the interior dim. But when we knocked and waited a few minutes, what treasures were revealed to us!

This cosy and crowded cavern is the studio of a Japanese ceramics artist Nagase Hiroko, who moved to Italy with her husband many years earlier. She speaks Italian, English, Japanese and is currently studying Chinese at night school. She is lively, loquacious and clearly has a love of knowledge and human interaction.

Hiroko alone

Hiroko wraps treasures for us

Hiroko wraps treasures adn chats

Crowded quarters as Ann Haddon and Ann James talk with Hiroko. David (right) takes up a lot of vertical space but not much horizontal space thankfully :-)

I wish I had taken more photos, but I was afraid both of being rude and of knocking things from shelves, laden as I was with backpack and bag. There were five of us visiting and the space was narrow.

spotty ceramic birds

spotty birds, sugar bowls, little heads, in bloomsbury colours. (I feel certain Vanessa Bell would have loved them.)

Nagase Hiroko

Hiroko kept up a constant stream of delightful conversation, some in Italian (with Fran) and some in English for us. Here she is looking for a particular treasure to show us.

I bought several small items as souvenir gifts for friends, but the one thing I wanted to buy for myself was this bird (below) with a blue head and splashy pink back. I was by no means certain it could survive a trip home in a packed suitcase, but the choice was not mine to make. Hiroko would not part with it. She loved it and did not think she could replicate it, due to the the inconsistencies of the making, firing and glazing processes. She has never managed to get those particular shades of colour again, or make the beak just right. Each piece is fired four times, first to bake the clay and then to get different glazes to do different things. I really respect her for this refusal to sell. She said she has sold some of her favourite things in the past and has always regretted it.

my favourite bird

The bird I wanted (rear). Too precious for the artist to part with. On the shelf below are little owls that hoot charmingly when you blow into them. 

If you wish to see Hiroko’s studio while visiting southern Italy, or to contact her, here are her details.

Nagase Hiroko ceramics- frontNagase Hiroko ceramics- backLater I’ll post photos of the papier mâché artist’s studio that we visited on the way out!