By Coeleen Kiebert
The speech for people of Oomoto on Setsubun at Choseiden Sanctuary.(February 3, 2003)
It’s a pleasure to be here at Oomoto once again. Several times I have visited during Cherry blossom season and Most recently, for your spectatcular fall, but I never dreamed that I could Be here in the winter for Setsubun… and, in addition with my daughter, Cathleen.
Cathleen is presently a doctoral candidate at Columbia University in New York City, Doing her Ph. D. dissertation in Art Education, so you can understand her special interest.
We both thank you very much for this special opportunity I have been asked to speak about How I First Began To Be Interested In Eastern, Japanese Culture.
In the early 1950’s I was a young University student who knew nothing of Oriental cultures.
W. W. II was barely behind us and Japan was a distant mysterious nation with which I didn’t believe I would ever be involved.
I was reluctantly studying ceramics because it was a requirement necessary to complete my University degree in Art Education. At the time, the field of ceramics in the United States was terribly dull and full of superficial “kitsch”. The Industrial Revolution had taken over and everything looked manufactured and very similar. Creativity had been set aside for the need to fulfill demand.
However, fortunately for me, at that time a new Ceramics instructor arrived at the University. His name was Warren MacKenzie and he had just returned from a two year apprenticeship in England with Bernard Leach. He told us of a folk craft movement that had been organized in Japan between Leach and three Japanese potters… Shoji Hamada, Kenkichi Tomimoto and Kenjiro Kawai. He spoke of their endeavors to save the traditional folk crafts of Japan against the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution, as it was threatening to obliterate the hand-made charm and integrity that had developed in ceramics over many centuries.
Studying with Warren and learning of the Japanese sense of naturalness in their pottery with a very human touch and feeling warmed me to the craft. This deeply effected my enthusiasm for what ceramics could become, my sense of a spiritual meaning in the arts, and my teaching. But still, I never dreamed that I would ever set foot in Japan. Until the mid 1970,s. I was visiting Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and the Dean Rodgers, who knew of my interest in art as a spiritual practice, handed me a book by Frederick Franck… “An Encounter With Oomoto”.
He told me of a remarkable group of people from Japan that had just visited the Cathedral. They had presented their Shinto rituals, performances and works of art, all as a spiritual offering.
As I read about these people and learned of the teachings of their inspiring founders, I became very excited and believed this was a place that I must visit.
I felt that, as a teacher in the United States, I was no longer alone in my belief that doing one’s art form can also be a spiritual practice. There was actually a community of people that lived this philosophy and practiced it.
By the end of the book I knew that I would have to visit Oomoto. Something very important was happening to quicken my spirit in this direction and there was no turning back. A trip to Japan was the obvious next step.
I visited Oomoto. Masamichi Tanaka was my guide and, in addition to showing me the grounds of Oomoto, he showed me the old climbing kiln back in the corner of the grounds and the precious collection of Onisaburo’s scintillating pots. I was enchanted by their brilliant glazes, poetic names and complete uniqueness. I’d never seen anything like them before (nor since).
At the end of the day I asked Tanaka-san if I could come back and attend some classes, and he agreed.
A few years later 1985 I attended the Oomoto School of Traditional Arts Summer Seminar. This experience deepened my understanding of how the practice of art is related to our personal and spiritual growth. Each art form, calligraphy, tea ceremony, Noh dance, budo… all bore into my being.
Because of my experiences in Japan and China, and especially because of the relationship that I have with the people here at Oomoto, I feel as though I have been able to go behind the scenes and see the very origins of the beginning in the art.
This brings me to the desire to express my gratitude for having come upon Oomoto and for being able to bring my family, friends and students here. We are all hungry for what you have to offer and look forward to a future in which we can continue to deepen our friendships, practice our arts together and exchange our common view that peace can be obtained through the arts.
We all create and we are all blessed to know that doing art can become an offering that holds within it the promise of personal peace and perhaps, collectively, even world peace.
Finally, as an American, especially at this time, when the world is in such turmoil under the threat of wars and terrorism, we must not caught up in fears, but instead we must turn our hearts and our lives to meet the challenge of our belief that the practice of art is for the betterment of our selves and can demonstrate to others our faith in the power of art to manifest personal and world peace.
Thank you very much.