Trees on Winter Fields


Trees on Winter Fields


Kenneth R. Beittel
American, 1922–2003


A potter and professor of art education, Kenneth Beittel catalyzed Penn State’s engagement with post-war Japanese ceramics. With the help of Penn State agronomy professor Henry Fortmann, who had recently returned from Japan, Beittel arranged to use a sabbatical in 1967 to apprentice with Manji Inoue, a designated Living National Treasure known for his large-scale porcelains. Inoue’s practice was not obviously allied with Beittel’s interest in mingei (folk art). But Beittel was reassured by mingei potter Shōji Hamada, who explained, “Porcelain methods are the most precise. Once you master them, they can easily be applied to stoneware, but the reverse is not true.” Beittel thrived under the tutelage of Inoue, who welcomed the opportunity to teach a western professor who, as Beittel recalled him saying, “could spread the Arita tradition in the West.” Their relationship remained close. In 1969, Beittel arranged for Inoue to leave Japan for the first time to teach at Penn State for a semester, and Inoue returned to teach again with Beittel in 1976.

Beittel’s work was valued by his Japanese hosts. When Saga Prefecture, were Arita is located, opened a ceramics museum in 1981, its first temporary exhibition was devoted to Beittel’s work. This large stoneware vessel from that period exemplifies Beittel’s ambitious and painstaking dedication to his chosen medium. It combines elements of east and west, not least in the landscape decoration, which evokes the wintery fields of central Pennsylvania in a style and technique (white slip applied with a stiff-bristled hakeme brush) adopted from Japan. In his book Zen and the Art of Pottery, Beittel used this vase to exemplify the precept that “vital decorations come unsought.” He said, “The sight of trees on winter field first caught out of the corner of the eyes while out driving, can leap directly onto a jar covered with white slip, waiting patiently back in the studio.”


Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University, Gift of Dr. Kenneth Beittel and Dr. Joan N. Beittel




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Stoneware; 15-7/16 x 16-1/8 x 16-1/8 in. (39.3 x 41 x 41 cm)