Forging Alliances


Forging Alliances


January 7–May 11, 2014


On September 2, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers, bringing World War II to an end. What followed was a remarkable episode in international relations, as bitter enemies became allies. This new alliance involved more than the Cold War security treaties that allowed American military bases to remain in Japan after the Occupation ended in 1952. Literature and the visual arts were enlisted to undo the wartime propaganda that, on both sides of the Pacific, associated Japan with rigid uniformity in the service of imperial aggression. The arts offered tangible proof of another idea of the Japanese as individuals at once creative and rooted in peaceful traditions—and thus of Japan as a respected friend and reliable ally. American and Japanese authorities encouraged the development of traditional Japanese arts, such as pottery and woodblock prints, in ways that emphasized the aesthetic creativity of individual artists. Initiatives by governments, philanthropic institutions, schools, and individuals encouraged western interest in Japanese art and artists.

An emphasis on individual aesthetic accomplishment was codified by Japan’s 1950 Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties (Bunkazai Hogōhō 文化財保護法). Before the war Japan had an official roster National Treasures: works of art with historical and cultural significance. The new law designated individual artists working with traditional forms and media as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties (Jūyō Mukei Bunkazai Hojisha 重要無形文化財保持者), commonly referred to as Living National Treasures (Ningen Kokuhō 人間国宝). Many of the potters represented in this exhibition achieved this designation in recognition of their work reviving, preserving, and bringing original aesthetic nuances to forms of pottery associated with particular local traditions.

Among print makers, the post-War values encouraged the Creative Prints (Sōsaku Hanga 創作版画) movement, in which a single artist—rather than a series of workshops—drew the design, carved the blocks, and did the printing. The resulting prints, often signed in western style by the artist, were acclaimed at international exhibitions as Japan’s foremost contribution to modern, art and celebrated by American writers such as James Michener and Oliver Statler, whose influential books are included in this exhibition.

Penn State was part of this history of alliance formation. From the 1960s on, the university sponsored visits by Japanese print-makers and potters, and acquired examples of their art. Professor of Art Education Kenneth Beittel catalyzed much of Penn State’s engagement with Japan in this era. In 1967, Beittel traveled to Japan, where he studied and met with working potters while acquiring a representative group of Japanese ceramics for the Art Education Study Collection. After the museum of art was opened in the 1970s, these works were transferred here. This collection was augmented in 1986 with more pieces purchased following Beittel’s advice. Beittel donated more ceramics, and other donors have generously contributed post-war Japanese pots and prints to Penn State.

This exhibition was the work of a class team-taught by Jonathan Abel and Christopher Reed, which focused on art and literature associated with Japanese-American relations in the decades after World War II. Students in the class who researched the objects on display and wrote labels are Mohamed Allaith, Jesse Blyth, Matt Bodenschatz, Kayla De Stefano, Ken Fite, Caitlyn Grimaldi, Sarah Keim, Skyler Leiser, Matthew Libretti, Genna Malatino, Bree McEldowney, Jinny McGill, Samantha Parson, Hannah Sollenberger, Katelyn Spellman, and Craig Wenner. We are grateful to Kendall Brown, Louise Cort, Shannon Goff, Josh Rome, and Bert Winther-Tamaki for their expert advice.

Photography for this exhibition was supported with a grant from Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence.


Palmer Museum of Art and The Pennsylvania State University Libraries, The Pennsylvania State University


These images are posted publicly for non-profit educational uses, excluding printed publication. Other uses are not permitted.

Collection Items

The second son of Shoji Hamada, Shinsaku followed his father’s profession, using the same materials and tools. He attended Waseda University in Tokyo, one of Japan’s elite universities, studying industrial arts to prepare for a career as a potter.…

Autumn Finale
Naoko Matsubara, the daughter of a Shinto priest, followed an international career path. Having studied at the Kyoto Academy of Fine Arts, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Royal College of Art in London, she traveled Europe and Asia for two years.…

While in Japan, Beittel focused his study on the mingei (folk art) movement, which valued the work of individual craftsmen making functional objects representative of the region where they were produced. Beittel’s work shared these values. This vase…

Penn State potter Kenneth Beittel, who acquired this vase in Japan in 1967, included it among the “Great Pots I Have Known” in his book Zen and the Art of Pottery. There he describes Shimakoka’s pots as “sturdy, quiet, even comfortable pieces.”…

Broken Sugar Cane Mizusashi
This vase is made in a two-part open mold where each side is pressed individually; the two halves are then joined along the corners. The square-bodied form is based on Chinese Song dynasty flower vases adapted for used as a mizusashi, the water…

Flower Vase
Hagi ceramics are typically formed on a kickwheel from porous clays and finished with colored slips (liquified clay) and glazes. Hagi ware is finished through the firing process in a noborigama, or multi-chambered climbing kiln. The porousness of…

Square Flower Vase
Although the term Hagi ware derives from the town of Hagi in Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture, its beginnings can be traced to the techniques and traditions of Korean pottery. After Japan invaded Korea in the late 16th century, Korean potters were…

Sake Vessel
This sturdy sake vessel, made from the rich, brown clay native to the Naeshirogawa area, combines function with aesthetic and cultural values. The deep, black glaze was likely applied by turning the container upside down and dipping it directly into…

Sake Bottle
Seimei Tsuji‘s father was an antique collector, and it is said that Tsuji could tell a good antique from a bad one at the age of 5. Tsuji started working on a hand-turned potter’s wheel, called a te-rokuro, when he was 10 years old. At 13 he founded…

Hanging Flower Vase
In 1955 Tsuji built one of the first modern noborigama kilns, a multi-chamber climbing oven that allows pieces to be fired at different temperatures depending on where they are placed. In Tsuji’s wood-firing technique, ash from the wood swirls around…
View all 70 items