Minnesota-based potter Mitch Iburg’s latest collection of work is quiet, with simple forms and surfaces. The work reminded me of the unglazed and mostly undecorated Yayoi period pottery in Japan’s ancient history, an era generally accepted to be between 300 BCE and 300 CE. When I told him this, Mitch reminisced about the time we first connected in 2014 and said, “[back then] my interest was more in the very aggressive and bold wood fire surfaces.”
I enjoy looking at Yayoi pottery. Whenever I visit Tokyo’s National Museum, I’m one of the few visitors pottering around in the dark and deserted first floor of the museum’s Heiseikan wing where there is a chronologically arranged exhibition of Japanese archeology. I have often wondered what caused the drastic change in the style of pottery from Jomon (14000-300 BCE), which was highly decorated with ostentatious forms, to Yayoi that is very minimal and often with no decorations.
“After firing in mostly electric kilns for a few years I get much more joy from the simple qualities of the natural clay,” Mitch explained. “Much of the historical work I find myself drawn to these days has a similar quality.” The Minneapolis Institute of Art has a collection of Chinese Han dynasty vessels, Korean Silla ware, African vessels, and several works from the Jomon and Yayoi periods, and Mitch says he discovers something new from them every time he visits the museum.
After learning what inspires Mitch, I realized that the draw of Mitch’s work and Yayoi pottery is the unspoken respect for the character of the surface. Mitch evolved to prefer the natural beauty of the exterior without obscuring it with ash, and perhaps the Yayoi people grew to enjoy the clay surface without decorations. Regardless of the era and background, people can identify simple, unpretentious beauty. And we can all share our fascination for the Earth and its history.