Erin Shafkind’s Illustrated Studio Tours, Part 6: Saya Moriyasu

At the end of a driveway, several ceramic bells hang amidst a wonderful green garden. This is the entrance to Saya Moriyasu’s six hundred square-foot studio.

Built on an old garage foundation, the space also houses a small bathroom and a bedroom upstairs.

Every nook is filled with delightful character, that is, Moriyasu’s sincere connections to place and her heritage.

A woman born of two cultures – Japanese and European – Moriyasu explores equally hybrid themes in her art.  

Inspired by antique malls and the alignment of objects from Asia and Europe in her childhood home, where, for example, a beautifully carved Guan Yin statue with a thousand hands sat near a crocheted afghan – she searches for meaningful combinations that express these themes of hybridization in her work.

She ponders, “What sort of baggage comes with how we value things?” Do objects hold meaning? Do they have memories for us?

In Moriyasu’s work the answer is “Yes.”

If objects could recount their history, what would they say? Traditionally, Fu Dogs stand guard at Buddhist temples, but over time they have changed size – are often sold as souvenirs – and now we don’t always see them in pairs. Their meaning doesn’t feel as significant when you see a tiny one in a dollar store. But there is still a history there.

She is also curious about the generations of family that have come before her and these are represented wonderfully with her Fu Dog series and the work she showed last month at G. Gibson Gallery in the show Generations: 500 Human years in dogs/trade.

To create these miniature sculptures, Moriyasu cast each dog from the last: in other words, she made one sculpture, casting it in plaster. When clay is fired, it shrinks 5-10 percent. So when she cast the next one, it was from a slightly smaller version of the first.

She kept repeating this process over and over, purposefully engaging the shrinkage as part of the project.

Along the way, you have to consider: is something lost with each generation?

After her father’s death, five years ago – he was from Japan – this became an even more powerful thought for Moriyasu. When the source of our memories or existence is altered – or disappears – how can the past be claimed, remembered and honored?


Be sure to check out Saya Moriyasu's work on the eastside at Bellevue Arts Museum. BAM just opened the the Clay Throw Down featuring Moriyasu and over 30 Pacific Northwest ceramic artists. It closes Jan. 16, 2011. Erin Shafkind makes art, teaches and writes this Studio Tour series for CAB. To see more of her work go to her website erinshafkind.com or her personal blog poorworm.com.