From Natalie Warrens
and Penelope Dews
Hiroshi Ogawa, a longtime OPA member, made his exit from this world on April 9, 2021.
Hiroshi was a driving force in the global community of wood fire potters. His knowledge, spirit, and generosity impacted the many of us that were fortunate
to know him.
Hiroshi was born in Pasadena California, in 1941. His family was interned in Gila Bend, Arizona, for four years during WWII. He began making pottery at UC Santa Barbara in 1959, and taught pottery from 1965-1968. Hiroshi went to Japan in 1969 to study Buddhism and pottery, where he met his wife, Keiko. Returning to California in 1971, Hiroshi moved to Elkton, OR in 1981. He met Howard Kiefer, a kiln builder, and they built a two-chambered wood-fired kiln, which they christened Hikarigama (The Illuminated Kiln.)
My first experience wood firing was in June of 2000, when Hiroshi invited Barb Campbell and Terry Inokuma to lead an all-women’s wood firing workshop in Hiroshi’s anagama, named Hikarigma. Some of the potters who were involved had wood firing experience, but not anagama. Most of us had no experience at all.
The lasting impression that I took from this firing was that during my career I had never actually fired my pieces. Rather, he electric or gas kiln fired the work, and I was a bystander. At Hiroshi’s, for the first time, I felt that I was actively participating in the final step of the ceramics process. I came away with a sense of wholeness and closure, and then wonder and curiosity. For the next 18 years, I had the great fortune to fire with dozens of amazing potters and sculptors two to three times a year, until Hiroshi’s last firing in June of 2018.
2005, Hiroshi’s studio burnt to the ground, but the kiln was unharmed. The ceramic community came together and helped build a new studio. He worked in that studio until 2018, when, due to poor health, he fired the Hikarigama Anagama for the last time, an event that was both celebratory and emotionally difficult for the crew that had worked with him for many years.
Hiroshi, with incredible support from his wife Keiko and friends from his community of Elkton, gave to many of us a gift— the rare gift of personal and creative transformation.
Pieces fired in Hikarigama, like most wood fire kilns, have unique characteristics specific to that particular kiln. Hiroshi’s anagama firings produced some of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever seen, because of the variety of detailed surface textures and range of colors that resulted from his anagama firing.
But it wasn’t just the incredible beauty of these pieces that drew us back to Elkton every year. It was the connection we made with each other, with Hiroshi, and the land. We learned to trust each other and, yes, to love each other. The pots and sculptures were the vehicle for this connection.
Hiroshi was the fire.
To view a video of Hiroshi’s anagama, watch a clip from OPB’s Oregon Art Beat.
Clip: Season 16 Episode 1601 | 9m 27s
“Visit master ceramicist Hiroshi Ogawa as he creates, then loads the
bisqued work into his traditional Japanese "anagama" kiln. For the
next week, Ogawa and his helpers will fire the kiln with wood to a
sustained temperature of 2300+ degrees Fahrenheit. After a week of
cooling, Ogawa conducts an opening ceremony, unloads the flame-painted
pots, and celebrates with his community of potters.”