Visiting Paul Chaleff Studio 3/24/2018
Follow the GPS … we drove on mountain roads snow still remaining.
Through ranches and farmland we arrived at Paul’s studio in Ancram, NY.
As per the instruction from his email, we parked our car and walked into his studio; as soon as we stepped in, we caught sight of huge objects: two 7 feet tall boulders facing each other. It was one of his ceramic pieces.
Through the studio space … we kept made our way to the next room which was a large gallery space.
On the wall there was a series of four by four foot ceramic panels called “tablets”: on the floor, three-dimensional sculpture art pieces were laid out. It reminded us of the Dia Beacon Museum.
A gasp and a sigh came from Nana Yamazaki who was with us. This signaled to Paul that we were there and he made his appearance from a back room.
With a full of smile he welcomed us.
We were invited into the living space at the back. The design was a pleasing functional space. Through a window we saw a beautiful clear blue sky and snow-covered field. Throughout, the room was filled with his collection of his friends’ art pieces.
Paul will be 71 years old next month. He teaches at a Hofstra University twice a week and lives his life between at an apartment in Brooklyn and the studio/ house upstate with his wife Haesook who is also a university professor.
He was born the son of a baker in the Bronx in 1947. He studied at the Bronx High School of Science, CCNY, and CUNY.
His path to art was opened up by one of his professors’ recommendation to follow his talent, when he saw his drawings for a biology class.
In 1972 he was greatly impressed by ceramics made by Rosanjin at the Japan Society. After a suggestion to go to Japan from Rand Castile, he was helped by the calligrapher Kampo Harada. He ended up working with Takashi Nakazato, the 13th generation of Karatsu pottery family. The potter Shigeyoshi Morioka and Paul were a part of Takashi’s early independent wood firing with the Ryuta-kiln. His encounter with these people drew him into the beauty of the Japanese world.
He returned to US and built a ANAGAMA wood-fired kiln in 1977. It was the 2nd Japanese-style ANAGAMA wood fired kiln in US.
We heard Joy Brown, who studied with Shigeyoshi Morioka, also greatly supported Paul’s work.
By the way, the first ANAGAMA wood fired kiln was built by Peter Callas in NJ just six months before Paul’s kiln.
In 1980, he was at the Metropolitan Museum looking at a showcase of Japanese pottery and noticed a mistake on the written description of one piece of Sueki. He explained the mistake to a gentleman who happened to be standing by and talking to Paul. It turned out that he was the Director of the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, Arthur Drexler. He knew about Paul through Rand Castile. Later MoMA purchased four of his wood-fired works and placed them into the permanent collection. His pieces have continued to be collected by multiple museums.
Malcolm Wright studied at Karatsu with Tarouemon-kiln from 1968 to 1970, Paul Chaleff worked with Shigeyoshi Morioka and Takashi Nakazato in 1976 and 1977. Richard Bresnahan from Minnesota, Bob Okazaki from the US, Felix Strohmeier from Austria, and a Norwegian, Soren Ubish were all friends who worked with Nakazato and Morioka in the mid-1970’s. Felix passed away in 1977.
When you talk about the history of Japanese pottery in the United States, you cannot skip these people.