One In A Million... a million people live, work and play in upstate New York's Catskills region. These are their life stories... in their own words.
Series produced by Kent Garrett
Photo editing and website design by Ed Kirstein
Peter Yamaoka :
Just Do It!
Peter Yamaoka Transcript:
On most any day if you head south out of Roxbury on Route 30, make a right at the Antique Barn and head up Carroll Hinkley Road for about a half mile, you’ll come to a little studio building. There you’ll find Peter Yamaoka hunched over his potter’s wheel making his art.
Here is his story in his own words:
I always sort of knew I wanted to be an artist, and I think when you—
Q – But, how did you know?
I don’t know. I just like to draw. I like to sculpt things. I always knew that’s what I wanted to do, and once you know at a very young age what you want to do, it frees you of a lot of things that you don’t want to do. It makes it much easier to have a focus. So instead of going to university, I decided to go to art school. I went to Rhode Island School of Design and majored in painting. I spent my last year on their European honors program in Rome in Italy, where I ended up living for two years, and then did my graduate work in printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London, where I ended up living for five more years, after which time I came back to the States.
Q – When you decided that you wanted to go into art, I mean, were you thinking about the economics?
Q – So, how did you deal with that?
Well, what an artist will do is they teach, you know. That’s one of the outlets that they have, or they work in applied arts. When I was living in London I was supplementing my income aside from teaching, and I was showing actually there, exhibiting there, working in film animation, which was where in those days a lot of the art students ended up because they knew how to paint and they were willing to work at light tables and work in animation, which in theory was supposed to subsidize the ruling passion of your life, which was your own artwork, but in fact ended up to be a fulltime job. I think that’s true of a lot of artists who start out in applied arts thinking they will start working as a sideline and then be able to devote time to their art, but the reality of the situation is once your sideline takes off it takes all your concentration and focus away from you.
My wife grew up on a dairy farm in Holland and always had contact with the soil and with the earth and knew about gardening. I grew up in the city. She grew up on a dairy farm; I saw my first cow in a zoo, so we come from very different orbits. We fell in love with the landscape basically. We found an old renovated farmhouse. The house was the house, but the grounds around it were very undeveloped. Since 1991 we’ve developed the grounds, and it’s become a very established garden. It’s been published in a national magazine. We open our gardens in the summer to the public, and we invite them to an open studio event where we show our artwork. Again, now that I’m a potter all of my pots are across the street in the garden. We use it as a kind of showcase for our work.
Q – Well, how did you become a potter then? Tell me your progression in terms of different arts.
Okay. Well, I always loved ceramics. I think that maybe has to do with my Japanese background because in Japan potters are given a much more elevated status than they are in the West. In Japan they have potters that become living national treasures. Their work is highly esteemed and widely seen, appreciated, and collected. My family had a collection of ceramics that I sort of grew up with. They’re sort of artifacts of my childhood, so to speak.
Q – Was your childhood in Japan or here?
No, it was really in New York. It was really in New York, but I spent my very young childhood in Japan, went to school there. But really, I grew up in New York City and on Long Island.
Q – To make it work, I mean, what is the skill involved?
You’ve got to know your materials. One of the very mysterious things about ceramics is you put something in a kiln and you never really know what it looks like until you open it. That’s part of the excitement of it. Also, the technical skill of learning how to throw a pot on a wheel, how to hand build things, how to sculpt things. This is a physical activity that requires dedication and practice.
Q – But very different from painting.
Very different from painting. In ceramics you actually end up using both your hands, and as a painter, in drawing, or in a lot of the other arts, you work with the hand that you write, draw, that you use. In sculpture and ceramics you really need to use both hands, so you are training yourself in another way with another motor skill. When we moved up here fulltime I finally had the time to be able to devote to this, so I am like the poster child for when you decide to move up here fulltime. Some people always wanted to write that play, that novel, plant that garden. I would just say do it, because you just have to start.
Q – Tell me about the show coming up this Friday, I mean, this weekend. What’s that about?
Okay. This show is organized by R.A.G. There’s several artists up here that do teach, that have students that they take on who work very diligently and don’t really have an outlet to show their work. I think it’s what’s exciting about the show is that you get to see what student work is out there, what artists up here have taught young people—some of them not so young, some of them older, beginning artists—how to form their own visual imagination in whatever medium they’re working in. I think it’s a great opportunity also for these students to be able to bring their work to the public.