Simple Cup Show 2017

Takashi Hara

This is the 11th year of a wonderful tradition at KOBO: the Simple Cup Show, also known as the Simple Cup Invitational. Each year ceramic artists are invited to contribute 2-4 cups to this celebration of the humble cup. This year’s exhibition is curated by Peter Olsen, Executive Director of Seward Park Clay Studio, and Binko Bisbee, Co-owner/Director of KOBO Seattle.

Peter helped KOBO start what has become an anticipated yearly event and has co-curated the Simple Cup Show from the beginning. We had the chance to pick his brain about cups and more.

Jonah Amadeus

The Simple Cup show has been called “a unique take on a common object”. Why cups?
The cup is perhaps the most used ceramic vessel of any. We put it up to our lips, we carefully hold it, we look at it up close. Many potters love making cups because of these things. They may carefully think about how it feels to have lips closing around the rim of the cup. They consider balance and how to keep the user from burning themselves. Some potters use the cup as a tableau for decoration, since there is such close-up addressing of the pot.

After several thousand years of potters making cups, it is still possible to have an individual voice in crafting this most intimate object. Many times, one can immediately recognize a cup connected to a particular maker, just as one can recognize paintings or sculptures. They are that individual.

Bill Jamison

I can imagine being a bit intimidated to use one of the beautiful cups on display. Who buys the cups, and for what purpose?
I hope no one will feel intimidated by the cups. They are not as inexpensive as Pottery Barn or something like that, but they are handmade objects and are priced accordingly. If one wanted to collect affordable objects that grace one’s home (or office or car!) handmade cups are a very accessible and reasonable thing to build a group of. Often when potters get together in each other’s homes we enjoy looking at each other’s collection of cups.

There will be something for everyone at this show. Some people go for the pots with paintings on them. Some are looking for the perfect wood-fired little cup for a splash of bourbon, some are tea practitioners that want a very particular type of bowl. Some people collect the work of a particular maker.

If one is mindful about addressing the cups that we use, we begin to see particular beauty in the object. I can’t tell you how many times people have called the studio, almost in tears, to say how they broke their favorite cup, and could I please help them find the potter who made it. The loss to them is very tangible and I think this speaks to how important the cup is for many people.

Simple Cup Show KOBO Seattle ceramics
Picking favorites at last year’s Simple Cup Show

This will be your 11th year co-curating this exhibition. What makes this show exciting for you?
I have enjoyed my collaboration with [owners] Binko and John at KOBO. I am excited to know many of the people who make the work. I have a large collection of cups myself and am continually surprised by new ideas, new processes and the amazing variety of approaches to the cup. I absolutely love seeing people at the opening. The excitement is great, and people are so happy to be able to collect the cups that they love. It is a joyful experience.

Simple Cup Show 2017
KOBO Gallery (at Higo)
604 South Jackson Street  Seattle, WA  98104 (map)
November 4 – December 2016
Sale by lottery begins at opening, Sat Nov 4
Draw a lottery number as early as 6:30; sale starts at 7:00
      11th Annual Simple Cup Show can be previewed beginning on Friday, 11/3.

Kris Marubayashi – Ceramics

MEET THE ARTIST  – ONE DAY EVENT: Wednesday, July 1, 2015, 3 – 6pm,

KOBO Gallery (at Higo) in Japantown
604 South Jackson Street
Seattle, WA  98102
(206) 381-3000

Kris Marubayashi is a sansei (third generation Japanese American) ceramic artist based in Sacramento, CA.  She creates pieces that are highly textural, resembling rocks, geological formations, and metal.  KOBO patrons may be most familiar with her Caldera collection (below), inspired by volcanic cauldrons.


Wednesday, July 1, FROM 3 – 6PM  at KOBO Gallery (at Higo), meet Kris and see selected new works from workshops in Wisconsin and Curaumilla, Chile. She will also bring some of her paper clay bowls, a recent experiment in mixing cement with paper clay to to create pieces that are strong, light, and unrestrained in size.

Kris Marubayashi ceramics

She writes, “I think each of the workshops I went to this year showed me different ways of working with clay, including new ways of creating designs from the past. I made medium-sized slab pieces in the past that tended towards cracking, and the extruder will enable me to create similar work [see above] without that problem!”

Black Paper Clay Vessel 2015
Black Paper Clay vessel 2015
Caldera Bowls
Caldera Bowls
Kris Marubayashi, Ceramics
KOBO Gallery (at Higo) (map)
One day only – meet the artist and see new work
Wednesday,  July 1, 3 – 6pm

Stephen Mickey – Ceramics

Stephen Mickey is a clay artist who plays with fire and describes himself as one of the “crap shooters of ceramics” (read on to find out why). For ten years he was the lead instructor of ceramics at Mt. Hood Community College, then transitioned to be a full time studio potter in Brush Prairie, WA in 2012. We are pleased to show his and Yuki Nyhan’s work at KOBO Gallery (at Higo).

Stephen Mickey01

Briefly, how would you describe yourself and your work?
I’m a dad and grandpa, a husband, a studio potter, a gardener, and I love to walk and do yoga.

Stephen Mickey ceramics

The pots I make are intended to be for daily use. I have been attracted to wood fired pots since my introduction to clay. Working with porcelain and fruit wood as fuel, my Soulgama kiln has given me a vocabulary of expression that is truly satisfying. Although the forms appear simple, the 100 hour firings and the fly ash sweeping through the kiln like a river of flame create a complex, one-of-a-kind surface that I find very appealing.

Stephen Mickey04

Your passion for ceramics came as a surprise. What’s your back story?
I was a pre-med student at the University of Minnesota and took an art class as an elective. I thought, “How hard can making pots be? I’ll try it.” Bam! First class, we went out to an old clay pit, built pots, dug kilns into the clay banks, then fired our first attempts with wood. Wow, pretty cool! The next week I saw my instructor David Stannard make a bowl and I said to myself “That’s it. That’s how I want to spend my life,” and I never looked back. It was like a religious experience.

Stephen Mickey ceramics kiln

You are known for pottery made in your anagama wood-fired kiln. Tell us what is distinct about this process and how it affects your work.
As a potter that uses wood as a fuel I must accept the fact that each firing is unique and that the possibity of repeating results is difficult at best. I often refer to us [artists who use wood instead of electricity, gas or propane to power their kilns] as the “crap shooters of ceramics” – I mean why would we try so hard to do the impossible. We love the gamble and the serendipity of the event.

Stephen Mickey05

Prolonged high temperatures [over 2300 degrees Fahrenheit!] help melt the fruit wood ash that accumulates in the kiln and create startling flashing effects [color changes]. There is a front side (facing the firebox) and a lee side (side away from the fire box) where the piece is kissed by the flame.

Yuki Nyhan at kiln

How do you and Yuki Nyhan know each other?
Yuki (above) and I became friends many years ago when I was leading the ceramics program at the Evanston Art Center. She was a super talented potter and found her way into her current work. We maintained our friendship when I moved to the west with my wife Golda and we love to have her come out and wood fire with us as well. She is a special person and a kind and gentle soul.

If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?
Intimate, sensual and natural.

Stephen Mickey06

Stephen Mickey & Yuki Nyhan, Ceramics
KOBO Gallery (at Higo) (map)
June 27 – July 19, 2015
Opening reception with the artists Saturday June 27, 3-6pm

Yuki Nyhan – Ceramics

Yuki Nyhan was born in Tokyo, Japan and lived in Saitama Prefecture until her family moved to the United States in 1968. Growing up in a Japanese household, she developed an appreciation for pottery, which led her to her first ceramics class at the Art Institute of Chicago when she was 13. We are pleased to show her work alongside Stephen Mickey’s at KOBO Gallery (at Higo).


Briefly, how would you describe yourself and your work?
My work is very quiet. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a quiet person, but I like stillness when I work. I want people to take the time and pick it up to view and feel it. From this, I hope the view can feel some of what I feel in the making.

yuki nyhan
Photo courtesy Illinois Artisans Program

How did you become a studio potter?
I grew up in a house where everyone made visual art or crafts in one form or another. It was a part of our lives. Being Japanese, I appreciated the personal nature of pottery and wanted to make it myself. The first chance I had to take art classes outside of school, I took ceramics. My siblings opted for 2D work. It seems clay was always in my soul. Stephen [Mickey], my teacher decades ago at the Evanston Art Center in Illinois, was very good at pushing the fledglings out of the classroom nest and urging them to start their own studios. I was one of those who learned to fly from him, and trial and error.


You work mostly in porcelain. What is distinctive about this material? What do you enjoy about using it?
I love the smoothness and delicate fluidity of the material. Yet, it is very strong and durable. These qualities are important because I carve and alter the forms, reflecting the undulating forms from nature.


What brings you the most joy in your work?
When I am making something and I feel like the clay and my hands are working in concert, it is the most peaceful feeling. It’s meditative and very in the moment.

If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?
Quiet, soft, detailed.


Stephen Mickey & Yuki Nyhan, Ceramics
KOBO Gallery (at Higo) (map)
June 27 – July 19, 2015
Opening reception with the artists Saturday June 27, 3-6pm

Haejin Lee

Haejin Lee is a ceramic artist from Seoul, South Korea now based in Vancouver, B.C. Her sculptural work seems to defy gravity and has won many international awards. Haejin’s elegant cups and tableware are available at both KOBO locations.

Haejin Lee ceramic artist Kobo at Higo Seattle

1. Your manipulation of clay into ‘ribbons’ is impressive! How did you begin to use this technique?

I have been always interested in the concept of Mobius strips. I find it fascinating that a two dimensional element–a line–can also be expressed in three dimensions and loop infinitely. ‘Continuity’ and ‘Infinity’ are the main themes behind all my ceramic work. Execution of the technique was not easy at first. It not only required me to calculate the drying rate of each strip, which has various lengths and thicknesses, but I also had to balance the weight of the strips so they wouldn’t collapse when fired. It gives me a sense of achievement when I successfully execute the design with strips that are almost impossible to balance.

kobo seattle haejin lee ceramics

2. How did you get interested in ceramics?
When I was little, I liked to buy little ceramic goods for my friends’ birthdays. I liked the attachment of ceramic wares to our everyday life; drinking tea, having a warm bowl of soup, etc. I always thought it would be a more special and heartfelt present to my dear friends than giving them a pretty fashion accessory.

I was accepted to Sunhwa Art middle school and high school in South Korea. By the time I was 17, I tried most of the media the Art schools offered. I definitely had the most fun in ceramics classes; making three dimensional pieces out of wet clay fired my imagination. I was obsessed with making each piece ‘perfect’ in my standard. I remember spending hours and hours perfecting the coiling technique when I was first learning. Also, my interest in food and table settings of different cultures fueled my passion towards ceramic art. Being able to use my work to hold nicely prepared food on a dinner table is one of the most enjoyable parts of working with ceramics.

Kobo Seattle Haejin Lee ceramics

3. You write that your tableware should be used as everyday dishes instead of being admired in a closed cabinet. Any words of encouragement for those of us who are afraid of breaking such precious pieces?

Every element of my tableware is carefully thought out to make them comfortable and practical: the placement of each handle, the width and volume of cups so they fit in your hand more comfortably, the weight and thickness of each piece is also calculated to be as light as possible, but durable when washed. I think all these little considerations are also a privilege for clients to enjoy when my dishes are utilized rather than being admired in a closed cabinet.

Kobo Seattle Haejin Lee ceramics

4. Do you use your own ceramics at home?

Yes, I do use my own ceramics. In fact, more than 80% of all ceramic ware we use at home was made by me. I think it’s essential to use one’s own designs at home; all of my tableware is tested by me at my own home. I make minor adjustments based on the different experiences I have with each design. It also helps me to come up with new designs.

Kobo Seattle Haejin Lee ceramic tableware mugs

5. If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?

Infinite, controlled, extempore (spontaneous, done without preparation).

Haejin Lee / Ceramic vessels & sculpture
& Risa Salsberg / Drawings & illustrations
KOBO Gallery (at Higo)
August 23 – September 21, 2014
Opening reception with the artists Saturday August 23, 5-8pm
“Made in America” by Kathy Yoshihara on display through Sunday August 17th.

Birdie Boone

In last year’s Simple Cup Show at Kobo, Birdie Boone’s contributions sold quickly and generated inquiries from admirers. Starting Saturday June 21, Kobo at Higo will show her work alongside fellow New Mexico potter Betsy Williams.

mama bears

Birdie Boone is a ceramic artist with a particular interest in personal identity, food, and modern lifestyles. Known for her minimalist handbuilt tableware and atypical glaze colors, and declared her intent to be a potter at the age of 6. Birdie grew up in the slow culture of southwestern Virginia and the fast culture of San Francisco, but currently lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

cleaning up berry bowls

1. If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?
soft, intimate, minimal

bowl stacks 8x10

2. You are known for using atypical glaze colors. Could you tell us a little more?
“Color, like emotion, is subjective, complex and mutable.” – Carole Crewes, author of Clay Culture: Plasters, Paints and Preservation

Johannes Itten, who developed and taught the first color course at the Bauhaus, thought of colors as ‘primordial ideas’. I think of thoughtful combinations of form and color as the most persuasive means of accessing a user’s senses. These collaborate to create a complex visual depth replete with connotations. This sense-full ideology requires only that the user be open to its possibilities. Thus, my pots are not only useful objects, they are also subjects that have the ability to affect their users’ sensibilities and to act upon the domestic spaces they occupy.

neighborhood-soft sky

3. How does living in New Mexico impact your work?
The most influential thing about living in New Mexico has been the skies, especially at sunset. The colors I see in the sky tend to be directly absorbed into my color palettes, almost without thought. I think it’s also worth noting that New Mexico’s relative lack of water has influenced me in a surprising way: for the past couple of years, I have had a definitive crush on water. Both sky and water are ‘complex and mutable’ and thus perfect subjects for me to investigate.

dinner plate

4. Do you use your own ceramics at home? Other artists’ work you enjoy using?
I do use my own work at home. Most often, we use my square dinner plates, but they are all seconds! I have a lot of pots made by other ceramists and I love them all, but currently, I reach most often for a Matt Repsher or an Eric Jensen cup.

Birdie Boone’s ceramics will be on display at Kobo at Higo alongside the work of Betsy Williams from Saturday June 21 – Sunday July 13.

Learn more about Birdie Boone here: Birdie Boone Ceramics | Facebook

Betsy Williams

This month Kobo at Higo has the pleasure of featuring two ceramic artists from New Mexico, Betsy Williams and Birdie Boone. 

Image by Robert Eckert

A few years after graduating college, potter Betsy Williams moved to New York on a whim and was trained as a money market trader at a Japanese bank. During her 5 years there, her Japanese co-workers introduced her to the incredible world of Japanese culture, especially ceramics, and ultimately Betsy left her job with the bank to apprentice with ceramist Yutaka Ohashi of Karatsu, Japan. After 4½ years of intensive training, Betsy returned to New Mexico to build her own adobe house and studio. She has been a professional potter for 13 years.

the kiln

1) You have a background in Russian literature, and discovered Japanese ceramics through coworkers at a bank. Did your obsession with Japanese ceramics take you by surprise?

Yes – it completely knocked me off my feet.  I had liked my job and my co-workers, but on a deeper level, I had so many questions about life and felt unsatisfied with mine.  When I first visited the Metropolitan Museum with a co-worker and stood before this one particular piece – a slightly asymmetrical celadon vase from Korea – something just clicked.  I started to read books about ceramics, and to look at ceramics.  I looked and looked and looked,  especially at the old pieces, from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Then the same co-worker called a little Japanese pottery studio near FIT in Manhattan, and asked on my behalf if I could join. I started going there after work, and on Saturdays.  They had an excellent collection of books there, each dedicated to a particular historical style of Japanese ceramics.  It was then that I began to hatch my plan of moving to Japan…

cupism 9

2) If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?
1.  composed
2.  mysterious
3.  graphic



3) How does living in New Mexico impact your work?
The quiet is the main thing.  The birds, trees, bugs, the clarity of light and shadow, the air, the sky, the being able to see far, the million shades of green, the seasons.


tiny plates in progress

4) Do you use your own ceramics at home? Other artists’ work you enjoy using?
Oh yes – our cabinets are filled – but mostly with extras from orders or things with some flaw here or there that I like enough to use, but that don’t quite make the cut. I have a piece of Birdie’s that I use often.  A few Rebecca Wood plates.  Samuel Johnson cups. A variety of pieces from Japan.

Betsy Williams’s ceramics will be on display at Kobo at Higo alongside the work of Birdie Boone from Saturday June 21 – Sunday July 13.

Learn more about Betsy Williams here: enbi studio | Facebook

Aaron Murray Interview

1) Please introduce yourself! How would you describe yourself as an artist/creator?
 My name is Aaron Murray, I live on Beacon Hill, I am a ceramic artist and educator. I have been making art on a regular basis since about 1990.   I also make drawings, paintings, collage, prints, and wood sculptures. I make most of my art at home, though I do use studios that I teach in as well(see below pic of Alki. I enjoy gardening and nature plays an important role in my creative process. I am mostly self taught as an artist, though I was formally trained in ceramics at a junior college and at the University of North Texas.  I consider my work to be cultural, humorous, and thoughtful.  I try to make things that are affordable and useful.  Much of what I make is considered to be production oriented, but within each series there is a lot of variety.
2) Where are you from and how does this define you and your work?
I was born in Pasco, Washington though I spent the majority of my youth in the suburbs near Dallas,TX.  My parents divorced when I was about 9, and my mom and I ended up in Texas.  I used to spend my summers in Washington visiting my father.   I also traveled a lot because my mother worked for the airlines. When I was a teenager I visited Oaxaca, Mexico and visited the folk art villages in the countryside .  My mother and her husband were acquiring folk art at wholesale to bring back to Texas: rugs, black pottery, wood carvings,etc.  As I grew older and returned I became enamored  by the people earning their living by making art. During my travels I was also able to visit a lot of museums.  By seeing many cultural objects first hand, I was inspired to create objects for the present. I sometimes think…”what if this cup lasts a thousand years?”  At some point I realized that it was a worthwhile pursuit, I think there is a certain honesty about creating your own objects and sharing them with others.
aaron murray 2
3) How did you get involved with your art, and what is your favorite part of your process?
 I got involved with my art when I began to think of it as a practice.  When considering practice, one is allowed to make mistakes and those mistakes are often useful in expanding the work and taking it into new directions. I also   gained more confidence by practicing a lot.  It seems the more art I make, the more ideas I have.
  My process for making art usually involves some research. If it is a larger project I might make a few sketches or prototypes and then attempt the real thing. If it doesn’t come out the way I want it I might have to make it over again.  I also love to brainstorm.  On works in a series I like to make lists of the possibilities,which may or may not get used in the real art. Though many of the sculptures may seem spontaneous,I have practiced many of the skills used to make the objects many times over. I like to study patterns that I see in nature and try to make something similar with brush strokes.  I also have thus far avoided using molds. I prefer that each piece looks hand made and retains a craft person sensibility.
4) What are you excited about right now?
Right now I am excited about recycling clay, using different colored clay bodies, digging and experimenting with local clays, pit firing, and slip decoration.  Recently I recycled some buckets of clay and made a series of bowls and plates.   There are about 6 different clay bodies involved.  I am also hoping to do a pit firing in April, with a bunch of pieces made with earthenware that are separate. I am also making some larger sculptures that are coil or slab built, mostly animal forms and some pieces from my “stuffs” series.
aaron murray
5) What is something you hope to accomplish in the next year?
I hope that I will continue to make lots of great sculptures, wares, and other art.  I plan on becoming more consistent with my design and craftsmanship by refining my skills through practice and by having as much fun as possible.
I have a blog that I update from time to time with new stuff and works from the archives.
All photos by Aaron Murray