Wabi Sabi a.k.a Coming to Terms with The Fact That You Aren’t Perfect

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that thrives on the idea of natural beauty, brief transitions, and the reminder that nothing should be perfect. An idea that inspires us to remember that we all once originated from nothing and that one day we will all return to nothing.

Wabi Sabi to some could be considered a way of life, by accepting that all things come to an end. It allows one to realize that while something may not be perfect, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be beautiful or meaningful.

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Photograph: Tsukuru Anderson

The idea that all things should be perfect and permanent is a western construct, and by choosing to accept their ideals, we can never really come to terms with the fact that something isn’t perfect and that it won’t last forever. That thought will come off as disturbing to those who want to leave their mark on the world. That is not to say you cannot achieve that goal.   The point of Wabi Sabi is simply to reflect on all the beautiful things and accomplishments you have made in striving for perfection.

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Photograph: Tsukuru Anderson

By simply accepting the fact that perfection should not be our end goal, we can better come to terms with the fact that we are all simply human. For anything to be otherwise perfect and permanent is to be considered dead and unnatural. So Wabi Sabi asks us to look past the surface of ourselves and the things around us and to see more than what first may appear.

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Photograph: Kameyo Okamoto

Bringing Wabi Sabi into your life requires no money, or training, or talent in the arts. It simply asks that you accept things as they are, without excessive decoration or embellishment. To appreciate what is there, instead of what isn’t. To observe with a careful eye, and through our observations find feelings of wistfulness or serenity. The feelings that help to bring forth meaningful and thoughtful contemplation, these are the feelings that embody Wabi Sabi.

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Photograph: Tsukuru Anderson

If you’ve been to the Kobo at Higo Shop and Gallery located in the International District, I am sure many of you can attest to the vast array of beautiful art pieces and products that the store has to sell. Many of the art pieces, ceramics, and other products represent the store’s own version of Wabi Sabi. The store itself could be considered Wabi Sabi. Kobo at Higo, once just Higo, used to be a five and dime store, but after the Japanese internment in 1942 the Murakami family was forced to leave their store, and move to the camps.

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Photograph: Kameyo Okamoto

Masa Murakami, was the last remaining member of the  family and retired from operating the Higo Variety Store in 2002.   Kobo was invited by the extended Murakami Family to expand their business that they had started on Capitol Hill in 1995, and opened a second location in the Higo space. The Higo space was repurposed to create a new shop, gallery and a museum wall which showcased art and design as well as  highlighting the history of Japantown and the story of the Japanese family that immigrated from Japan to America during the turn of the century.  The space  showed signs of being touched by decades of passing years, the store now in its preserved state is both welcoming and important to the greater community. And while it may not be considered “perfect”, it is through its imperfections, history, and memory that brings about the beauty and  continues to preserve the history of a different place and time.

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Photograph: Kameyo Okamoto

Recommendations for Further reading:

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers By: Leonard Koren

Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts By: Leonard Koren

Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence By: Andrew Juniper

Meet Me At Higo: An Enduring Story of a Japanese American Family By: Ken Mochizuki

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Kameyo Okamoto is a sophomore from Bennington College, who has been studying Japanese language and visual arts for the past two years. Over the last month and a half she has been interning for Kobo at Higo, allowing her the opportunity to immerse herself in Japanese art, language and culture. She hopes that during her time here she will have learned more about what it is she would like to do in the future, and in turn, to have learned something more about herself.

Dean Wong: Full Circle – a photography exhibition June 25-July 24, 2016

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Full Circle.  Back to my childhood.  Higo Variety Store holds a special place in my heart. I used to come here with a few dimes and quarters to buy candy from the Aya and Masa Murakami.  Sometimes I’d buy toys made in Japan. Or balsa wood airplanes. Chinatown kids would fly those in the Chong Wa play field.

The Murakami sisters witnessed my growth. Chinatown kid. Long haired college student with the badass green leather jacket. IDEC volunteer.
“My, how you’ve grown up,” Masa said to me once. I was on patrol with Donnie Chin when she said that. They appreciated the service these two long hairs provided.

The International Examiner rented an office above the store. IE staff used typewriters back in the day. The sisters put up with our stacks and stacks of newspapers in the lobby of 318 6th Avenue.

Standing inside Kobo, I feel that history. Those innocent years when I was just a Chinatown kid with a runny nose, visiting Higo in my cowboy shirt. Young IE volunteer delivering newspapers…and I remember they had a dog. There was a brother…

I’m back again. This time I plan to stay for a month. My photographs, spanning four decades of dedication are here. The sisters are here too. We’re all together like the old days.

As a set, the images in this exhibit span a 40 year period. It begins with “Herman.” A young Chinese boy peering through an old Chinatown window in 1976. I knew this was a pretty cool picture. I didn’t know it would become the cover a my book “Seeing the Light: Four Decades in Chinatown.”

Not bad for a Chinatown kid.

(Special thanks. Chin Music Press. For believing. Kobo Store. For saving history. Giving an artist a chance to share. Janice Ito and Donnie Chin. Rest in peace. I miss you both. I still cry.)

Dean Wong
June 2016

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Aya and Masa Murakami, Seattle, Higo Variety Store, 1993.

Dean Wong’s photo exhibition: Full Circle
On view from June 25 – July 24, 2016.

Opening reception and Book Signing event:  June 25, 2015 from 3-6pm.
KOBO Gallery, 604 South Jackson Street, Seattle, WA  98104, (206) 381-3000 http://www.koboseattle.com, hello@koboseattle.com

 KOBO Shop & Gallery occupies the previous home of the beloved Higo Variety Store, a Japanese Five and Dime that first opened its doors in 1909 on Weller Street and later moved to it’s final location at the Sixth and Jackson building where it operated for 75 years. 

Studio Visit with Jewelry Designer Regina Chang

We stopped by jewelry designer Regina Chang’s studio on a light-filled morning to talk to her about silver vs. gold, her favorite gemstones, and watch her begin to turn a piece of coral into a pendant. The luscious jewels in her work caught the sunlight like rock candy. Take a look around with us, won’t you?

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Briefly, how would you describe yourself and your work?
I’m drawn to nature. The beauty of it, of course, but beyond that it’s the idea of imperfection that I’m captivated by. Nature is perfection, yes, but it’s also about damage, asymmetry and flaw. I’m fascinated by all this probably because despite any natural blemish, nature is still so gorgeous.

In our human reality, a physical flaw is something to be fixed or covered up. I try to make room for nature’s realities in my work – I prefer materials that remain mostly in their natural state: sliced agates with their rough exterior intact, gnarly baroque pearls, or a knotted metal hoop that’s pounded by hand and a little bit wonky.

I want my work to be relaxed the way nature is – it just is, nothing is forced or fake. I want my clients to wear my pieces and feel powerful without being overpowered.

Tell us a little about the path that led you to jewelry making.
Part of my childhood was spent in Hong Kong. I remember window-shopping with my mother and she’d point out all the best pieces in terms of gem size and quality in tasteful settings. To her dismay, I was partial to the cheap stuff! To me, fine jewelry was (and often still is) a tad tame. I liked the more elaborate pieces with rougher-looking, natural semi-precious stones and spunky settings.

My mother would give me her old costume jewelry and I’d take them all apart and make them up again to my liking. Jewelry-making became a life-time hobby and a few years out of college, I transitioned from my job reading scripts in Hollywood to a full-time bead & wire jeweler.

Any favorite gems or colors for spring?
I’m usually drawn to translucent stones (and they still feature heavily in many of my designs) but lately, I’ve been liking the opaque stones as well like lapis lazuli, malachite, bleached corals and tiger-eye. (That’s blue, green, white and brown 🙂 )

What pieces have been the most popular at KOBO?
My hammered pieces with and without stones have been well-received at KOBO I think because KOBO’s clientele understands and appreciates simple, understated beauty. My pieces dress up or down so you can go from work to play without being so obvious or loud about it.

What has it been like working with (KOBO co-owner) Binko?
Binko is a jewel! She is very respectful of her artists and she really trusts us, I think, which makes for not only an easy transaction, but a really wonderful working relationship. If she weren’t always so busy, I’d be first in line to be Binko’s best friend. My work aside, I am always shopping at KOBO, Binko has exquisite taste.

Find Regina’s earrings on the KOBO site, or find a wider selection at either of our locations.

Photographs by Charissa Pomrehn for KOBO

Studio Visit with Jewelry Artist Iris Guy

IRIS GUY POP UP SHOW THURS FEB 12! Click here for details.

Iris Guy’s jewelry has won her repeat customers and is carried not only at small boutiques like KOBO, but Seattle Art Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. We were impressed to learn she has been making some of her designs six or seven years because they continue to be popular. Take a step into Iris’ studio to see her inspirations and process.

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Iris Guy Black and Gold Moon Earrings

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Soldering curved silver pieces (above) to make forms for pieces like the Long Seed Earrings pictured below.

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Iris Guy Long Seed Earrings Kobo Seattle 1
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Briefly, how would you describe yourself and your work?
I mostly describe myself as a jewelry artist. I earned my Bachelor of Design in visual communications, and I’m graphic designer in my soul, but ALWAYS had the need to work with materials, and get my hands dirty rather than work on the computer all day. I knit whenever I have free time, and my first collection of jewelry was hand crocheted jewelry with silver and gold wires (I used to knit for days with my grandmother…).

Jewelry is my natural passion driven from my love for accessories and wearable art, and a natural continuation of my graphic design passion, converting the 2D to 3D.

You studied graphic design in Jerusalem, relocated to Japan, and now make jewelry in your Seattle studio up the street from KOBO at Higo. Has your international background influenced your art in any way?
Of course! I love folklore art and tribal art, I absorb and observe any place that I’m at, get inspired by shapes, patterns, materials and people.

What’s your favorite part of your job? The most challenging?
My favorite part of my job is when I people wear my pieces and I see how unique they feel. I also love working with the materials and creating something new – which is also the most challenging.

Any advice to our customers who may be looking for a special piece for their Valentine?
Pick something with your heart, usually your first intuition is the right one… 😉

Find Iris Guy’s jewelry HERE on our site, or join us at KOBO at Higo for a Valentine’s pop up trunk show!
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On-site photographs by Charissa Pomrehn for KOBO / Jewelry images courtesy Iris Guy

Studio Visit with Jeweler Amanda Bristow

Discovering Amanda Bristow’s jewelry is like finding storybook treasure – tiny silver flower pods, ‘gems’ carved from driftwood, and whimsical animal medallions. We visited her tiny West Seattle studio to take a look behind the scenes of her jewelry line, Bristorium.

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Briefly, how would you describe yourself and your work?
I probably spend too much time curled up on the couch daydreaming with my kitty and hot water bottle, so naturally my work has a bit of a dreamy quality to it. I often like to imagine, especially on rainy days, that I am living in a wistful fairy tale, conjuring up fleeting stories about sopping trees and fluffy little animals scurrying around outside my window. That is how I like to think about my jewelry too, that it is part of some sort of secret and bewitching narrative that I have yet to discover.

Your animal-themed jewelry reminds us of fairy tales. Where did the inspiration for these pieces come from?
My inspiration for the animal jewelry is very much derived from children’s literature. I have a special place in my heart for this type of book illustration. My mom is an artist and did a lot of illustration for a children’s mail order book company when I was growing up. My sister and I always had stacks of the most gorgeously illustrated stories. I spent so many years gazing at illustrators like Lisbeth Zwerger and Chris Van Allsburg. In fact, I still refer to many of their books when I am stumped for inspiration.

We watched a tutorial on lost wax casting after reading that you use this technique for some of your jewelry. It seems very involved! What drew you to this method?
It is pretty involved! I think what initially drew me to wax carving was the more fluid quality that could be achieved by carving a wax vs. constructing something out of flat sheet metal, sort of in the way that clay provides so many more options than origami. Most of the pieces that I make employ the lost wax technique. If there are three dimensional forms or graphic elements, then those parts started as a wax. There just isn’t any other way to get those shapes and detail.

Can you tell us a little about your wonderful animal brooches?
It gives me much happiness to imagine my brooches to be like a badge of honor Puss in Boots or some other heroic animal creature might wear. I think everyone needs a tiny medal to pin on their coat just to remind them that they can be courageous too. There are so many little struggles that people overcome every day that go unrecognized. It’s nice to think that these brooches could be a small token of merit for those unsung victories.

Any advice to our customers looking for a special piece for their Valentine?
I find it best to spend a little time thinking about your sweetheart and what sorts of things make them smile. Try to put aside any thoughts about who forgot to take out the recycling or how they haven’t yet worn that birthday sweater you gave them two years ago. Just focus on colors they like, imagery they love, things they would want to buy for themselves but deem too frivolous, and you should arrive at just the right gift. Although, if it is from the heart, you really can’t go wrong with that.

Find Amanda’s Bristorium jewelry line at both our locations – KOBO at Higo and KOBO Capitol Hill.

All photographs by Charissa Pomrehn for KOBO

2014 KOBO Holiday Gift Guide

Christmas is approaching, and it’s not too late to ‘shop small’ for friends and family at KOBO! Both locations are open every day at 11:00am between now and Christmas. Here are a few of our gift picks for the season.

For the special girl in your life:  mom, daughter, grandmother or girlfriend. . .
Heiando Jewely Box 1
A lacquer jewelry box made by Heiando of Japan has two tiers and fabric lining to protect heirlooms and other jewelry. It is made out of wood and hand lacquered and painted. ($60)

For Dad…
Bengt & Lotta socks KOBO Seattle
Merino wool socks by Bengt & Lotta would be a bright spot of comfort on a dark winter day. “I love stuff that is fun, different and makes you happy,” says Lotta Glave of the husband and wife design team. ($25)

For Mom…
VIT Bud Vase Set KOBO Seattle (2)
VIT Bud Vase Set by Seattle artist Kristin Nelson looks great in a group or scattered around the house. Comes with three shapes: torso, pear and round. ($96, available online)

I gave one to my brother (he expects one every year now ) but actually anyone on your list…
Karhu 2015 calendar KOBO Seattle 2
The difficult-to-find 2015 Calendar from Karhu Studio Kyoto is in stock now! With a tall shape inspired by Edo period pillar prints (hashira-e), each month features a saying in Japanese and English with a whimsical brush illustration by  Clifton Karhu. ($29.50)

For the curious kid in your life…
brandnewnoise handmade recorder KOBO Seattle 1
This voice recorder by brandnewnoise is simple but addictive. Press a button to record a sound, then play it back and use the dial to change the speed. We tried it and were charmed! Watch a demonstration HERE. ($78 – so popular we reordered more just in time for Christmas; back in stock!)

For your best friend…
Saipua soap Sauna Bar KOBO Seattle
These luxurious Saipua Sauna Bars are scented with a woodsy blend of fir needle, birch, rosewood, vetiver, and cedarwood essential oils. Comes in a generous 8 oz. size and made with moisturizing olive oil. One of our customers walked into KOBO at Higo and asked, wide-eyed, “What’s that smell?” Answer: these soaps. ($17)

Enfu (Ken Taya): Cute Grit

Enfu (Ken Taya) Cute Grit book signing
KOBO Gallery (at Higo)
604 South Jackson Street  Seattle, WA  98104 (map)
November 22, 1:00-4:00pm
Meet the artist, get your book signed (maybe even with a drawing!), & enter our raffle for a canvas print by Enfu.

 

Enfu Ken Taya

Digital pop artist Enfu (Ken Taya) will be at KOBO at Higo Saturday November 22, 1:00-4:00pm to sign his new book, Cute Grit. This 240+ page book features full color illustrations documenting ten years of work that ranges from bilingual comics to smartphone apps to screenprints to Uwajimaya bags.

“I started making art for my daughter when I had her,” Enfu explained in an interview at New York Comic Con. “Before, my art was about me. It was about my Asian American identity. It was gritty. And then it became more about cute stuff for my daughter, to make her laugh…So that’s the reason [the book is] titled Cute Grit. It covers the ten year transition.”

Enfu Cute Grit via Giant Robot
Image via Giant Robot

Here, in his own words, are more thoughts from Enfu.

Looking through the book, you can’t help notice how incredibly prolific you are! With a day job and a family, how do you make the time?
I have a day job which respects a healthy work-life balance, a super supportive family that gives me time to create, and I have a drive and stubborn persistence to create. The way I make time is I maintain what others may observe as a fairly boring social life, but that is by design. I wake up at 4:00am to spend the first part of my day drawing. I used to draw at night, but that was when I was the most tired, and I didn’t have a hard deadline. In the morning, you stop working when the family wakes up, so that means you have to hurry. At night you go and drift off until you are sleepy, humans work faster under self imposed deadlines. You can set up your own environment to trick yourself into producing more simply by setting your own schedule.

Enfu Cute Grit tilesEnfu Cute Grit readers

You are a bilingual, second generation Japanese American who’s lived in the States and Japan. How does your cross-cultural identity influence your work?
Having a bicultural/bilingual background really just lets you embody one who becomes comfortable switching modes. Living a dichotomous life is like being a secret agent, you just have to mode switch constantly. From English/Japanese, extrovert/introvert, craftsman/salesman, cute/grit, the list is endless.

I grew up more influenced by manga and [Japanese animation studio] Ghibli over American comics and Disney, so you can see that my content is more similar to Japanese manga artists versus many Disney artists.

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You have had a long relationship with KOBO (solo shows in 2008, 2009; trunk show in 2013). Can you tell us a little about what it’s meant to partner with KOBO?
KOBO carries pretty much all my work, so I consider it my Enfu HQ. They appeal to my audience which ranges from the high end patron to the little kid. [Co-owners] Binko and John have been incredibly supportive of all my efforts; they’re like family. What’s awesome is they like to have a connection with all the things they are selling, they have relationships with the creators and invest in all of them, empowering them to do more. You’ll never walk into a shop with more character than what lies behind the doors of KOBO.

Enfu (Ken Taya) Cute Grit book signing
KOBO Gallery (at Higo)
604 South Jackson Street  Seattle, WA  98104 (map)
November 22, 1:00-4:00pm

Beth Lo

Beth Lo is an award-winning ceramicist and professor of art. We are honored to have her co-curate the 2014 Simple Cup Show at KOBO.

Beth Lo Anagama Teabowls 2006
Anagama Teabowls, 2006

Along with Peter Olsen of Seward Park Clay Studio, Beth identified potters from across the country to invite to participate in this one-of-a-kind exhibition. Peter told us, “[KOBO co-owner and director] Binko and I choose co-curators each year to bring another voice to the choosing of artist’s work. This year’s co-curator, Beth Lo, has taught for many years and knows many people I don’t.”

Beth Lo More 2008
More, 2008

Beth had a cross cultural upbringing, born in Lafayette, Indiana, to parents who had recently immigrated from China. She writes, “My work in ceramics revolves primarily around issues of family and my Asian-American background. Cultural marginality and blending, tradition and Westernization, language and translation are key elements in my work.”

Beth Lo ceramics
Beth Lo

She studied art at the University of Montana under the distinguished ceramic artist Rudy Autio. Beth assumed his job as Professor of Ceramics when he retired in 1985, a position she holds to this day. She has exhibited her work internationally, and has received numerous honors, including a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship and an American Craft Museum Design Award.

Beth Lo Wedding Portrait 2005
Wedding Portrait, 2005

Beth was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the Simple Cup Show:
The Simple Cup show has been called “a unique take on a common object”. Why cups?
Cups are intimate, useful, expressive and inexpensive ceramics. You hold a cup in one or both hands, and put it to your lips. Many ceramic artists find them relaxing to make, and find making cups a good format to try out ideas in their work. Potters often exchange them or have cup collections. I think that the high value that Japanese place on their traditional teabowls has influenced many potters as well.

Beth Lo Flood 2010
Flood, 2010

What do you look for when selecting artists?
I look for a unique touch or vision, good craftsmanship and warmth. As for my personal taste, I chose a lot of artists who use drawing skills and color in their work.

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Flood (detail), 2010

I can imagine being a bit intimidated to use one of the beautiful cups on display. Do you have any thoughts about using handmade ceramics at home?
I think my favorite kind of ceramics to use in the home are cups. They are objects to contemplate as you drink your coffee, or water. Handmade cups slow you down!

8th Annual Simple Cup Show
KOBO Gallery (at Higo)
604 South Jackson Street  Seattle, WA  98104 (map)
November 1 – December 2014
Sale by lottery begins at opening, Sat Nov 1
Draw a lottery number as early as 6:30; sale begins at 7:00

8th Annual Simple Cup Show

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Becky & Steve Lloyd, 2013 People’s Choice – Best of Show Award

This is the 8th 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 Beth Lo, professor of ceramics at the University of Montana.

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.

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.

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Ayumi Horie

What do you and your co-curators look for when selecting artists?
[KOBO co-owner] Binko and I choose co-curators each year to bring another voice to the choosing of artist’s work. We look for people who make cups that compel us on a variety of levels: functionality, artistic expression, process, etc. Some years we choose more local potters to exhibit, some years a more nation-wide group. There is no hard and fast rule.

Stephen Mickey cup 2014
Stephen Mickey

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.

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Browsing the 2013 Simple Cup Show

This will be your 8th 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.

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Alison Reintjes
8th Annual Simple Cup Show
KOBO Gallery (at Higo)
604 South Jackson Street  Seattle, WA  98104 (map)
November 1 – December 2014
Sale by lottery begins at opening, Sat Nov 1
Draw a lottery number as early as 6:30; sale starts at 7:00