As a person who spends much of her life obsessed with mokume gane, it has long been a dream of mine to meet Norio Tamagawa - living treasure of Japan and by far the top mokume gane artist in the world. Mr. Tamagawa taught Hiroko Sato-Pijanowski about mokume back in the 1970's (she subsequently brought her knowledge to art schools across the US). I recently returned from my first visit to Japan, and while there I had the honor of spending a few hours in his studio.
Here's just a little background so all can begin to understand how amazing he is: Mr. Tamagawa lives in Tsubame, a small city in Niigata prefecture that has been the center of metalwork production in Japan since the 1600's - they make everything from nails to scissors to copper teakettles. After working 50 years for his family company Gyokusendo, he retired about a decade ago to work on his own art vessels. He fuses his own mokume, spring-hammers the billets into 12-16" 3mm thick discs, then raises the 3mm discs by hand. At age 76, he still makes about three of these vessels a year.
We drank tea, shared the worry of there being only one rokusho maker left in the world, polished and patinated spoons, exchanged gifts, and watched an amazing video about his life "Tankin: the art of Tamagawa Norio." The day would not have been possible without the help of a superb local guide and translator named Yasushi Kawakami. Look him up if you head to the Tsubame-Sanjo area, he's great! Photographs by the fabulous and patient Ame Stanko, who was by my side the whole time recording the event and making sure I didn't do anything too foolish.
Ame and I left feeling in awe of Mr. Tamagawa and his wife Keiko - they are generous, gracious and fun-loving souls. Many thanks to them for extending their hospitality and putting up with us bumbling around in their beautiful house and workshop. Lots more info about the day in the photo captions.
Educator, metalsmith, jeweler, maker of custom mokume gane jewelry and wedding rings.