Ayumi Horie and the Uniting Power of Ceramics

Ayumi Horie and the Uniting Power of Ceramics

Originally printed in the summer 2019 issue of PMA Magazine, Ayumi explores the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts as a place to bring together her work and her connection to her Japanese family and heritage, seemingly a world away from her upbringing in Lewiston-Auburn. 


“Through repeated use, pots can create habit and be comforting, creating memory for those using the pots. They are objects of service and conduits between people.”—Ayumi Horie

One of the first things you notice when you enter renowned ceramic artist Ayumi Horie’s home and studio are the mugs. Even by a potter’s standard, the sheer amount and diversity of shapes, colors, and styles is staggering. Collected over the years and around the globe, Horie’s collection looks like an exhibition in and of itself. “You want a cup of tea or something?” Horie asks, as I look at the display. Ayumi Horie is at the forefront of craft and social discourse, and is a global champion for the uniting power of ceramics. In 2005, she founded the wildly successful Pots In Action, an ongoing global project that documents how her pots are used in daily life. That project earned an internet following of more than 123,000 people, including folks like painter Kehinde Wiley. Another project, The Democratic Cup, works to connect people through conversations over coffee. Needless to say, Horie’s interest in craft is deeply rooted in enabling opportunities for understanding.

“I'm interested in giving voice to people who have been marginalized and work that doesn't get shown in galleries necessarily,” she shares as we sit down at her kitchen table to talk. With Pots In Action, for example, Horie feels she can bring voices forward that have not been heard, “in a way that doesn't always happen in print media or in other ways.”

Given Horie’s emphasis on collaboration, empathy, and experimentation, I understand how she ended up at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in 1998. Then only 19 years old, Horie discovered the school as a place to explore and bring together her work and her connection to her Japanese family and heritage, seemingly a world away from her upbringing in Lewiston-Auburn.

“There weren't a lot of role models for me as an Asian American and especially growing up in Maine,” she explains. “When I was young, craft was one of the few places where I saw my own ethnicity reflected. Haystack in particular was a place in which what I was interested in was legitimized. I came from a more science-oriented family. What Haystack did [was make me feel] like I could bring a kind of intellectual rigor to craft.”

That first Haystack summer, Horie found herself drawn to the traditional Japanese dyeing technique of shibori. She didn’t go to the school with a focus on learning fiber arts, but once she was there, she saw people being creative in ways beyond their “chosen” practice and was inspired to branch out. “None of us are wedded to one medium, and often the most interesting work that gets made happens in the spaces between studios, or even in the spaces in your mind between different interests.”

“There are so many things that make Haystack special,” she continues. “Its relative geographic isolation is one of them, where it's built as a series of walkways, stairways and decks in a spruce forest that leads down to the ocean. There's a rich atmosphere there in which people from all walks of life have come together. There's a way in which when you put all these ingredients together, these very curious open people, this architecture that lends itself to the collaboration and the environment, which is constantly changing—it's this magical mix where people can have this transformational experience.”

After that first summer at the school, Horie left Maine and her family for college, ultimately landing in Seattle because, “it was as far away as I could drive.” For the following two and a half decades, Horie travelled and worked, establishing her career as an artist, and engaging in traditional mediums while embracing new forms of communication and technology. The totality of artistic practice and the exchanges, experiences, laughter, love, and camaraderie that take place in the lives of artists all make their way into the work, Horie believes. That idea is central to Haystack, as is trust that the experiment of radical inclusivity and diverse perspectives will work out. “They never set up this dichotomy between craft and art,” she says. “What they would do is bring together traditional arts or cultural preservations with contemporary artists and people outside the art field. Trusting that that mix of people would create something really interesting is part of their credo.”

Coming away from my conversation with Horie, I kept coming back to the idea of a credo. The tagline the museum developed for the Haystack exhibition describes how “an experimental school in rural Maine transformed art, craft, and design in the 20th century,” and you can’t do that without a credo, or vision, or faith. Horie’s work, whether in pop-up exhibitions in Japan or posting videos on Pots In Action is, for me, defined by faith—a faith in our ability to find moments to come together be together, collaborate, and converse, and to trust in the experiment of community. I wonder where she got that.

Noon, August 23: Ayumi Horie shares more of her Haystack story in a Noontime Talk as part of In the Vanguard: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, 1950-1969 

This feature appeared in the summer 2019 issue of the award-winning PMA Magazine. Subscriptions are free with membership and delivered right to your door. Join today!

Title photograph by: Micheal D. Wilson
Second image: courtesy of Brett Beasley
Third image: courtesty of Ayumi Horie


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July 1, 2019
Director of Communications

Graeme is a Maine native who, after ten years living in New York and the west coast, decided to come back and set up shop in Portland. In addition to the PMA, he's held positions at GQ, Rogues Gallery, and Might & Main. He lives in Yarmouth, where he spends most of his free time with his daughters, Ramona and Maude.