Letters from Our Fellows
I first visited the Sainsbury Institute in the autumn of 2010, when I was conducting dissertation research on the art of Tomimoto Kenkichi. I took the train from London for the day to see books and journals in the Bernard Leach Collection at the Lisa Sainsbury Library. The medieval beauty permeating the Cathedral Close was breathtaking, and viewing the materials in the library was exciting.
Little did I know that four years later I would return as a Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow and for a year revise the dissertation into a book manuscript. The fellowship built on my previous endeavors in the UK to follow the footsteps of Tomimoto, an Anglophile who was influenced greatly in his early work by the theories of William Morris, lived in London from 1908 to 1910, and who throughout his life famously wore British-style knickerbockers. Looking back, being based again in the UK to develop this project seems providential, particularly because one of my major goals was to consider Tomimoto’s ceramics and praxis in relation to modernism globally.
Norwich and the Institute provided an ideal environment for such an intensive writing project. As its residents know well, in England’s first UNESCO City of Literature there is no shortage of writer’s pastimes such as mulling over ideas while strolling along the River Wensum, sipping a cappuccino while taking notes at Strangers Coffee House, or perusing titles for inspiration at one of the well-stocked bookshops.
The fellowship provided precious time to develop ideas and write, balanced between solitary pursuits in libraries or working at my desk and lively exchanges with the steady stream of scholars visiting the Institute. I worked on the third floor in a space overlooking the Cathedral’s lovely herb garden, and as its plants changed over the seasons so too did my revisions. From there, I could walk downstairs to the library to reference its excellent resources.
I enjoyed the collegiality of working alongside other fellows and Institute staff, as well as faculty, staff, and students of the University of East Anglia’s Centre for Japanese Studies, the department of Art History and World Art Studies, and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.
An integral part of the revisions process was presentations and discussions of my research. At the Institute, I met regularly with a small writing workshop of UEA graduate students and a recent PhD graduate, and it was a pleasure throughout the year to attend Third Thursday Lectures and other events where I met visiting scholars and Friends of the Institute. At SOAS, the University of Cambridge, the UEA, and at the Institute, I presented in lecture form what were drafts of each of my book chapters. In March, at the University of Lisbon, I presented a paper at the conference “The Gesamtkunstwerk: A Concept for All Times and Places.” The feedback I received at all of these gatherings was instrumental in refining my arguments.
A highlight of the year was the 23 May workshop, “Ceramics, Art and Cultural Production in Modern Japan.” With the support of the Institute and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, Institute staff and I organized this event to bring together scholars of Japanese ceramics history, Japanese art history, British craft history, and modern design history in order to stimulate dialogue from multiple vantage points. Our focus was not only descriptive historical treatments of ceramics as products of individuals or belonging to particular schools, but topics such as the relationship between ceramics and modernity in Japan, the uses of ceramics as forms of cultural production in Japan, and the ways in which ceramics in modern Japan were related to their counterparts in Asia and Europe. Participating in the workshop were professors, curators, scholars, and doctoral students from Canada, Korea, Japan, the UK, the USA, Canada, and Spain. The lasting impact of the workshop will be a volume of papers that I am currently co-editing with Louise Cort.
Last August, I bid farewell to the beloved Canaries and the Institute to begin a position as Assistant Professor in Art History at Alfred University in New York, but I continue the publications projects I began as a Robert and Lisa Sainsbury fellow, and I look back on my time at the Institute with fondness and tremendous gratitude.
Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow, 2013-2014