Robert Yellin yesterday launched the third year of WiK with a wonderful talk at The Gael, which was inspired and inspiring in the passion for pottery which infused his every word.

Now recognised as a world expert on the subject, Robert is in demand as a speaker at museums and galleries abroad as well as being asked to write articles for Japanese and foreign publications. In addition, the beautiful and homely gallery he has set up in north Kyoto has become a mecca for pottery lovers of all nationalities.

Remarkably, he had taken no interest in pottery until his twenties after coming to Japan. This had only happened on a whim following a suggestion by his father that he try a homestay there. It was ironic, since his father had been a P51 pilot in WW2 (recently featuring in the news following Scarlett Johannson’s plea for more assistance for war veterans to heal themselves with Transcendental Meditation.)

While teaching English in Shizuoka, Robert found his world turned upside down one day when he was knocked sideways by the beauty of a Japanese pot.  As he put it, it opened his eyes ‘to the beauty and the divine in routine everyday things in life’.

He embarked on learning more about the subject, reading voraciously and visiting exhibitions and pottery sites.  Eventually the self-taught enthusiast approached the Japan Times and was offered a column, which proved a springboard for him to carve out a niche as someone who could communicate the joy of beauty to be found in Japanese ceramics. It led to requests for catalogues, in response to which he opened an internet gallery.

A token of Robert’s ability to involve others in his passion for the subject was his generosity in bringing to the talk a Kamakura-era saké cup, together with a bottle of nihonshu. The 800 year old cup was passed around for everyone to drink from, with the intention of putting a communal seal on proceedings and adding another item to the cup’s long record of human interaction. Pottery is for use as a living object, was the message, not an object to be hid away in an exhibition space and consigned to an obsolete past.

For Robert, pottery is a form of visual poetry, with roots in the present that gives rise to suggestions of the future.  His talk was interspersed with readings from poets who shared his passion, and there were illustrations of some stunning pots, ranging from the Jomon period to the avantgarde productions of today. As a collector he spoke of the difficulty of letting things go, and sadly after responding eloquently to a series of questions from his audience, Robert too had to let go of a subject which clearly means so much to him. ‘I implore you to support your local crafts,’ he urged his audience, underlining how sad it is to see traditional ways dying out in the present generation. With Robert as spokesman, one feels Japanese pottery will surely win a wider audience.


For Robert’s gallery, see the Yakimono Gallery.
Click here for Robert’s book, Ode to Japanese Pottery.
For Robert’s father, Jerry Yellin, see The Resilient Warrior about the role of TM in helping his PTSD, or The Letter about his wartime experience. For his connection with Scarlett Johansson, see this article.