Caren Stelson

Caren Stelson

author

PEACE

for all

A Bowl Full of Peace

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A Bowl Full of Peace avail­able May 2020

For two hours on a Saturday morn­ing, I sat at a kitchen table with a pot­ter whose ini­tials are K.M. Together, we stared at Sachiko’s grandmother’s bowl. The real bowl. The one that belonged to Sachiko’s grand­moth­er. The one that had sur­vived the Nagasaki atom­ic bomb. The same one Sachiko had giv­en me as a gift for bring­ing her Grandmother’s bowl back to life in the pic­ture book, A Bowl Full of Peace. Avail­able May 2020, the pic­ture book is a re-telling of Sachiko’s sur­vival of the Nagasaki atom­ic bomb and her path­way to peace for young read­ers. I was over­whelmed when Sachiko gave me her Grandmother’s bowl. I had the same emo­tion­al feel­ing as I sat with K.M. We stud­ied the bowl togeth­er as if it were the last object on earth.

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Sachiko Yasui’s orig­i­nal Grandmother’s bowl

I was at K.M.’s kitchen table that Saturday because I had asked him if he could cre­ate a repli­ca of Grandmother’s bowl. I want­ed to bring a repli­ca to class­rooms dur­ing author vis­its. Kids could hold the bowl. Feel the weight of it. Pass it to the next child in the cir­cle. Understand the impor­tance of the bowl and its mes­sage. K.M. had agreed to my request.

Japan has one of the old­est ceram­ic tra­di­tions in the world, begin­ning in Neolithic times. Japanese pot­ters have fired earth­en­ware, stoneware, glazed pot­tery and porce­lain in kilns through the ages, turn­ing the craft into an art rec­og­nized world-wide. Pottery con­tin­ues to be an art held in high esteem in Japanese cul­ture, and in the Nagasaki area, pot­tery vil­lages are alive and well. K.M. knew all of this even before I sat down at his kitchen table.

“This bowl was prob­a­bly made by a fam­i­ly of pot­ters near Nagasaki, most like­ly in an assembly-line fash­ion.” K.M. ran his fin­ger­tips over the bowl’s sur­face. “One fam­i­ly mem­ber may have made the base. Another shaped the leaf. Another trimmed the wavy edges of the bowl.  One mem­ber like­ly glazed it. Another slipped it into the kiln.” I nod­ded, imag­in­ing the ceram­ic process. K.M. con­tin­ued. “Perhaps this leaf motif is the spring or fall mod­el the Nagasaki fam­i­ly would sell in the mar­ket­place.” Deep in thought, K.M. turned the bowl this way and that.

K.M held the bowl to the light. “See this,” he point­ed at a slight inden­ta­tion. “That may be the thumb print of the orig­i­nal pot­ter before he slid it into the kiln.” I squint­ed and thought I could make out the imprint.

“I wouldn’t sug­gest this.” K.M. glanced at me. “But if you took a lit­tle chip from the bowl and did a min­er­al analy­sis, you could trace the exact clay pit near Nagasaki the potter’s fam­i­ly used to make their wares.”

I looked at Grandmother’s bowl in won­der. The entire bowl was trans­form­ing into a metaphor­ic fin­ger­print. A thought passed through my mind. If I trav­eled back to Nagasaki, would it be pos­si­ble to find the fam­i­ly who made Grandmother’s bowl?

K.M. turned the bowl over and peered at its bot­tom. “No sig­na­ture, no stamp.” he point­ed. He placed the bowl on the table and paused. “I’ll make a repli­ca bowl for you, but I don’t want to take any cred­it for it. If the orig­i­nal artist made the bowl anony­mous­ly, I will be anony­mous, too.”

Here lies the rea­son I call my new pot­ter friend, K.M.

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Likeness of Grandmother’s bowl

A few months lat­er, I received an email from K.M, “The bowls are done.” When I arrived at his home, four like­ness­es of Grandmother’s bowl sat bright­ly on his kitchen table. The bowls were shaped as leaves, just like Grandmother’s bowl, and sparkled with green glaze.

“They’re beau­ti­ful,“ I said with gen­uine gratitude—but the new bowls were not replicas.

“I couldn’t do it,” K.M. said. “The first bowl I made looked just like Grandmother’s bowl, but I wasn’t hap­py, and I couldn’t under­stand why. I end­ed up throw­ing the bowl away. These bowls are pur­pose­ly a like­ness—not a replica.”

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by Caren Stelson, illus­trat­ed by Akira Kusaka

I bowed. “Domo ari­ga­to goza­imashita. Thank you. I understand.”

An artist doesn’t copy some­one else’s art and still call him or her­self an artist.

The real Grandmother’s bowl, the one Sachiko Yasui gave me as a gift, is safe in my office cup­board. The four like­ness­es of the bowl are in my clos­et, wait­ing. I can imag­ine sit­ting on a class­room rug, read­ing a Bowl Full of Peace to chil­dren, a new Grandmother’s bowl in the mid­dle of the cir­cle. Sachiko filled the bowl with ice every August 9 to com­mem­o­rate the atom­ic bomb­ing of her city at the end of World War II.  As she watched the ice melt, she prayed for world peace.

After read­ing, A Bowl Full of Peace, I’ll ask the chil­dren, “Instead of ice, what part of peace can each of us put in the bowl?

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