Get to Know Kazu Oba

Meet Ceramics Artist Kazu Oba

By Leslie Simon

If you have ever attended an Arvada Center ceramics sale, you have seen (or even purchased) the ethereal yet organically-grounded artwork of Colorado-based ceramicist Kazu Oba. Originally from Japan and inspired to come to America by the movie Grease, Oba made his way to Colorado in 1989 when an exchange program transported him to Central City (Black Hawk). As the first exchange student his school had ever had, he grew quickly popular in his small school and learned the ways of life in the mountains.

“When I went to school in Kyushu (island in southern Japan), it was the biggest school on the island and all boys. But when I went to Gilpin County High School, there were (I think) 23 people in the graduating class and it was co-ed,” said Oba. Students would bring game meat that that they hunted on camping trips. I was their first exchange student from another country. And while I may not have noticed what I didn’t know, I felt accepted. Little kids like seeing someone a little different so every morning on the school bus the kids would yell “Hi Kazu!” When I was in Japan I was a sickly kid who missed a lot of class, but I didn’t miss a single class at Gilpin. I didn’t even miss the day all of us seniors were SUPPOSED to skip!”

Oba eventually went on to taking classes at University of Colorado Boulder, and during this time he started an apprenticeship with sculptor Jerry Wingren. While working on his Studio Art degree, he went on a class trip to Anderson Ranch in Snowmass Village outside of Aspen. Many artists were part of the residency program there, including 13th generation potter Takashi Nakazato of Japan who had a small apartment at the ranch. After meeting Takashi there, it was agreed that he would become an apprentice of Nakazato’s back in his studio in Japan.

There, he spent his days doing tasks around the studio, and he was only allowed to practice throwing at night. His room with no insulation was so cold in the winter that he would sometimes sleep overnight at the studio on the floor by the fire. “I was a hard worker, but never a quick learner. At CU Boulder, I had to take the basic painting class twice because I failed. The basic hand-building clay class… I failed as well,” said Oba.  “I got kicked out of Takashi’s studio that I was apprenticing with in Japan. Well, I wasn’t exactly kicked out- he recommended that I find something else to do rather than be a potter. I can joke about this now that I am making a living at it, and Takashi says it was good that he let me go because I got better! But I just stuck with it. That’s the only way I was able to come this far. I was more motivated because of that failure, and I didn’t give up. If you stick with it long enough it will stick – for anyone, with anything!”

With a lot of hope and determination but no kiln to fire up, Oba went back to Colorado and began looking into guilds that he could join so that he could create. “I had been taking classes at the Arvada Center with Bill Patterson on Wednesday nights. Some studios have internship programs where you do different tasks in exchange for kiln and studio time to work on your own projects. At the same time, I also became a member of Arvada Ceramic Arts Guild, as that was the only co-op studio that had any openings. I waited to be a member of Boulder Potters’ Guild for ten years- they are popular programs!”

“I have been connected to the Arvada Center for about twenty years, and this time and connection is essential to me being a ceramicist. The students like to watch me throw, as I do it ‘backwards.’  Because I was trained in Japan, many things I do are different than what is done here. In the West, people throw counterclockwise. But in Japan we throw clockwise. This is because in the West, they have the dominate hand on the outside, usually the right hand. In Japan, they throw with dominate hand on the inside of the pottery. For making bowls and plates, we don’t really worry about the outside of the pottery, while in the West, the silhouette and shape of the outside of the pottery is more important. Visual a Grecian urn - they perfected and refined shapes. You never look at the inside! Jim Lorio shared with us in a class that it’s about which one we consider more important- the inside or the outside." 

Visit Kazu's website

Oba’s gallery, Sara Japanese Pottery, is in the heart of things in New York City, and his work is both displayed and for use at the Sushi Den restaurants and Ramen Star here in Denver. While the pandemic put many art exhibitions on hold due to restrictions of in-person events, things are already picking back up and he is currently in the “Colorado Asians” exhibit at Artworks in Loveland open til May 29.

Oba feels fortunate that he has never felt strong discrimination against himself here in Colorado, feeling “out of place” a few times at most. On the contrary, he has felt strong support, and is grateful for all that Bebe Alexander and the ceramics department at the Arvada Center has provided him with. “Bebe and her clay community have been very understanding through the years. I had my share of dark times, but the Arvada Center has always been welcoming. After being let go prematurely from Takashi’s studio in Japan and returning to Colorado, I didn't get a job but tried to get ready for my first Christmas as a potter wannabe. After three months of preparation, I earned $400 that Christmas and went right back to cooking in restaurants and running a sculpture studio for Jerry. It wasn't until a decade later that I was able to make a living mainly from my pottery. I am not overstating when I say both Bebe and Donna's (from Arvada Ceramic Arts Guild) support have made it possible for

 me to come this far.”

As for advice for other potter wannabes out there, he can only speak for himself.  “Most people will probably give up, and I really don't have much to say about that. I think it's a choice and it's not necessarily a bad choice. For financial reasons, it is probably smarter to be anything but an artist! But for me, it was what I decided to be. There is no reasonable guarantee, but I have a conviction that everything will be ok. So, if there was something I could share, it would be this - no matter which path you choose, if you stay honest and true to yourself, if you stick with anything long enough, it will all work out. 

At least I'm still hopeful.”

Follow Kazu on Instagram

Home,Reignite the Arts,Art at Home,Support Arvada Center Artists,Virtual Auction,Donate Now,Donate Now,Corporate Giving,Art Circle,2023-2024 Theatre Season,Renew,Visit Us,COVID-19 Entry Policies,View All Events,Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express,I Do! I Do!,Sylvia,Roland Bernier: In Other Words,Word Play,Elf - The Musical,Amplify: A Breakbeat Testimony,Amplify: Museo de las Americas,Spring Pottery Sale,The Liar,Animal Farm,Kinky Boots,Stick Fly,Amplify: Japanese Arts Network,Cleo Parker Robinson Dance presents Summer Suite,Big Band Royalty,Jeffrey Siegel: American Pianistic Treasures,Lola Montejo: After Another After,Floyd D. Tunson: Ascent,Anthony Garcia Sr: Pigment,A Tribute to the Boston Pops,The CJRO presents A Night of Sizzling Soul with Larry Braggs,Pink Martini featuring China Forbes,Carlou D,Pamela Webb: Hand + Hammer,Lauri Lynnxe Murphy: Seeing the Trees For the Forest,Pink Progression: Collaborations,Imprint: Print Educators of Colorado,528.0 Regional Juried Printmaking Exhibition,Wood.Works,Carley Warren: Three Pieces,Viral Influence: Art in the Time of Coronavirus,Brady Smith: (Don’t be embarrassed by) Your Trouble with Living,Melody Epperson: 100 Years + 1,Blurring The Line,Dawes,Melissa Etheridge,Narkita Gold: Black In Denver,Australian Pink Floyd,José González,Art of the State 2022,Into The Woods,Rockley Instrument Sale,Elle King,Madeleine Peyroux In Concert,Jeffrey Siegel: Franz Liszt - Satan or Saint,One Sheet,The River Bride,Fine Art Market,Holiday Pottery Sale,The History of African American Music Part 3,Hazel Miller and the Collective: Christmas with Soul,Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,Amplify: Nu-World Contemporary Danse Theatre,Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey,Fairy Tale High Tea,Gary Staab: Second Nature,Wendy Kowynia: Following the Thread,Flora: Scientific Botanical Illustrations of Colorado Plants,Compared to What with Robert Johnson & Marion Powers,Denver Gay Men's Chorus: Divas, Icons and Justice Warriors,The Trumpet Greats,Charlotte's Web,Arts For All Gala,The Book Club Play Sooper Credit Union Community Foundation Fundraiser,Art + Science,The Book Club Play,Damn Yankees,Our Town,Bueno: Mark Bueno,Jeffco Schools Foundation High School Art Exhibition,Dining Partners,Amplify,Amplify Performers,Theatre,Upcoming Shows,2023-2024 Theatre Season,Performances for Students,Auditions,Million Dollar Quartet Auditions,Holiday Plays,Galleries,Current Exhibitions,Wood.Works Know Before You Go,Gallery Events,Upcoming Exhibitions,Art Sales,Art Submissions,Viral Influence Call for Entry,Big Draw Colorado,Sculpture Field,History Museum,Archive,Education,View All Classes,Summer Camps,Full Day,FAQ,Spring Break Camps,Classes for Kids,Classes for Adults,Ceramics,Late Fall Ceramics Workshops,Front Range Youth Symphony,Dance Academy,Arts Day,Arts Day Outreach,Ageless Adults,Scholarships,Yesterado,Teen Intensive 2021,Yesterado,Field Trips and Outreach,ECE Field Trips,K-5 Field Trips,Middle and High School Field Trips,Outreach Programs,Music and Dance,Jeffrey Siegel,Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra,Summer Concerts,Front Porch Series,AEDA Summer Concerts,Humanities,On Their Shoulders We Stand,Private Event Rentals,Straight Talk Series ,Straight Talk with Philip Sneed,COVID’s toll on Colorado theatre: 224 productions and counting ,Straight Talk with Lynne Collins,Straight Talk with Rod Lansberry,Straight Talk with Phamaly, Buntport, Colorado Shakes and Rocky Mountain Rep,Straight Talk with Creede Rep, Town Hall, Candlelight and Theatre Company of Lafayette,Straight Talk with Aurora Fox, BDT Stage, Cherry Creek Theatre and Misfits,Straight Talk with Su Teatro, Vintage, Backstage and Counterweight,Straight Talk with Local Theater Company, Theater 29, The Source and Equinox,Straight Talk with the Denver Center, Jesters Dinner Theatre, Glenwood Vaudeville Revue and Germinal Stage-Denver,Actors' union issues safety guidelines for re-opening,Straight Talk with square product, Forge Light, Springs Ensemble Theatre and Coal Creek Theatre of Louisville,Straight Talk with the Fine Arts Center, Miners Alley Playhouse, Dangerous Theatre and Lone Tree Arts Center ,Straight Talk with Lake Dillon Theatre Company, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and Northglenn Arts,Straight Talk with The Catamounts, Bas Bleu and Thingamajig,Straight Talk with Curious Theatre Company,Straight Talk with OpenStage, Firehouse and Adams Mystery Playhouse,Straight Talk with Platte Valley Players and Theatreworks,Straight Talk with Parker Arts, Stories on Stage and Thunder River ,Staight Talk 2 with Philip Sneed: This much is uncertain,Pivoting With,Pivoting with The Black Actors Guild,Pivoting with ... Emily Van Fleet and Nathan Jones,Pivoting With ... Tammy Franklin and the Curtain Playhouse,Pivoting With Nick Sugar and the Town Hall Arts Center,Pivoting With Helen Murray and the Aurora Fox,Pivoting with Edith Weiss and Christy Montour Larson,Pivoting With Scott RC Levy and the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company,Pivoting with Todd Debrecini for Halloween,Pivoting with Ashley Campbell,Pivoting with Meghan Anderson Doyle,Pivoting with Jenna Moll Reyes,Pivoting with Erik Fellenstein,Pivoting with Ray Bailey ,Pivoting with Tara Falk,Community News,Inside the Arvada Center,Director's Notes: A Midsummer Night's Dream,All About Printmaking Techniques,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Collin Parson ,Arvada Center Makes Masks,Christina Noel-Adcock,"Bright Star" cast unveils video as message of hope,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Christine Moore,Humans of the Arvada Center: Steven Cogswell,Humans of the Arvada Center: Ashi K. Smythe,City of Arvada to install new sculpture in Hoskinson Park,Humans of the Arvada Center Jessie Page,Here are the 2019-20 Henry Award nominations,Arvada Center to Offer Students World’s First Zoom Musical,Humans of the Arvada Center Cal Meakins,Humans of the Arvada Center: Adam Stolte,Supreme Court workplace ruling hits home for Lisa Leafgreen,'Time for talk is over': Arvada Center launch 'Amplify' series to raise black male voices,Humans of the Arvada Center Jon Olson ,New Arvada Center, Aurora Fox seasons reflect current complexities,It's virtually impossible not to have fun in our summer camps,News roundup: Who The Denver Actor's Fund DEAR Fund has helped,Humans of the Arvada Center: Abygail Rosales,Pink Progression Collaborations: Jina Brenneman and Margaret Kasahara,Pink Progression: Julia Rymer and Drew Austin,Revealing The Dialogue,Amplify Epiode 3 launches, series expanding to include black women,Photo Blog: Sweeney Todd Rehearsals,Humans of the Arvada Center: Gabriel Morales,Pink Progression: Sangeeta Reddy and Jodie Roth Cooper,Front Porch Series Kickoff,Cleo Parker Robinson dances back in the box with Arvada Center,Amplify turns the mic over to local Black women ,Beth Malone bringing 'joy bomb' to Arvada Center oon September 4,Theatre news: Live streaming panel Monday on a big new 'Idea',Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Emily King,Amplify Women Episode 2,Special Book Honors Special Dance Teacher,Arvada Center pivots to radio-play series for fall ,amplify-series-comes-to-powerful-conclusion,How COVID is impacting individual artists,Take a stroll through 'Sculpture in the Field',Arts In Education Week,Colorado Theatre News: Miscast pivots to CAST ,Essay: Was the Aurora Fox a safe house on Opening Night? ,Lessons from a summer of outdoor theatre in the time of COVID ,Humans of the Arvada Center: John Hamilton,Theatre news of the week: DCPA launches Recovery Fund,Zachary Andrews take a one-man bite out of 'Dracula',Spotlight Manos Soap,Doreen Montalvo in Denver: Compassion and grit,What to do: Theatre happenings for October 23,Betty Hart's presidential promise: Build a bigger tent,Theatre happenings October 30,Virtual theatre sprouts a new branch with Arvada Center's 'The Family Tree',Humans of the Arvada Center: Brenna Clendaniel and Sophia Koop,Theatre happenings November 12,the barnstormers are back,On being Black in Denver and all the colors that it brings,Getting to Know: Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales,Theatre happenings November 19: Companies entering cancellation mode,2021 in live theatre: A look into the Crystal Ball,2020 True West Awards: Buntpivot ,2020 True West Awards: Lily Bradford,2020 True West Awards: The Scenesters,2020 True West Awards: Podcastic,2020 True West Awards: Phamaly takes 'Honk' to Japan,2020 True West Awards: Christine Moore,2020 True West Awards: Alive Inside,2020 True West Awards: Michael Ensminger,True West Awards: They Wrote the Book,True West Awards: Rent-A-Pals,True West Awards: Of Spacious Skies,True West Awards: Christopher Page-Sanders,2020 True West Awards: Suffer the little children,2020 True West Awards: Spirit of Giving,2020 True West Awards: Secret Gardeners,2020 True West Awards: Denis Berkfeldt,2020 True West Awards: Amplify,2020 True West Awards: Reclaiming One Star,2020 True West Awards: William Hahn and Jessica Robblee,2020 True West Awards: Lisa Wagner Erickson,'The Family Tree affords actors rare chance to work during pandemic,SCFD: New picture of COVID carnage on metro nonprofits,New Arvada Center video offers diverse slate of holiday stories,20 for 20,Meet the Frasers,Bev Newcomb-Madden: Colorado's feisty, ferocious fairy godmother passes away ,Lucy Roucis' final act is a gutpunch,Reunite the Arts Collin Parson,Jodie Steeves and Nancy Terry,Reunite the Arts Lisa Leafgreen,Remembering John Gratkins,Reunite the Arts: From our CEO,Adapting the Great Gatsby,Small Mouth Sounds returns,Danielle Johnson Q&A,Reunite the Arts Lynne Collins,The Show Must Go On,Diana and Mike Kinsey,Get to Know Kazu Oba,Meet Suzanna Champion,The Gear of Million Dollar Quartet,FRYS and the Symphony,Get to Know Carlou D,Stories From the Studio,Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Lares Feliciano,21 for 21,An interview with Geoffrey Kent: The Liar,Art of the State 2022 Awards,An interview with Jada Suzanne Dixon: Stick Fly,An interview with Jessica Robblee: Animal Farm,Fast Facts About Kinky Boots,Costume Department Boots Up,Rod A Lansberry Announces Retirement from Arvada Center,Lynne Collins Named Artistic Director of Arvada Center Theatre,Getting to Know José González,2022 Henry Award Nominations,Getting to Know Joan Osborne and Madeleine Peyroux,Sit Under the Stars at the Front Porch Series ,The Many Sounds of Carlou D,The Tunes of the Daniella Katzir Band,Setting the mood: Into the Woods Set Designer Brian Mallgrave,Into the Woods Directors Note,The River Bride Director's Note,What is Magical Realism?,Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Ana María Hernando,The CJRO Sessions featuring Robert Johnson,Meet Ceramics Artist Luanne Burke,From student to teacher: Hadley’s story,Tackling the Beast,Be Like Belle on Colorado Gives Day,Things to Know About Our Town,Creating the Look of Our Town: A Q and A with Set Designer Brian Mallgrave,Whatever Lola Wants - A Deep Dive into the Damn Yankees Signature Song,The Book Club Play Reads,Arts Advocacy,Volunteer,About Us,Ticketing Policies,Group Tickets,Ticket Discounts,Contact Us,Accessibility,Health and Safety,Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access,IDEA Task Force,Careers,Know Before You Go,Tours,Adopt an Actor 2023,Adopt An Artwork,Temp,Virtual Theatre FAQ,New Website ,Pink Progression Events,On Demand Troubleshooting,Blog,Lorem ipsum,Lorem ipsum 2,Newk’s,Steuben’s Arvada,The Family Tree FAQ,Home for the Holidays,Land Acknowledgement,What To Expect at the Theatre,One Sheet Music,Gift Certificates,Gala,Errors,404,The Family Tree Dining Offers,Privacy Policy,Our Town Synopsis