Designer Shizuka Tatsuno explores local glassmaking traditions

History courses through the work of Shizuka Tatsuno, though some would never think to say so. Her product designs often beckon us with their modern forms — their streamlined silhouettes and clean blocks of color — but they end up compelling us most when their crisp outlines dissolve, revealing artistic techniques and sensibilities that have been cultivated for centuries. Tatsuno’s reverence for traditional craft can be traced in her collaborations with Japanese glassmakers, which highlight the diverse methods of glass production that have flourished in the country.

Designer Shizuka Tatsuno
“Sou” glassware is designed to create a seamless gradation of colour between layers.

The glassmaking traditions of Kyushu’s Saga Prefecture, for instance, take on a subtly refined form in Tatsuno’s Korai–Yuragi tumblers, which she designed in collaboration with the Saga-based Soejima Glassware Company. Like other objects made in the “Hizen-Vidro” hand-blowing tradition — a technique that stemmed from a series of laboratory experiments in the 1850s — these slender vessels preserve the unique, undulating shape of the glassmaker’s breath. However, rather than accentuate the individuality of each vessel by adding layers of color, as is typically done, Tatsuno chose to confine the use of color to the rim of her tumblers. Bright, thin halos of sapphire and aquamarine ring the tops of these glass vessels, which, in their pared down form, bring attention to something more ethereal than the glass itself: the light refracting through their translucent volumes.

Korai tumbler

Tatsuno explores this idea even more freely in her design of the hand-blown Korai-Hydrangea vessel, another Hizen-Vidro object designed to stimulate “human sensitivity and open the doors to new senses.” With its exaggerated, flat brim, this humble glass sculpture — hand-blown by the talented glassmaker Takeyoshi Mitsui — is designed to sit by an open window, where its liquid contents can catch a rippling breeze and cast delicate shadows onto the vessel’s supporting surface.

Korai Hydrangea vessel

Tatsuno gives a nod to another late-Edo-era glassmaking tradition with her stackable, square nect glasses. The technique of cutting low-relief designs into glassware, known as Edo Kiriko, showcases the incredible precision of glassmakers who developed their own glass-ornamenting style from the mimicry of manufacturing techniques originating from the industrialized West. In the late Edo period and into the early Meiji era, pioneers of Edo Kiriko carved intricate geometric patterns into glass vessels, creating wares that dazzled with their complex, multidimensional designs. Though the Tokyo-born Edo Kiriko technique lay almost completely dormant for a century, experiencing its first revival as late as the 1980s, the style evidently had a grip on the Japanese imagination. As Tatsuno explains, the idea for her cubic glasses emerged from a musing she had that “it would be nice to use Edo Kiriko (cut glass) items when hosting some guests who visit Tokyo.” Her cut-glass containers come in lightly shaded colors, each bearing the same abstract floral design that gestures to the elaborate patterns of the Edo Kiriko tradition while embracing a modern sense of modularity.

Nect glass for Kimoto Glass

Beyond these projects, Tatsuno has explored the distinctive glassmaking traditions of places like Okinawa — from which emerged a richly layered, recycled-glass aesthetic known as Ryukyu — and Toyama, home to the Toyama Glass Art Museum and a lively community of contemporary glass artists. The profusion and variety of her designs speaks to the vigor of her process of working with local industries, exploring her own appreciation for their crafts, and “conveying the story and passing it on.” See more of her collaborations on her website.

Ryu Kyu Iro series
Ryu Kyu Iro earring