James and Christine Heusinger’s gift to the museum is one of the finest collections of work by Seifū Yohei III and other generations of the Seifū Yohei studio that can be found outside of Japan. Theirs is a story of generosity, long-lasting relationships, and decades of museum membership.
When did you first become involved with the Cleveland Museum of Art?
We became regularly involved when Robert Bergman was the director in the 1990s. We became members around that time and joined the Print Club of Cleveland. Each time we come back to the museum, we become more and more interested in what is going on and have upgraded our membership several times over the years. We just love it.
Tell us about your interest in Japanese art and how you started collecting the work of Seifū Yohei III.
In the late 1970s, we lived in Buffalo and began to take an interest in Asian art after trips to Toronto. Artworks such as ivory carvings piqued our interest, and eventually, we began to collect Japanese ceramics as well as prints. Through a string of connections and friendships, a dealer reached out to us with a piece of Yohei III pottery, and gradually, various dealers helped us expand our collection. We traveled to England to visit new friends who were art experts and ultimately connected with Edward Kawanabe, who became the key person helping us collect. Our relationships were the driving force to building a beautiful collection.
What about Yohei III’s artwork resonates with you personally?
The first time I [Jim] saw one of his pieces, it just grabbed me. I couldn’t believe it. It was so ethereal, so special, so different. I was stunned. Yohei III was the first ceramist to be named an Imperial Household Artist, designated by the emperor of Japan in 1893, and is considered the premier ceramist of his period. He was noted for perfection in his work. He wouldn’t export his ceramics, like other artists of his time, so his work was not collected in the same way other Japanese artists’ was. He was known for unusual and rare glazes. One of the pieces we gifted to the CMA is finished with what may be a colloidal gold glaze, which is a glaze of his invention and very rare.
What do you hope this generous gift will contribute to the CMA?
Because the Seifū studio did not focus on supplying the export market, Yohei III’s work has been less known outside of Japan. Even within Japan, scholarship on the studio has been limited, as few works are in public collections. By collecting the way we did, we sort of rediscovered Yohei III, and it’s opened the door for scholars. And over the years, we have quite literally opened the doors of our home to let people study our collection! We hope that our gift will enhance the CMA’s permanent collection and further strengthen the scholarship around Yohei III.