A potter’s path

Shumpei Yamaki, professional potter, combining dance and pottery

Shumpei Yamaki, ’00, was injured in a car accident and enrolled in a UWL ceramics course to rehabilitate his arm. Now a professional potter, Yamaki will share how he combines interpretive dance and pottery during UWL’s Creative Imperatives Festival.

Alumnus to share combined interpretive dance, pottery at UWL Creative Imperatives

There are moments in the process of creating art, music and dance when one’s technical mind stops its chatter. Free-form expression takes over. That’s the moment Shumpei Yamaki captures at his potter’s wheel.

Yamaki, ’00, aims to reach this meditative state while combining interpretive dance and ceramics in one fluid performance during UWL’s Creative Imperatives Festival Sunday, Feb. 28-Tuesday, March 1. Yamaki, a resident artist with the Scattergood Friends School and Farm in Iowa, will share his life story and give a demonstration of his combined pottery and dance from 4-5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 29, in Frederick Theatre, Morris Hall. The event is free and open to all.

Yamaki’s life path is a reflection of his art. He lives in the moment and lets that direct his course.

Yamaki initially came to the U.S. from Japan to learn street dance in Philadelphia. Eventually, he extended his visa to attend college here. However, spending late nights learning street dance at night clubs and keeping up with his college studies didn’t mesh.

So Yamaki left the dance scene for a four-year degree in archaeology, which led him to UWL. But his life, again, took a turn when he was hit by a drunk driver in December 1999. The accident caused memory loss and severe damage to his shoulder, forearm and knee. After four surgeries, he couldn’t read or type, and had to drop his UWL classes.

To rehabilitate his arm, he enrolled in ceramics for two semesters with Karen Terpstra, UWL professor of art. She noticed Yamaki’s natural talent for ceramics and encouraged him to continue in graduate school.

Yamaki hadn’t considered pursuing ceramics professionally, but the suggestion changed his life again. He landed an apprenticeship with Master Potter Richard Bresnahan, at Saint John’s University in Minnesota. He continued on to earn a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa in ceramics.

“It was not my aim or ambition to go to graduate school,” Yamaki says. “I was just following the direction my life was going after the accident.”

In general, Yamaki doesn’t make five or 10-year plans because he has learned that life can change in a moment. Instead, he tries to appreciate the present. That’s led to an interesting life and art form, he adds.

“I feel strongly about being in the moment and I’d like to show students that if you feel honestly and intuitively in the moment, life is going to turn out OK,” he says.

Blending pottery and dance

Despite switching gears from street dance to ceramics, Shumpei Yamaki has managed to combine both to create a unique form of art. After learning a dance, it becomes second nature and one can reach a meditative state of mind, he explains. This doesn’t involve thinking about the steps, but allowing the body to naturally move to the music. When Yamaki reaches that state of mind, he translates it into pottery.

Yamaki’s artwork is currently on display at the Center for the Arts atrium.

Creative Imperatives runs Feb. 28-March 1

Shumpei Yamaki’s performance is one of many events happening at this year’s Creative Imperatives Festival, “Curiosity and Wonder: The Intersection of Art and Science.” The festival runs from Sunday, Feb. 28–Tuesday, March 1 at UWL and partner locations in downtown La Crosse.

Coordinated by the UWL School of Arts and Communication, the three-day series of workshops, performances, exhibits and presentations will showcase six invited guests, along with the work of UWL students, faculty and staff.