Tomioka Tessai (1837-1924)
A natural bottle gourd, applied with a small carved wood snail with buffalo horn antennae, the mollusc slithering down the container’s neck and evoking a sense of peaceful contemplation. The swollen ‘belly’ is inscribed in red: “雖小。鐵斎。Chiisaito iedo. Tessai” [“However small it may be.” Tessai]. This may refer to the Chinese Taoist concept that however small a gourd might be, it has its own role and strength: 小瓢蟲雖小担份量十足、費了九牛二虎之力 – an insect’s power may be equal to the power of nine oxen and two tigers, and reaches its place of final abode”. The bottle gourd is a felicitous symbol associated with Chok’aro sennin , one of the Immortals who has the power to magic a magnificent steed from his gourd. A small bottle gourd is also representative of a Daoist Utopian universe.
The hakogaki is painted with three galloping horses painted in red, white and black ink, a symbol of a miracle unfolding before one’s eyes – fine horses emerging from an impossibly small container: Hyotan kara koma 瓢箪から駒. Inscibed on the outer cover of the box: “銘 雖小 瓢。Mei: chiisai to iedo. Hisago” [“The title of the work: “However small it may be”, a bottle gourd], and on the reverse of the storage box: 千里一走。Senri isso” [One thousand miles on a single run], while the left side is signed: 鐵斎 百練。印：鉄斎。Tessai Hyakuren, with the seal Tessai
The inside cover is again signed by Tessai: 鐵斎題。印：銕斎 Tessai dai, with the seal Tessai, together with an attestation by Mashimizu Zoroku II (1861-1936): 泥中庵、蔵六識。印：蔵六。Deichu-an, Zoroku shiki, with the seal Zoroku” [Attested by Zoroku, the Deichuan Studio, with the seal Zoroku] 泥中庵. The name Deichuan translates literally as ‘studio in the mud’. The eldest son of the Kyoto potter Mashimizu Zoroko I, he succeeded as Zoroku II in 1882