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Gottfried Wagener (Wagner) (1831-92)

German chemist, lived since 1868 to his death in Japan, Professor in Chemistry at the University in Tokyo, and later at the Arts and Krafts school in Kyoto. In Tokyo Wagener developed new techniques using underglaze enamels on dishes, tiles, and vases.

Soon after the Meiji Restoration, in 1870, Gottfried Wagener was invited to Arita (Meiji 3) to teach on Western ceramics. He stayed there for four months, where the potters learned a lot about Western ceramic techniques from him. One example was the Western-style coal-fueled kiln.

Traditionally, in many cases, climbing kilns fueled with firewood had been established on the slopes of mountains. The first attempt in Japan to fire ceramics in a kiln established on flat ground and fueled with coal was thus made in Arita. With this experiment as a start, coal-fueled kilns spread throughout Japan from the latter half of the Meiji onward.

Another thing that had a more immediate effect was Wageners contributed to the improvement of the colors used in Arita, particularly the method of using industrially refined cobalt instead of the natural mineral cobalt (gosu) from China, that were traditionally used for the underglaze blue decorations. The new cobalt spread nationwide in a few years while its use provided a brighter blue color, made shading more controllable, and saved money.

In the traditional potteries it was not easy to change kiln techniques deeply involved in the production system, while colors could easily be substituted, especially towards something better.

After leaving Arita, Wagener contributed to the improvement of various ceramic styles throughout Japan.

By 1872, while still in Tokyo, he had developed underglaze blue for use on pottery. Kinkozan Sobei and others utilized this technique to produce blue ground Satsuma ware that was decorated over the glaze with elaborate patterns utilizing gold or silver.

Literature: Deutsches Wirken in Japan. In: M. Ramming (Hg): Japan-Handbuch. Steiniger-Verlag, Berlin 1941

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