Sunday, March 8, 2009

Anita Feng - Builder of Buddhas

Anita Feng

The story goes that Siddhartha Guatama, sitting under the Bodhi tree, looked up early one morning and saw a star. Just then he attained enlightenment -- boom -- he and all things became one! This Buddha sculpture evokes that sense of oneness under the Bodhi tree. The leaves are part of the tree branch and also part of his skin. Is he sitting under the tree or is the tree holding him up? I don't know, do you?

Artist, poet and generally interesting woman, Anita Feng, has lived in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island. She now resides near beautiful Seattle, Washington half way up Squak Mountain, at the edge of the Cascades where she creates fascinating raku Zen sculptures to sell in her online shop.
She strives to make clay Buddhas with a view toward bridging east,west and ancient with a bit of a contemporary twist.

“ I use altered molds for the faces, keeping some of the traditional features of a "Buddha" but adding a bit more of a nose sometimes, and other times making the figure more feminine. I love to throw on the potter's wheel and so many of my Buddha "bodies" are derived from thrown elements. But also, I use handbuilt slabs sometimes for a more rugged and even torn look. I have always liked to work in groups, or families, making two or three or four of a certain kind of Buddha. For example I recently completed a set of small laughing buddhas -- their generative technique was the same (same family characteristics) but each ones expression, posture and glaze was unique.”

When asked about the rich, beautiful colors inherent in her work, Anita attributed the results to the raku process, “…Really, the fire decides. I suggest, but ultimately it's the fire, the weather, the mood of all elements at large that make the final decisions.”

"I got started in the arts as soon as I was old enough to reach piano keys. Though the piano didn't quite work out, I tried nearly everything else....violin, flute, mandolin, recorders, painting, drawing, dancing, figure skating, poetry....everything except clay. I grew up in a creative household. My father, as I was growing up, was prone to burst into quiet rooms reciting the romantic poets or poetry of his own making. My mother made sculptures and 2-D artworks using throw-away crayon ends and soldering metals. Everyone played music. And the women in the family danced. Perhaps the artistic impulse was as much a part of my childhood as learning to read or ride a bicycle -- it was what was done. It was the way one lived.

I met my art form, clay, when I was 21, which I may as well say, was 35 years ago. I saw a clay fish that a friend had made. From where it hung on her kitchen wall, I was entranced by its boldly wadded scales, the bright and glistening glaze, the "aliveness" that had transformed ordinary clay into something extraordinary. That was it! I withdrew all my meager saving and invested in a potter's wheel, a kiln and clay and glazes...and I took a beginner's six-week clay in throwing on the wheel. I already knew that clay would be my life's work, and so it has been ever since. Largely self-taught, I made and sold musical instruments made from clay (ocarinas, drum and horns mainly) for the next 30 years. In the middle of that period, while getting a BA and MFA degree at Brown University in Creative Writing, I took advanced classes in ceramics at the Rhode Island School of Design, and that was the extent of my formal training in clay. "

Anita’s mentors include her encouraging parents, Tim Colohan, a fellow Zen teacher in the Golden Wind Zen Order and Linda Davidson, someone Anita describes as “a bold and enormously talented visual artist in Seattle”.

When asked why she chose Buddha as the primary subject and focus of her art work, Anita stated:

“The special magic of this focus is very interesting. First of all, it offers an opportunity for me to synthesize my three life-long passions and practices: pottery, Zen and poetry. The following question came up for me in a very stubborn and insistent way: why are all our images of Buddha (i.e.-the awakened, calm presence of someone fully in the moment) imports or copies from the East? How can we begin to take these iconic images and make them alive in this world, and in this time? The most obvious way for me to find those answers was to try it out myself.

Another source of magic going on here (and this I learned from the craft of poetry) is that by limiting my focus to a specific theme/concept I find the creative explorations of one theme completely limitless and utterly liberating. I can wake up each morning and ask a question in the form of clay: what does Buddha look like today?”

In addition to her Buddhas, Anita makes clay musical instruments that she also sells online HERE.

A woman of many talents, she also writes books of poetry that can be found on

and (never a dull moment...) she writes a blog.

1 comment:

Cynjon said...

I love her work...I almost got my mom one of her buddhas for christmas, but was worried about getting it to Texas all in one piece!

Stacy Alexander