The art of Akiko Graham is somewhat of a staple at Michelin-star rated restaurants among the likes of Lark Seattle, Willows Inn, Coi SF, Frances SF and of course many others. With a clientele so highly regarded and an enviable repertoire, it’s safe to assume Akiko Graham is a coveted artist in the restaurant world. But as the story goes, it wasn’t without hard work, sweat and wheels (ceramic wheels that is) that her status as an established artist emerged. She began by taking community night classes at a Seattle high school. by 1993 she was selling to local restaurants, later she drove down to San Francisco to sell her wares… Fast forward to today, Akiko is now a high-end restaurant staple we all know and love.
It took time… “It took me 10 years to get into restaurants because lot of people at the time were using white plates. I just drove down to San Francisco with my samples and knocked on restaurant doors… that was the only way in.”
At the time restaurants wanted to fit the typical Michelin style: White table cloths, polished silver, and pristine white plates to make their dishes pop. Now however, thanks to talents like Akiko, handmade ceramics are all the rage. Stoneware is the best way to marry the contemporary with the different styles of gastronomy. The details devoted to food are now resonant with the detail in the handmade tablewares that hold them. For her though it wasn’t without plenty of visits, some year after year, that she finally managed to get her work into the limelight.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly makes an Akiko so covetable. Her work is so organic yet so poignant. It’s a reflection of something so we had to ask: What makes your work so memorable? “I don’t really know but people can always tell it’s mine. Maybe related to investing so much of myself in my work. I cannot really tell, but it’s like equal– like this person is part of this pottery.” What are the unique characteristics of your work? “There is nothing perfect in this world and I like to embrace that. Maybe that’s it?” She asks. Of course as a Japanese person we were almost obligated to ask Did you have a connection with handmade pottery before? “Not really. No one in my family was into making pottery and even though we had pottery in my home it was factory made.” She mentions there are certain things where she feels undertones of a Japanese influence like her Katakuchi bowls for instance. Katakuchi meaning one side one mouth pour bowls. Although she is known for her bowls and plates, Akiko continues to make drinking vessels and other pieces.
The quest for the true self is never ending. We spend time looking for ways to show our individuality, to show our relatability and share reflections of ourselves. Akiko is not the exception. She began making pottery while being a full time mother and wife after feeling an urgent need to find herself again and reinvent herself, this time in clay. With a flier to some nearby community night classes at a local Seattle high school and a passion to grow, Akiko began pursuing her craft and taking pottery classes even throughout a pregnancy, bought a wheel and she continued until she achieved what she is today. No doubt Akiko embodies hard work, the payoff of perseverance, and the benefits of taking care of your personal needs.
As my friend’s Bubbe always said: work hard and stay humble.