that’s Professor Tsuruta to you…


No one taught me how to teach. What my teachers taught me, was how to learn. This is the basis of my pedagogy. Regardless of subject matter or discipline, my goal is to teach my students how to be better critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers, or essentially, how to learn. Through the course work, my students learn about the materials and processes, but also learn how to draw from their personal experiences and creatively solve a problem. This is much like a scientist creating a hypothesis in order to solve a problem. In pottery, our problems are how to make good pots.

I’ve been teaching at Diablo Valley College since 2009 and cherish the experiences I’ve had over the years. I started out at the San Ramon campus (a satellite facility about 20 miles south of the main campus) and taught beginning and advanced wheel throwing as well as hand-building. While there, I saw the campus persevere through aggressive state cut-backs, all of which was, and still is, quite frightening. In the last year, we’ve started to see a bit more support coming back from the state, and hopefully it’s a sign we’re entering a phase of growth, or a recovery phase – however you want to look at it.

Sometimes I try to imagine a liberal arts college without a ceramics program, and think what a disservice that would be to the college and community. Ceramics are some the oldest man-made objects ever recorded in history. Besides stone tools, no other objects of any material have outlasted vitrified clay which, for that reason alone, makes ceramics one of the most important disciplines in an education. I could go on and romance your ears about the significance of ceramics to the human experience, but I’ll save that for future posts. For now, I’ll be content with just voicing my appreciation for the craft and my fortuity in being able to share it with others.



Meet meat


What can I say? I love meat. I’ve always loved meat, in fact I’ve always loved food in general. Some of my fondest memories of growing up revolve around food. When I was 7, I remember being in Japan and eating my first unagi-don. I remember falling in love with the first bite of that sweet, salty, fire-roasted serpent. When I was 8, I remember eating my first escargot, and realizing how amazing butter and garlic can make anything taste. At age 15, I got my first job at Topdog in Rockridge. It was is a tiny gourmet hotdog grill serving up some of the best sausages in the bay area. I wasn’t even legal to work at that age, so I had to convince my mom to get me a work permit. I just wanted free sausages.

Growing up, I was exposed to all kinds of food, and enjoyed pretty much everything (except for the morning natto). I was taught about food and where it comes from, or at least vegetables and fruit, but with meat and seafood I still had a lot of questions.

In 1996, I was going through school and needed a part-time job, so I took on an entry-level position at VerBrugge Meats in Oakland. I was excited because I wanted to learn about meat, it was a cool place, it paid decently, and I had a couple good friends who were already working there. The guys we worked under were old bay area butchers, mostly Italian. I started out washing dishes, taking out the trash, and slicing bacon. Over time the old guys started to show me their craft because I, kept a smile on my face, kept my mouth shut when needed, didn’t complain, didn’t call in sick, and worked my ass off. So my reward was first hand meat knowledge, or so I thought. What it turned out to be was lessons on loving life, surrounding yourself with good people, and eating good food. They didn’t teach me how to cut a veal shank, they taught me how to prepare osso buco. They didn’t teach me how to work 16 hour shifts, they taught me how to appreciate it and not to complain about it. Above all, they taught me how to work hard for what I want in life and what ever I do, do it with pride and passion. I am forever grateful to have known such great people.




In 1991, my family suffered a great loss. It was our house. The firestorm in Oakland/Berkeley took our house along with almost 4000 others. Looking back on it, it’s hard to imagine that many homes being lost in a single event. But it happened and we survived. I was home alone that morning and the only family member to see the last minutes of the house. Luckily, I escaped in time and was able to drive our Peugeot station-wagon out of the neighborhood and over to my friend Dante’s home. After a few hours of calming down while watching the news, I finally got in touch with my parents who were at a near by relief center. We stayed at my uncle’s house in Oakland the next few nights waiting for permission to visit the neighborhood.

I have many memories of what happened that week, but two of them have had a very vivid lasting impression on me. The first memory was seeing the entire neighborhood completely burned to the ground only left with chimneys and foundation walls. It was a completely different landscape. Everything was in black and white, or so it seemed. Even the red bricks of the chimneys were scolded grey and black. The scene looked like a black and white photograph of a bombed city during world war II.  As I looked around at the other lots and our neighbors sifting through their debris, I was reminded that even though the houses and contents were gone, we were still alive and that’s all that mattered. The only things in color that day were the people.

The other memory I have is lifting up some burnt remains of my house and finding broken shards of pristine chinese porcelain from our kitchen. Yes they were broken, and yes they could not be salvaged, but it was truly amazing to find these gleaming white pieces of ceramics with brightly painted decorations amongst the grey-scale carnage. When I examined the pieces more carefully, I wondered how a force so powerful like the fire could affect everything so dramatically except for these little pieces of clay. At 15 years old, and completely unaware of it, I was having a serious existential moment with my life and the objects that surrounded me.

to be continued…





*photos via google

the hood




A large part of what makes me who I am is where I’m from. Moving back to Oakland last year renewed a sense of belonging and place for me. Before my recent time in Portland, I was living and working out of a studio in Richmond for a few years. I frequented Oakland, but not enough to notice the daily heartbeat of the city. Living back in ‘the town’ has awaken a sense of community and growth for me. Of course I’ve noticed the significant changes in the neighborhoods over the last few years, as well as the last 15-25, and feel positive about the overall growth of the city. I do still see areas plagued with the usual grit and grind of the city which will never go away and is, in-part, what makes Oakland truly Oakland. Although I hate to see hard-working people driven out of the city due to a sky-rocketed renter’s market, I do embrace the commerce and support of new local small businesses. As an entrepreneur building my own business, I understand how crucial it is to have strong community support and feel Oakland is the perfect place for that.

The neighborhood I’m living/working in now is called east Peralta, or lower East Lake. It’s mostly chinese and vietnamese working class families mixed with semi-industrious warehouse businesses. I like it. It’s quiet, next to the water, and easy to get to. My studio is within blocks of the Oakland Museum, Lake Merrit and Chinatown, yet I’m also really close to Fruitvale and Alameda. Deciding where to eat out is sort of hard sometimes when you have everything from peking duck and fresh ha gau, to some of the best pupusa and taco trucks known to mankind (so I hear).

As I sit and eat my food at many of these places I reflect on what it means to be from Oakland. Oakland has taught me to be open-minded but self-aware, to be tough yet passive, and to be confidant and optimistic, yet remain humble and realistic. I thank you Oakland for keeping it real and for making me proud to call you home.




Rocko Poochinelli


I figured I better introduce my better half sooner than later. This is Rocko. He’s about 7 years young, a boxer mix, and the perfect studio mate. He helps me with wedging clay, loading kilns, and philosophical criticism and feedback. He is my dawg.




Hello world!!

Welcome to my newly redesigned website! I hope you enjoy my work! I’ve been working on this site and my new Etsy store for the past few months and it’s all coming together now. I’ll be updating my blog with weekly postings as well as on social media. If you’d like to sign my mailing list, I’ll notify you of upcoming shows and exhibitions! Thanks again for visiting and here’s to 2015!!



unless otherwise noted, all photography by Takemi Tsuruta