Alyson Iwamoto: Motherhood, Clay and LA

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Alyson Iwamoto Ceramics

A few years ago, Alyson Iwamoto made her first trip to her grandparents’ native country of Japan.

At one point during her visit, Iwamoto’s great aunt walked her to ancestral grounds that had witnessed seven generations of members of the Togawa family– her maternal predecessors, work the land as farmers and develop a series of skills and talents along the way.

Iwamoto waited to be left alone. Then she took a moment to do something that would placate the doubts she was feeling about her chosen career as a ceramicist– she removed her shoes and stepped on the ground, barefoot.  

“Historically (my ancestors) worked with the earth. And clay comes from the earth,” says Iwamoto. “When I took off my shoes and stood on the earth, I was just like, ‘I’m home’ I’ve never been here but I’m home.”

Iwamoto is a clay artist. She’s also a full-time mom, designer and owner of Alyson Iwamoto Ceramics.

I was born an artist and it took some time to say ‘yes’ to this aspect.
— Alyson Iwamoto

She runs a delicate and successful operation with her fingertips that produces dainty jewelry, porcelain origami, whimsical animal figures sculpted out of clay and a charming form of art called wabi sabi that involves asymmetry, simplicity and her inspiration from both the California desert and her grandmother’s teacups.

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Her young daughter Aiko is often strapped to her back with a child carrier while she works in her home studio.

"Everything I do is possible through and because of love,” says Iwamoto. “It’s how I describe being a ceramicist …it’s who I am, it’s more than just a choice."

But Iwamoto hadn’t always felt this comfortable about her talent.

Sitting inside the library at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, where some of her work is on display, Iwamoto explained why it took her some time to come out as an artist.

“I thought it was frivolous,” she says. “I was born an artist and it took some time to say ‘yes’ to this aspect.”

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The Ceramics Teacher

Before getting married and becoming a mom, Iwamoto had joined the staff at Inner City Arts, an educational institution in the heart of Skid Row focused on teaching expression through the arts. Her involvement teaching kids about pottery and ceramics gave her an opportunity to feel validated as an artist.

Among her many memories bonding and helping children find a voice through art and imagination, she recalls a time when a young girl molded a small house out of clay during class. Iwamoto thought the house looked like one from a classic children’s book.

But by the time Iwamoto came around to discuss the house design with the girl, the young student had destroyed her creation by cutting the house in half with her fingers. 

The girl told Iwamoto she was making ‘a broken home’.

“I said, ‘oh, ok. What else can you make?’ There was no wrong or right,” recalls Iwamoto. “So then she started working some more and created a forest!”

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The attachment Iwamoto felt toward her students was such that before realizing it, the line between her personal life and her work life had started to blur. She was very emotionally invested and didn’t know how to take a break. Although she was trying to fight it, Iwamoto says her mind knew it was time for a change.

“It’s such an important thing to bring some light and positivity to these lives, and equally they brought it to me” she says. “Inner-City Arts is a deep part of my connection to L.A.”

On Motherhood

After having dedicated what she describes as one-fourth of her life to Inner-City Arts, Iwamoto resigned. Her husband Harry encouraged her to focus on her own creative artistry once again.

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"For years I had told the kids to follow their dreams and trust their imagination and now it was my time to do the same," recalls Iwamoto.

She began redefining herself as a ceramicist and eventually, she and her husband welcomed their daughter Aiko, who is 18-months old.

On any given day, when Iwamoto joins a local marketplace or artist’s fair and sets up a table to sell her creations, little Aiko (whose name means Love Child in Japanese), can be seen unpacking Iwamoto’s ceramic necklaces, or smiling at customers and modeling her mom’s pieces.

Iwamoto will hold her daughter and both will laugh together.

“She’s the happiest baby,” says Iwamoto who credits Aiko as a source of inspiration for her line of ornate animal figurines. "Last week Aiko picked up each critter sculpture I made and kissed them all on the head. I felt that was the biggest compliment she could have given me. Art isn’t frivolous. It’s self-expression.”

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Mommy In Los Angeles® had the pleasure of spending time with Alyson Iwamoto and her family on separate occasions. We commend her for digging into her passion and discovering that when something is done with purpose and love, there's no need for justifying it. Her art pieces are exquisite and inspired, created and sold in Los Angeles for the world to enjoy.

Anabel Marquez