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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 9, 2007

Magically realistic flowers from clay

By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Appearances by clay craftswomen Kazuko Miyai and Yukiko Miyai; art clay display; signing of new book, "Clay Art for All Seasons"; product sales

9:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. today and tomorrow; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday, Macy's Ala Moana Special Events Room, third floor

One-hour clay workshops: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, $20 each. Reservations required: 735-7800

Make-and-take sessions at select times; $6 per flower

LEARN MORE: www.decoclay.com

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The clay flowers of Kazuko Miyai and her daughter, Yukiko Miyai, are so lifelike that when you see a photograph of them, you think you're looking at the real thing. Brides have carried bouquets like the one on the cover of Yukiko's new book, "Clay Art for All Seasons: A Guide to Soft Clay Art" (Island Heritage, closed spiral, $15.95) and nobody suspected a thing until it was time to throw the nosegay.

Kazuko Miyai, 62, who lives in Tokyo, has been teaching others to work delicate magic in air-dried modeling clay for more than 25 years; her first demonstrations were in her own kitchen.

Her daughter, Yukiko, now 36, brought the craft to Honolulu, founding her own studio in Kapahulu in 1998. Since then, their Deco Clay Academy has spread to the U.S. and around Asia.

Yukiko Miyai first came to Hawai'i in 1989 to study English and while here became interested in ceramics, jewelry-making and art in general. When she returned to Japan after five years, it was just in time to learn that her mother, with the aid of a chemist, had achieved a breakthrough in clay formulation a plastic polymer that is silky smooth, lightweight and willing to adopt even the most lacy, paper-thin shape. The clay hardens without baking and retains its shape.

"This new clay really inspired me to want to come to Hawai'i to start my home business, with the bright tropical colors, the different type of flowers my mother has never done," said Yukiko Miyai. At first, her students were all local, but recently, crafters in Japan have learned about Yukiko's divergent style from her Web site (www.decoclay.com) and have been traveling here to study something new. She has also certified many clay craft teachers.

Yukiko Miyai's new book replicates the content of one of these introductory demonstrations, with step-by-step photos that begin with how to handle the clay, mix colors to create different shades, and shape petals and leaves.

Lessons cover popular flowers plumeria, daffodils, roses and such then move on to such projects as building a bouquet, creating a decorated Easter egg and stringing a lei. Advanced work includes "haku lei" (properly a lei po'o wili, a woven head lei) for graduation and a hand-tied bouquet for weddings.

The Miyais haven't limited themselves to flowers; they make jewelry, figurines, decorated boxes and other crafts. The elder Miyai, respectfully addressed as sensei (teacher or master) by her hundreds of students, is particularly interested in figurines and she was recently featured in a dollmaking magazine, in which she combined clay and textile arts to make collectible dolls. A Santa ornament is among the projects in Yukiko's new book.

Her first book, "Deco Clay Flowers" (NHK, 2000), is sold out, and Island Heritage plans to reprint it, she said.

Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.