Born in 1942 in Nagoya, Japan, Jun Kaneko is a multifaceted and prolific artist with a body of work that encompases numerous mediums. Kaneko has been attracted to artmaking since childhood and studied painting as a teen in Japan. He moved to Los Angeles in 1961 to pursue painting at the Chouinard Art Institute (BFA, 1964). Once in LA, Kaneko found himself unexpectedly thrust into the vibrant 1960s West Coast ceramics scene. Kaneko adopted the new material, applying his background as a painter to develop what is now a highly recognizable and playful approach to surface treatment. While in California, he studied at both the University of California, Berkeley, and Claremont Graduate School (MFA, 1971) under ACC Gold Medalists Peter Voulkos and Paul Soldner, respectively. In the decade after completing his studies, Kaneko taught at a number of prestigious schools around the country, including the Rhode Island School of Design (1973 – 75) and Cranbrook Academy of Art (1979 – 86). In 1981, Kaneko was invited to create a sculptural work in Omaha, Nebraska, by Ree Schonlau, the founder of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art. The two later married, and Jun permanently relocated to Omaha in 1986.
Once settled in Omaha, Kaneko’s art practice expanded in scale and across disciplines. He is perhaps most well known for his ceramic Dangos – monumental, oblong forms that take their name from sweet Japanese rice dumplings, but he has also created sculptures in glass and metal. In the 1990s, Kaneko began to focus on commissioned works for public spaces. He also gamely accepted an offer to design costumes and sets for Opera Omaha’s 2006 production of Madame Butterfly. His production design for the show has been remounted by a number of companies, and he has since designed sets and costumes for The Magic Flute and Fidelio. In 1998, Jun and Ree Kaneko founded Kaneko, a multifaceted creative space in a reimagined Omaha warehouse. As a beloved artist and long-term supporter of the arts, Jun Kaneko has naturally garnered numerous accolades. He holds honorary doctorates from four universities, has been collected by museums around the world, and has been featured in a multitude of publications. In honor of his expansive career, Jun was elected a Fellow of the American Craft Council in 1996, and he received the 2018 Gold Medal for Consummate Craftsmanship.