Hallowed Trees: The Furniture of George Nakashima

Guest Blog by Susanna Brooks, Curator of Japanese Art

I’m essentially a druid. I believe that there are ghosts in trees, and in a very deep sense the tree is more God-like that man….There is a spirit in tree, bouncing up and down in the grain of a tree.

Opening this autumn at Morikami Museum is Japanese Design for the Senses: Beauty, Form, and Function, an exhibition that brings together a wide array of works that explore elements of form in Japanese design. Included in this exhibition are four furniture pieces made by George Nakashima (May 24, 1905 – June 15, 1990), a leading innovator of 20th century furniture design and a founder of the American craft movement.

At first glance, Nakashima’s simple forms reflect an austere, meditative sensibility that pays a heartfelt tribute to Shaker furniture design, a style that informs much of his work. Upon closer inspection, the wood exudes a kinetic energy that seemingly stems from the jaunty interplay of its spirited outlines and swirling, pulsating burls, tenderly paying homage to the tree trunks and roots from which it was cut.

Coinoid Bench; Dining Room Table and 6 chairs; Desk Walnut and hickory; walnut, rosewood, and hickory; walnut and metal 1983; 1984 Collection of Morikami Museum

Coinoid Bench; Dining Room Table and 6 chairs; Desk
Walnut and hickory; walnut, rosewood, and hickory; walnut and metal
1983; 1984
Collection of Morikami Museum

Coffee Table Maple and walnut 1984 Collection of Morikami Museum

Coffee Table
Maple and walnut
1984
Collection of Morikami Museum

An American of Japanese ancestry, Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington, but grew up near the Olympic Peninsula. The lush landscape of his home state, the wondrous forests of his youth, undoubtedly inspired Nakashima’s profound appreciation for trees and his interest in studying forestry at the University of Washington, Seattle.

During his coursework at the university, Nakashima became interested in structural forms and changed his major to architecture, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1929. The following year, he pursued his master’s degree in architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), after which he traveled to France and earned a diploma at the École Américaine des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Nakashima spent a few years traversing the globe on a spiritual quest, making his way to an ashram in India, where he lived for two years as a monk before making his way to Japan.

In Japan, Nakashima met and worked with American architects Antonin Raymond (1888 – 1976) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959). Raymond had worked as Wright’s chief assistant during the construction of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. By way of Raymond’s introduction, Nakashima worked for Wright before moving on to become a lead project manager for Raymond’s firm. During his time in Japan, Nakashima studied traditional Japanese carpentry and furniture making. It was also in Japan that he met and married Marion Okajima (1912 – 2004), an American of Japanese ancestry who was teaching English at a private school.

Nakashima appreciated and related aesthetically to Raymond’s architectural approach, a style which married traditional Japanese design elements with innovative American materials and modes of construction. In 1935, Nakashima’s former guru in India, the distinguished yogi Sri Aurobindo, afforded Raymond the opportunity to bid on a major building project. When Raymond’s firm was selected to construct a dormitory at Aurobindo’s ashram in Pondicherry, Nakashima was made the lead designer/project manager. Completed in 1945, the ashram was named Golconde, after the nearby diamond mines. Golconde is the first building in India to use cast-in-place concrete, and among the earliest examples of sustainable modern architecture. The dormitory’s interior, a harmonious blend of wood, stone, and concrete, serves as a personal homage to Nakashima’s innate sensibility toward wood and his skillfulness as an architect, designer, and wood craftsman.

Photos of Golconde courtesy of American Institute of Architects (AIA) (http://www.aia.org/aiaucmp/groups/ek_public/documents/pdf/aiap080052.pdf )

During the time that Nakashima worked on the project, he reconnected to his spiritual practice and became a dedicated disciple of the ashram. The personal connection that he formed with the ashram pervaded every aspect of his work. The space and the materials used in its construction took on a deeper, more profound meaning. This intuitive approach would later come to inform Nakashima’s relationship with wood and his philosophy as a furniture designer/maker. Amid rising political tensions abroad, Nakashima and his wife returned to Seattle in 1939, and set up a studio and workshop, where Nakashima designed furniture and taught woodworking.

On February 19, 1942, just over two months after the United States declared war on Japan, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which called for the internment of all people of Japanese ancestry. From 1942 to 1946, between 110,000 to 120,000 citizens were forced to leave their homes and relocated to internment camps. Nakashima, Marion, and their small daughter, Mira, were interned at camp Minidoka in Idaho.

At Minidoka, Nakashima met and worked with Gentaro Hikogawa, a skilled wood craftsman. Under Hikogawa’s tutelage, Nakashima mastered the use of traditional Japanese tools and joinery techniques and developed his signature style: large-scale pieces composed of multiple, smooth-finished slabs of wood joined together with butterfly joints.

In 1943, after a lengthy petition process, Antonin Raymond was granted permission by the government to sponsor the Nakashima’s at his farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania. It was at Raymond’s farm, which doubled as a studio, that Nakashima explored the organic expressiveness of wood. For his pieces, he selected boards with natural knots, burls and figured grain. With Raymond’s guidance, Nakashima established his own studio and workshop, and his career as a furniture designer soared. He received commissions to design furniture for such high-end retailers as Knoll and Widdicomb-Mueller, as well as for wealthy residential clients.

Photo of Nakashima and his family courtesy of Global Lighting  (http://www.globallighting.com/nakashima-woodworkers-put-their-newest-designs-on-display/)

Photo of Nakashima and his family courtesy of Global Lighting

Among Nakashima’s private clientele was Nelson Rockefeller. In 1973, Rockefeller commissioned Nakashima to make a few hundred pieces of furniture for his home in New York. This was a watershed moment for the George Nakashima name, as it quickly became synonymous with the best 20th century American furniture designers. The Rockefeller pieces exemplified the elements that made up Nakashima’s signature style: a harmonious blend of Japanese simplicity and functionality combined with the austere minimalism that is the hallmark of Shaker furniture design and the linear elegance of American Windsor style. His daughter, Mira, worked alongside him in the studio.

courtesy of Mira Nakashima-Yarnall (http://blog.modernest.com/2010/03/20/like-father-like-daughter-mira-nakashima-carries-on-her-fathers-legacy/ )

Photo courtesy of Mira Nakashima-Yarnall

George and Mira Nakashima in studio

Photo courtesy of George Nakashima Studio

In 1983, Morikami Museum commissioned Nakashima to build the pieces that appear in the current exhibition. Mira assisted her father with the process.  On view in the gallery are letters of the correspondence between Morikami Museum and the Nakashimas. The letters are accompanied by several detailed drawings of the pieces he planned to create for the Museum.

Since her father’s death in 1990, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall has carried on the Nakashima legacy, running the George Nakashima Studio in New Hope and preserving the integrity of her father’s original designs. In 2008, Nakashima’s studio and workshop was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Throughout the years that George Nakashima enjoyed his fame and success, much of it owed to his mentor and friend Antonin Raymond, he never forgot the teachings of Gentaro Hikogawa. In fact, and ironically, Nakashima credited much of his success as a furniture maker to the techniques he learned while confined at the interment camp. George maintained that the unhurried pace of daily life there slowed him down enough to reacquaint himself with the traditional Japanese tools and joinery techniques that he had been exposed to as a young man. He also credited Hikogawa for teaching him to approach his work with focus, discipline, and patience, and for pushing him to strive for perfection at every stage of construction.

In the autumn years of his life, George Nakashima shared the beliefs that shaped his life’s work:

There’s a possibility of interrupting the sequence of life and death by doing something with a tree that will continue on. Trees, like all living objects, if they’re not utilized in a good way, will go back to dust…. I feel that every piece of wood has an exact usage, and finding this exact usage becomes my job.  And I have to feel that it [the tree] has to be utilized to its utmost potential, otherwise it’s a let down for both myself and the tree. There is a partnership there that’s very important”

Quotes courtesy of the George Nakashima Studio (http://www.nakashimawoodworker.com/philosophy/ )

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Guest Post: The Girl with a Cat and Other Paper Tales by Kyoko Hazama

Today, we’re pleased to present a guest post from our Curator of Japanese Art, Susanna Brooks. If you haven’t yet had a chance to see this awe-inspiring exhibit, we HIGHLY recommend it! It’s the perfect addition to any summer outing, especially when the South Florida weather turns a little sour.

Kyoko Hazama may just be Japan’s most imaginative doll paper sculptress. Using traditional Japanese paper (washi) made from the fibers of the bark of a Japanese tree (gampi), shrub (mitsumata), and various plants and grasses (hemp, rice, wheat, bamboo), a sturdier paper than those crafted from wood pulp, Kyoko crafts fanciful dioramas which feature female figures interacting with a hodgepodge of animals. These, she reveals, “are self-portraits.” Kyoko paints, folds, rolls, cuts, and sculpts her paper into whimsical, endearing, self-revelatory vignettes that unlock a unique door into an innocent, magical playground, where clever little ingénues pass the time with a menagerie of horned, winged, and hoofed playmates. Since these tender human figurines represent Kyoko Hazama herself, one easily imagines that the animals in her cosmos are allegorical characters, stand-ins for the real people and relationships that have informed her life.

Kyoko’s miniature paper people and animals reflect also her extraordinary technical abilities as a paper artist, doll-maker, and sculptor. Drawing from pictorial sources and the images that reveal themselves in her mind’s eye, Kyoko manipulates her materials to create the look and feel of real animal fur, antlers and horns, and the velvetiness of young human skin. Her superb artistic skills and imagination materialize tangibly into figures with heartrending facial features and body expressions that evoke a gentle, amiable sensibility and convey a remarkable sense of realism.

There are portraits of Kyoko as a young lady, navigating the boundaries between childhood and adolescence. Room presents a young girl lounging on a green chair, her thoughts seemingly floating far, far away, as three musk oxen stand neatly in a row before her grazing upon the living room floor. Making this scene even more surreal a la Alice in Wonderland is that it plays out inside a wooden drawer.

Room, 2007 6” x 6” x 12” Washi, wire, wool, found wooden drawer At Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Room, 2007
6” x 6” x 12”
Washi, wire, wool, found wooden drawer
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Similarly, The Walnuts tells the story of a pensive young woman reclining on a red Victorian settee with a pair of squirrels, a chihuahua at her side, and a heap of walnuts protruding from under her sheer, crinkly dress. The girl willfully leans away from the dog, painfully unaware of the squirrels stirring playfully around her, with a vacant stare and reticent posture that silently scream “loneliness.”

The Walnuts, 2013 Washi, wire 6.5” x 5” x 6”  at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

The Walnuts, 2013
Washi, wire
6.5” x 5” x 6”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Among the most poignant and heartfelt portraits is Rocking Horse, which portrays a young girl laying face down between a rocking horse and a newborn gazelle. The girl’s hand is positioned underneath her right knee and her face is raised slightly upright, mimicking the newborn foal’s stance. As the foal’s mother gingerly, and with a hint of trepidation, approaches the wide-eyed girl, it becomes clear that Kyoko is an outsider.

Rocking Horse, 2011 Washi, wire 4.5” x 8” x 2.5” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Rocking Horse, 2011
Washi, wire
4.5” x 8” x 2.5”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Another example of animal mimicry is Time Capsule. Here, a young girl sits upon a thick mat of cut vines intent on protecting a large silverback gorilla and her offspring; her back toward the apes, facing the viewer. The girl is crouched low; her long arms extended at her sides and her hands tucked underneath, imitating the pose of the great ape she is shielding.

Time Capsule, 2013 Washi, wire 8.5” x 11” x 9” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Time Capsule, 2013
Washi, wire
8.5” x 11” x 9”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

In Kyoko’s world, the most wild and ferocious creatures of the animal kingdom are approachable protectors and playmates. Warm Sleep presents an Emperor Penguin, the largest and heaviest species of the penguin family, protectively balancing a sleeping infant atop its feet. When an Emperor Penguin lays an egg, the female transfers the egg to the father, who then stores and protects the egg, and eventually the newborn offspring, in its pouch by balancing the egg and/or hatchling on its feet. Here, Kyoko reminds us of this remarkable and tender act of nature.

Warm Sleep, 2006 Washi, wire 4.25” x 3.5” x 2” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Warm Sleep, 2006
Washi, wire
4.25” x 3.5” x 2”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

One of the most disquieting yet charming pairings is Floating Cat, which portrays a little girl sitting next to a giant house cat and staring keenly at the viewer. The young girl clutches a limp green goose in the crook of her left arm, suggesting the flaccid bird is a gift from her giant feline friend.

Floating Cat, 2011 Washi Paper and wire 5.5” x 8” x 6” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Floating Cat, 2011
Washi Paper and wire
5.5” x 8” x 6”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

A skilled doll maker and paper artist, Kyoko Hazama defies artistic classification. She is self-taught and therefore does not belong to an artistic lineage of Japanese craftsmen. It is difficult, if not impossible, to situate her work within the trajectory of art making traditions as defined by conventional art historical taxonomies. Kyoko’s work cannot be positioned within the framework of folk art, craft, or outsider art. Scott Rothstein, artist, writer, critic, and founder of Art Found Out, explains that “her art has much in common with works in all three fields, but her sculptures do not fit into any of these categories exclusively. In Japan, folk artists and craftspeople usually inherit their traditions. The forms they produce are often completely defined with only the slightest room for individual expression.” Thankfully, the remarkable work of Kyoko Hazama overflows, albeit quietly, with self-expression and great technical skill, underscoring her place as an artist of our time, an era in which the lines of categorization are being continually challenged and blurred.

Kyoko Hazama Photo courtesy of Scott Rothstein

Kyoko Hazama
Photo courtesy of Scott Rothstein

– Susanna Brooks, Curator of Japanese Art

 

The work of Kyoko Hazama is currently on view at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, Florida, as part of the exhibition, From a Quiet Place: The Paper Sculptures of Kyoko Hazama, organized by Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. We hope you’ll stop in soon! This exhibit runs from now until August 31, 2014.

Vlogs With Veljko: Growing the Morikami Collections

From art to armor and everything in between, our collections are full of amazing pieces of both historical and cultural significance. But – have you ever wondered how these pieces come to be part of our 9000-piece collection? In this episode of Vlogs with Veljko, you’ll find out how we keep our collections growing – giving you the opportunity to experience Japan’s amazing culture right here in South Florida.

Q&A with the Curator: Who’s Genji?

Our current exhibit Genji’s World Through Japanese Woodblock Prints is open and ready for your visit, but some of you may be wondering – Who is Genji? We sat down with Curator of Collections, Veljko Dujin, to answer just that, and some of those other burning questions you might want answers to before visiting us. Here’s what we learned:

Who is/was Genji?

 Prince Genji, also known as Hikaru Genji, or the Shining Prince Genji,  was the fictitious son of an Emperor and his favorite concubine. Ever since Murasaki Shikibu wrote the novel The Tale of Genji, he’s been a popular figure in Japanese literature, theater and art.

 Why is Genji, and the Tale of Genji, such an important part of Japanese culture?

 Over time the popularity of Genji broadened from the Imperial court to the broader public. Parts of the novel originally appeared around the year 1008, and by Murasaki Shikibu’s  death (around the year 1025) the work was made into its final form of about 54 chapters.  The novel’s influence has long out-lived its author who was cruicial in developing Japanese as a written language. In fact, The Tale of Genji became required reading for court poets as early as the 12th century, and she has been highly regarded as a classical writer ever since. Murasaki had a lasting impact on Japanese literature, culture and art that hinged on this novel.

 What can guests expect to see in our Genji exhibit?

Woodblock prints. There are many great prints in this exhibit from some of the best known 19th century artists. By the 19th century Genji monogatari (or Genji epics) were tremendously popular in Japan, and while in the centuries prior many fine pieces of art were produced with scenes from the tale, most were one-of-a-kind paintings, either in the form of hand-scrolls, screens, accordion albums or scrolls. With woodblock prints, they were made available to the masses.

In the 1820’s a parody, originally published as a serial (several of the booklets are on display) called A Rustic Genji by Fradulent Murasaki, generated so much interest in Genji monogatari, that well over 1000 different prints were produced in the following decades. These prints depict scenes from both the original Genji and Ryutai Tanehiko’s 1820’s parody.

 Is there anything our guests should look for specifically (i.e. certain symbolism, images, or deeper meanings) in these prints?

 There are layers of symbolism in the Genji prints, so one has to be very familiar with the novels to be able to understand some of the subtle implications in some of the prints. In a few prints, however, viewers can see Genji-mon or Genji crests, which are rectilinear groupings of 5 vertical lines and one or two horizontal lines at the top. These were developed to correspond to each of the 54 chapters in the original novel, and are often placed on prints. They were commonly used in shell matching games where players try to match the two halves of a shell. One half  of the shell would have a Genji mon (like the ones on the prints) and the other half would have either a verse or an image from the corresponding chapter in The Tale of Genji.

 Which is your favorite piece in this exhibit and why?

 That would be two prints depicting the winter pastimes of  some ladies in waiting at the court. They are making a snow-rabbit in one and snow-frog in the other. I really like this particular print because it alludes to fun tradition that goes along with making these snow-creatures in the winter. Generally bets were placed on how long before the snow sculpture defrosted, or if they made two, like in this print, which one would last longer. 

 Anything else?

 Please come and see the exhibit, it is a great collection, seldom seen! We’ll also be hosting a lecture as part of our Speaker Series with Sarah Thompson of MFA, Boston. She’ll be speaking specifically about how Genji was translated to art and the Kabuki stage on April 17th. Don’t forget to check out Keeping in Touch: Culture of letter-writing in Japan, the other exhibit we have on display now, for some interesting artifacts, letters and more. 

Kunisada Woodblock Print, Genji's World Through Japanese Woodblock Prints at Morikami

 

Special Artist Presentations This Weekend Only!

As a special treat for Member Appreciation Weekend we are hosting two fabulous and acclaimed artists. We invite you all (even if you aren’t a member) to come experience these wonderful artists as they showcase their talent and discuss their work.

sisyuSisyu – Calligraphy

Sisyu, a calligraphy artist, will conduct a demonstration of her unique style of calligraphy on Sunday, December 15 at 12:30 pm in the Morikami Theater. We are proud to host this incredible talent and give each of you the chance to see, in-person, this beautiful practice.

More About Sisyu
Sisyu has been practicing calligraphy since she was 6 years old, and has since made a name for herself as a skilled professional.  Sisyu reinvents the classical art of calligraphy by integrating her own unique and artistic style . Every character she draws expresses not only its actual meaning, but also the emotion behind it.  In her hands, Sho (Japanese traditional calligraphy), can become a universal means of communication, connecting even non-Japanese speakers to her work.

Sisyu’s works have been showcased at “Future Pass, from Asia to the World”,  La Biennale di Venezia 2011 in cooperation with TEAMLAB, in the Paris collection for AGURI SAGIMORI, the Louvre (2009), and the Arab-Japan Conference in Alexandria (2007).  Sisyu was also chosen as a member of the Japan delegation to Argentina, Uruguay and Chile to introduce Japanese culture to these South American nations in 2009.

You can see Sisyu at work in the video below. Start at minute 16:25 for the piece she’ll be displaying here this weekend!

tanabeTANABE Shochiku – Bamboo Crafts

TANABE Shochiku, a bamboo craftsmen will be present SundayDecember 15 at 3:30 pm to conduct a presentation and gallery talk showcasing his work in our current exhibit Contemporary Kōgei Styles in Japan . Join us to discover the artist’s perspective on his critically acclaimed work, and see this exhibit in a new light.


More About TANABE
TANABE Shochiku, who assumed his artist name in 2008, was born in Osaka Prefecture in 1973. In 1999, after graduating from the Department of Sculptureat Tokyo University of the Arts, Tanabe took part in a two-year training program at the Oita Prefectural Bamboo Craft and Training Support Center. Today, he is one of the leading bamboo craftsmen in Japan. His Tsunagari series of bamboo crafts utilize the inherent pliancy of bamboo, while adopting the traditional methods of bamboo crafts passed down from his teacher and mentor Tanabe Chikuunsai I.

His work captures the essence of the medium, both conceptually and visually, a skill which has garnered Tanabe international acclaim, particularly in the United States and Europe. This is evident by the many international exhibitions showcasing his work including Golden Week on Japanese Art (Seattle Asian Art Museum, 2006) New Bamboo: Contemporary Masters (Japan Society, New  York, 2008), and Modern Master (Bayern Gallery, Munich, 2012).

Ticket Info

Tickets will be distributed on a first come first served basis in the museum lobby starting at 10am on Sunday, December 15. Tickets cannot be reserved in advance and ticket quantities are limited.

Arts & Crafts Takes on a Whole New Meaning in Our Newest Exhibit

Fall is a busy time at Morikami. From gearing up for Lantern Fest to preparing for the new season of educational programs there are lots of changes happening during the “cooler” months coming up. One of those changes is happening as we speak – our galleries are being transformed from a haven for some awe-inspiring Kokeshi dolls, into a space for outrageous fashion and amazing works of Kōgei  art.

You probably already know a little about our upcoming Japanese Street Fashion exhibit, but you may be unfamiliar with Kōgei , as it is sometimes difficult to explain exactly what it is to our non-Japanese  followers. Never fear – we’re here to help.

What is Kōgei ?

Kōgei  is an art that couples form and function, bringing beauty to everyday objects. As one Japan Times article explains it “Kōgei has often been translated into English as ‘crafts,’ and such works don’t fit exactly into the category of fine arts in the West. Against this backdrop, they have been perceived as occupying a lower station than “art.”But in Japan they form a class of their own, as an applied art, with some masters honored by the government as living national treasures. Such handicrafts include ceramics, fine “urushi” lacquer designs, silk fabrics and more.”

In short Kōgei  artists are craftsmen of the highest level who create works of art that also happen to be very common objects such as tea bowls or lacquer ware.

What will the exhibit be like?

This exhibit, Contemporary Kōgei Styles in Japan,  brings together approximately 90 Kōgei-style artworks including ceramics, textiles, dolls, and works of metal, lacquer, wood, bamboo, and glass created by over 40 of Japan’s most influential and leading Kōgei artists of international renown. The exhibit is organized by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, Ministry of  Foreign Affairs, Consulate General of Japan in Miami and Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens with special collaboration from the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art, All Nippon Airways Co., LTD., and Stella M. Holmes. We’re also proud to announce that after careful consideration, the Japanese government chose us as the only museum in the country to host this exhibit, so you won’t get to see these pieces anywhere else in the U.S.

These works are by very influential artists including some living national treasures. The exhibit runs from October 8, 2013 through February 18, 2014 and some of the objects will be rotated out for new ones half way through, so you’ll have something new to see each time you visit us.  The video below gives a wonderful overview of the art form and exhibit from the perspective of some of the featured artists as well as some of the exhibit’s organizers.

What’s a Living National Treasure?

Based on Japan’s 1950 Law for Protection of Cultural Properties, some individuals, small groups and preservation groups can be designated Living National Treasures. This mark of distinction means the individual or group has reached mastery in a certain area including drama, music, art, and other intangible cultural artifacts of high value in terms of Japanese history or art.  Today there are over 100 men and women on the list of Living National Treasures in the category of crafts. Though there is no real equivalent to this distinction in our culture, you might compare it to MacArthur Genius Grant recipients or Nobel Prize winners, though these designees may be recognized in a diverse range of fields and Japan’s Living National Treasures are recognized for their skill and commitment in keeping traditional Japanese cultural aspects alive and thriving.

Will I be able to hear from any of the artists?

We’re glad you asked – yes!  Not only will you be able to view work from some of these Living National Treasures, you’ll also be able to hear from one, as well as another featured artist. We’ll be hosting a lecture with speakers Murose Kazumi and Men’ya Shōho on October 9, 2013. You’ll find details and ticket information here.

We hope you’ll join us for this exciting opportunity to see and hear from some of Japan’s top Kōgei artists!

Welcome the Newest Member of the Morikami Family

If you haven’t heard the news yet, we have a new Curator of Education! Shigeko Honda comes to us from the University of West Florida where she served as the Director of the Japan Center and the Japan House. We sat down with Shigeko-san for a quick Q&A so you can get to know her a little better. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: What did you do as the Director of the Japan Center and Japan House at the University of West Florida?

A: I supervised the Japanese language program, reviewed applications for the Florida-Japan Linkage Institute’s out-of-state-tuition exemption program, organized the annual U.S.-Japan Social Welfare symposium and Summer Semester in Japan program (in  collaboration with a partner college in Japan), organized Japanese cultural programs and events, handled displays at the Japan House, served as a liaison for our sister city (Gero) and sister state (Wakayama), managed volunteers, etc. 

Q: It sounds like you had a lot on your plate at UWF, but all of them seem to stem from your interest in fostering understanding between the U.S. and Japan. What initially made you want to spread your love of Japanese Culture in the U.S.?

A: I enjoy Japanese culture and thought that teaching and sharing it with American people would be a great way to keep learning about and enjoying it myself.

Q: We know you’re originally from Japan, but what city did you grow up in, and when did you come to the U.S.?

A: I was born and raised in a small town called Daigo in Ibaraki prefecture.  The town is surrounded by mountains and has four distinct and beautiful seasons.  I attended high school in Daigo and then went to Tokyo to attend college.  I came to the U.S. 33 years ago with my husband, who was originally from Pensacola.  I lived in Pensacola for the first 8 years, and then moved to Gulf Breeze where I lived for 25 years. I like to call Gulf Breeze and Pensacola my American hometowns. 

Q: Cuisine is one of our favorite things to talk about, so we just have to ask – what is your favorite American food?    

A: Steak.  Although I only eat steak every once in a while, I like a good steak grilled medium rare with a baked potato with sea salt.   

Q: Even though you’ve been in Florida for a while, you’ve only been with us a short time, so what has been your favorite part of working at Morikami so far?

A: Being able to be involved in such a significant event as the Kōgei Arts and Crafts exhibit that is sponsored by the Japanese government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Agency for Cultural Affairs as well as  the Consulate General of Japan in Miami has been great.  Not only do some of the objects in the exhibit come from the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, many of them are made by National Living Treasures. To be able to get involved at this scale in such a high level exhibit is truly a privilege.

Q: The Kōgei exhibit is certainly a big project, but are there any projects you are particularly excited to start working on here at Morikami after that?

A: Working with docents makes me very excited.  They are so knowledgeable and they’re wonderful people.  I would like to share with them what I know about Japanese culture and learn about Morikami from them.

Q: So, when you aren’t here learning from our top notch docents or helping others learn more about Japan what do you like to do in your free time?

A: After cleaning house, I like to arrange flowers and have a cup of tea and some quiet time.

Introducing Vlogs With Veljko!

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to go behind the scenes at Morikami, our Curator of Collections, Veljko Dujin, is here to tell you. In our new series Vlogs With Veljko, you’ll get the inside scoop on all things collections (the 7,000+ pieces of artwork that belong to and are stored in the museum.) From our new acquisitions to Veljko’s favorite pieces, this new video series aims to give you insider intel on what it’s like to take a walk through the collections vault.

This month we’re kicking off with a look at some our new acquisitions – an intricate lacquer cosmetic box and a famous ikebana vase. Check out the video below, or on our YouTube channel, and don’t forget to leave any comments or questions you might have about these pieces or collections in general. Who knows – your question might be featured in the next installment of Vlogs With Veljko. Enjoy!

Get More Morikami – Join the Membership Family!

Though summer’s considered “slow season” at Morikami, with the kids out of school and vacations on the horizon, we know this is one of the best times for our guests to visit. So, why not join the Morikami family and get more out of each visit? Not only do members enjoy free admission every day, each membership level offers exclusive benefits that allow you to curate your own Morikami experience. And, as we barrel toward our season kick-off, there are even more reasons to join! Visit our membership page for full details, or read on for some of our favorite membership perks.

Annual memberships range from $40 for students all the way up to $1500 for our most exclusive Wisdom Ring level. No matter your level of membership, enjoy special invitations to members-only events, discounts in the Cornell Café, Museum Store and at nearby Way Beyond Bagels, as well as free daily admission and free and fast track entrance to festivals (including Lantern Festival 2013 as well as Oshogatsu and Hatsume 2014) and Sushi & Stroll Summer Walks. Beginning at our Dual membership level, you can double your Morikami fun with matching benefits for a second adult in addition to children or grandchildren.  All members also receive discounts on our educational programs like lectures, classes and workshops.

If you’re looking for the most Morikami has to offer, we suggest exploring our Samurai and Wisdom Ring levels. Here’s an overview of their exclusive benefits:

Samurai ($550)

At our second highest level of membership, Samurai members enjoy free daily admission for four guests, as well as 10% off museum facility rentals and exclusive access to the Morikami Book Club that meets monthly at the museum to discuss Japanese themed or Japanese authored works.

Wisdom Ring ($1500)

The Wisdom Ring is our highest level membership, and offers the unique opportunity to be intimately involved in the museum’s art acquisition. A third of each member’s annual subscription dollars directly support purchases for Morikami’s permanent collection, and once a year, Wisdom Ring members are invited to vote on which pieces they’d like to see the museum acquire. Morikami curators reveal these newly purchased pieces at the annual Wisdom Ring Recognition dinner.

Above and beyond any other membership level, Wisdom Ring members enjoy free daily admission for up to 10 guests, invitations to Wisdom Ring members-only events, lectures and previews. Past events include dinners at South Florida’s best Japanese restaurants, a “Girls’ Night Out” cooking class, and special Shabu Shabu dinner with Miami-based celebrity chef Makoto Okuwa. Along with the Samurai level membership, Wisdom Ring members are also invited to participate in the Morikami Book Club.

There’s a membership level for everyone; whether you’re a student, an educator or invested community member, we invite you to find your place in the Morikami family.

Collecting Japan: Q&A with Veljko Dujin, Curator of Collections at Morikami

Morikami’s Curator of Collections, Veljko Dujin, recently traveled to Japan in search of interesting artwork, little-known details of the life of Japan’s most famous nun, and the regionally favored cookie at every stop along the way. From May 1 through 19, Veljko hit Kyoto, Tokyo, Okayama, Kurashiki, Osaka, Nishinomiya, Nagoya, and Seto. Here’s what we learned about his whirlwind journey:

What was the primary purpose of your trip?

I set out to research Otagaki Rengetsu, a painter, calligrapher and ceramicist, and arguably the most famous nun in Japanese history. She lived from the late 1700s to the late 1800s. We’re hosting an exhibit of her work beginning in January 2015, so I wanted to find pieces of her work to add to our collection.

What were you able to find out about her?

I visited the temple where she spent much of her youth, Jinko-in, and Chion-in, where she spent her last years. After a mountainous half hour climb guided only by a hand-drawn map from the local monks, I was able to find her grave. One of her students planted a small cherry tree next to it close to 100 years ago. Today, its shade and blooms stretch over dozens of the surrounding gravestones. It was a very moving scene for me.

Describe a Japanese temple – how is it different than what probably comes to mind for most of our readers?

Unlike a church or synagogue, Japanese temples are more like campuses. There are halls to house the statues of the deities the temple is dedicated to, living quarters for the abbots, a tea house or two, often a library, and in the case of a Zen temple, a meditation hall. Lastly, every temple has a few beautiful gardens.

Besides Rengetsu’s work, what type of pieces were you looking for, and what did you find?

I traveled to Japan with Riva Lee Asbell, a prolific collector of Zen art who has promised her entire collection to Morikami. In Kyoto in particular we visited dozens of art dealers. The city’s famous Shinmonzen Street is home to over 60 antique galleries, each one specializing in objects from tea ceremony utensils to prints and paintings. A handful of dealers specialize in Zen art, and we visited all of them. Riva and I found some two dozen pieces that we feel enhance our collection including scrolls, ceramics, framed calligraphy, and hand painted books by renowned Buddhist priests, some whose work was displayed in our recent exhibit Zenmi: A Taste of Zen.

What do you consider when choosing a piece?

You can look at antiquing in Kyoto as a treasure hunt; a great object can appear anytime and often where you expect it the least. There are a few things we look at when considering a piece: its historical significance, the artist, whether it fits into our collection, and what the piece can add to the collection as a whole. Price is naturally an important factor as well. Most importantly, though, the collector and museum staff need to like the piece.

You obviously made time to visit some museums – as a curator, how might your museum experience differ from the average visitor?

I visited many museums, in Kyoto, Tokyo, Kurashiki, Okayama, Nagoya and Seto. As a curator, I approach a museum visit with more in mind than just looking at artwork. I am always looking for inspiration on how we can improve the Morikami exhibition layout and design, lighting, labels, and even security. However, the art on display is always the most important part of any museum visit. On this trip, my favorite exhibit was the “Grand Exhibition of Sacred Treasures from Shinto Shrines” at the Tokyo National Museum. Visiting this exhibit was a rare opportunity to see treasures – from religious art to great swords, armor and textiles – held in shrines throughout Japan. Many of these objects are designated National Treasures and thus seldom seen.

This trip was not all work and no play – what were some personal highlights?

I saw a handful of important temples for the first time, including Sengaku-ji in Tokyo, where the 47 ronin are buried. I met with abbots in temples in Kyoto and Okayama, including Harada Shodo Roshi, who spoke at Morikami during the Zenmi exhibit. I even joined monks in sitting zazen (meditation) style! As much as I enjoyed it my right leg was less than thrilled. I regained full control of it after a day or two. I also met with the family of one of my favorite potters, Suzuki Seisei, in Seto. It was truly a treat to visit the studio where he worked and see many of his pieces on display in his home.

What would our readers find most surprising?

I guess it would be the cleanliness and order in Japan. Everyone is patiently waiting in line, whether for a train or to buy something at a kiosk. Even the trains are pristine; a crew comes in to clean each time the train reaches its final stop on the line. These 10 minute cleanings are actually factored into the daily train schedule.

What do you make sure you bring home each time you visit?

Gifts! Or in Japanese, omiyage. It’s  my personal tradition to at least bring home cookies for friends and coworkers from wherever I visit, regardless of how long I’m away.

What’s your favorite thing to eat in Japan that you can’t find in the states?

That’s a difficult question, but I’d have to say Firefly Squid. They’re no more than two inches long and they actually glow under water. You eat them like you’d eat any squid, but I like them best either raw or fried tempura style.

For our readers who have never been, why visit Japan?

Japan is a truly magical place: a superb blend of ancient tradition and cutting-edge technological progress. The food is delicious, whether you dine in a fancy restaurant or hit up a street vendor; everywhere you look there is a temple, shrine, or a beautiful old house, usually next to an equally beautiful example of contemporary architecture. Everyone should experience the cleanliness, order, and the politeness of its people.

Want more Morikami? Check out our summer E-news for more from the staff and the Morikami family!