Guest Post: Four Masterpieces Joined by the Spirit of Water

Water falls from above, and from below, falls
Four Masterpieces Joined by the Spirit of Water
By Susanna Brooks, Curator of Japanese Art

It is summer, and the rainy season is upon us at Morikami. Rain falls practically every afternoon. The sky becomes dark and the rain falls fast and heavy, culminating into torrential downpours that draw everyone to the windows to take in the stunning, mesmerizing view of water falling from the sky and cascading down the rain chains, nourishing the plants, and dislocating the pebbles in the once-neatly-raked dry garden.

Morikami summer rain

Morikami’s dry garden and rain chains during a summer storm.

Rain is universally revered for its ability to create and sustain life and respected for the power it has to wound and raze nature when it falls hard and long. This entry provides an abbreviated exploration of the element of water as a meaningful motif in Japanese philosophy and art, primarily as the main subject of two famous 19th-century woodblock prints, which, in turn, share an affinity with two 19th-century Western masterpieces.

Water sustains all life, made evident by the fact that both the Earth and human body are composed of 70 percent water. For many cultures water holds spiritual symbolic meaning, with the natural attributes of water – its flexibility and adaption to change and transformation – equated to ideal human emotions and actions.

A precept of Japanese Buddhism holds water ( sui, or mizu) second in importance to Earth in the cycle of the five elements of the universe (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Nothingness). Representations of these five elements are present time and again in the design of Japanese architecture, stone lanterns, Buddhist temples and Zen-inspired gardens. In Shintō, the native religion of Japan, water is venerated and presided over by Susano-o, god of the sea and storms, Kuraokami (literally, “dark dragon, tutelary of water”), god of rain and snow, and Suijin, the benevolent deity of water itself. A goal of spiritual practice within Shintō is to become like the flow of water, blurring divisions and transcending boundaries. For that reason, many devotees practice purification rituals under waterfalls (taki shugyō).

As a meaningful element in Japanese art and architecture, water is a leitmotif of many Japanese woodblock prints. Katsushika Hokusai, the artist of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, one of the most recognized images in the world, believed that water was sacred and had the power to purify and restore life in accordance with the natural flow of divine awareness. To Hokusai, water represented the flowing of formlessness in the universe.

Katsushika Hokusai (ca. 1760 – 1849) Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off of Kanagawa Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper Edo Period, ca. 1829 – 1832 Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Katsushika Hokusai (ca. 1760 – 1849)
Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off of Kanagawa
Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper
Edo Period, ca. 1829 – 1832
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hokusai and his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji inspired the great, woodblock print artist Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige. Hiroshige was a plein aire artist who strived to depict nature faithfully. He sketched his landscape scenes out-of-doors and then had the images transferred to woodblocks.  Here, he captures a group of travelers caught in a rain storm. Hiroshige recorded this scene while traveling with an official delegation through Ise Province in Mie Prefecture.

Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō: Shōno-juku Woodblock print, ink and color on paper Edo Period, 1833 – 1834 Gift of Brigitte and Joseph Lonner 1998.065.001

Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797 – 1858)
Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō: Shōno-juku
Woodblock print, ink and color on paper
Edo Period, 1833 – 1834
Gift of Brigitte and Joseph Lonner
1998.065.001

The image is part of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō, a series of prints commemorating the Eastern Sea route from Edo (present-day Tokyo) to Kyoto. Considered Hiroshige’s most famous series, the Fifty-Three Stations was a pivotal watershed in ukiyo-e, for it greatly advanced the landscape as a key subject of this popular woodblock print genre. [1]

Hiroshige traveled the Tōkaidō in 1832 as part of an official delegation that was transporting horses, a gift from the Shogun to the Emperor as a symbol of his loyalty and as a way to pay his respects to the divine ruler of Japan. The landscape so impressed Hiroshige that he captured the journey in a series of sketches. When it was completed, the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō numbered fifty-five, with the extra two commemorating the start and end points. Shōno-juku is the forty-fifth of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō.

Just as Hiroshige is celebrated for his rural landscape scenes, so French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte is best-known for capturing the daily nuances of life on the streets of Paris. In this larger than life-size scene, Paris Street; Rainy Day, Caillebotte brings us practically face to face with a fashionable flâneur (French man of leisure) and his lady strolling in the rain.[2] With its cropped, zoomed-in angles, sharp tilted ground, and flat color palette, Rainy Day has a grand photo-realistic presence and a sensibility reminiscent of 19th-century Japanese prints, which had become all the rage among the French Impressionists. Like Hiroshige, Caillbotte captured a precise moment in time. As the painting’s simple, straightforward title suggests, Rainy Day takes rain as its main subject and creates around it a snapshot of daily life, turning an otherwise ordinary scene into a timeless, monumental work of art.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894) Paris Street, Rainy Day 1877 Oil on canvas Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894)
Paris Street, Rainy Day
1877
Oil on canvas
Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Another timeless and iconic work of art that takes water as its theme is Fallingwater, one of the greatest architectural achievements of the 20th century. Designed in 1935 by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater is a 2855 square-foot house built out over a 30-foot waterfall. The home has strong Japanese elements, particularly the manner in which the structure blends in with its environment, harmoniously bridging nature and man. As Japanese architect Tadao Ando has observed, “…Wright learned the most important aspect of architecture, the treatment of space, from Japanese architecture. When I visited Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, I found that same sensibility of space. But there was the additional sound of nature that appealed to me.”[3] The “sound” that Ando referred to was the melodious song of falling water for which the house is named.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1859) Fallingwater 1936 – 1939 Photo courtesy of Fallingwater.org

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1859)
Fallingwater
1936 – 1939
Photo courtesy of Fallingwater.org

Of the 400 structures that Wright built in his lifetime, Fallingwater is considered his greatest masterpiece. The house embraces the essence of Wright’s aesthetic design philosophy, a concept he originated and called organic architecture, which espoused the construction of structures that were in harmony with humanity and the environment. Wright was also a prolific, and for a time, successful, dealer of ukiyo-e, such as those that Hokusai and Hiroshige made and Caillebotte collected.

As water is connected to humanity and the environment, so Frank Lloyd Wright is connected to Japan and Japanese woodblock prints. When Wright first traveled to Japan in 1905, he purchased hundreds of ukiyo-e, including Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji and Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō. The following year, he assisted the curators of the Art Institute of Chicago, where Caillebotte’s Rainy Day is prominently displayed, in organizing a retrospective exhibition of the work of Hiroshige, which featured all fifty-five of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō. Perhaps the correlation between all four of these artists and their masterpieces is merely coincidental, but I like to think that the spirit of water, in all its glorious forms, serendipitously linked their flow.


[1] Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the Floating World,” describes a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that depicted scenes from everyday life in and around the merchant’s quarters of Edo, primarily the districts they created for pleasure and entertainment. Themes of ukiyo-e include beautiful women (geisha and courtesans), kabuki theater, sumo, historical scenes, and landscapes. The term ukiyo is associated with the Buddhist concept of impermanence and the sorrows (uki) of life (yo), a notion that underscores the temporariness of life, youth, and human desire and pleasure.

[2] Rainy Day is a stately painting that measures 83.5” x 108.7” (approximately 6.9’ W x 9’ H).

[3] Tadao Ando, 1995 Laureate: Biography. The Hyatt Foundation. 1995.

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A New Face, A Bright Future at Morikami

There’s a new face here at Morikami. She comes to us all the way from Indiana, by way of New Mexico – and Japan along the way – so we are excited to finally introduce you all to our new Chief Curator – Tamara Joy! Tamara has an impressive history of working to preserve and promote Japanese art and culture, and we’re glad to have her on our team.  To help you all get to know her a little better, we asked Tamara a few questions – so without further adieu:

Q: Tell us a little about your background – education, professional experience, etc.

As a freshman at Indiana University, I was interested in languages and art, in general.  However, after a spending time living and traveling in Asia for a year, I returned to I.U. with a focused interest in East Asia and an absolute passion for all things Japanese.  I earned a degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures, viewed primarily through the academic disciplines of art history, anthropology and folklore.  I went on to get a Master’s degree, which combined continued study in Japanese arts and culture with a specific focus on textile traditions.

While a grad student, I stumbled upon the idea of museum work through independent study practicums in various museums at Indiana University.  I was hooked.  My first two jobs out of school included working with Middleton Place Gardens in Charleston, SC and the Wisconsin State Historical Museum in Madison, WI.  Anxious to return my focus to Japan, I moved to the city of Yamagata, Yamagata Pref. in northern Honshu to teach and conduct research, specifically on traditional paper-making and various textile dyeing traditions such as indigo and safflower.

After a year, I returned to the States and took a position as Curator of Asian and Middle East Collections with the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, NM.  After several wonderful years there, I was excited to expand my horizons with different types of institutions and collections of Japanese material and was fortunate enough to work with both the Japan Society Gallery in NYC and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

 In 2011, I had the special opportunity to purchase 10 acres of my grandfather’s property in Bloomington, IN that had been sold out of the family and was in dire need of attention.  My husband, Paul, and I embarked upon a two-year vigil of clearing invasive plants and planting trees.  During that time, I was hired as Executive Director of the Brown County Art Guild, an organization that was established by a handful of artists in 1927 in the tiny village of Nashville, nestled in the hills and valleys of Southern Indiana.  By the 1930s, Brown County had become renowned nationally and internationally as one of the most important art colonies in the U.S.  The current Guild Member Artists are still devoted to the tradition of plein air painting and the style of American Impressionism that made the area famous.

Q: What brings you to a Japanese museum and garden in sunny South Florida?

Being invited to be the Chief Curator at Morikami Museum is not only a dream job for me, but it feels as though I’ve been working my way toward this opportunity my entire professional museum career.  It will allow me to bring together all of my hard-earned experience and skills, and apply them to this truly unique institution.

Q: You’ve  only been with us a short time, but what has been your favorite part of working at Morikami so far?

Even though I am overwhelmed at the moment, I also feel a sense of calm – as if I’m right where I should be – the art, the gardens, the cuisine – I’m enjoying all of it.

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

Having lived in the Tohuku, or the Northern, region of Japan, I’ve become a big fan of soba, a specialty of Yamagata.  It’s the ultimate comfort food, served hot or cold.  Perhaps I can persuade the Cornell Café to include some dishes!

Q: As you look to the future, are there any projects you are particularly excited to start working on here?

 From the start, I’ll be working on AAM (The American Alliance of Museums) museum re-accreditation and collections refinement.  I am thrilled for the opportunity to be a part of it.

Q: How do you spend your free time?

My free time used to be devoted to long trail rides on horseback.  That’s been replaced by long excursions on the back of a motorcycle with my husband Paul at the helm.

Q: And remind us one more time – how do you pronounce your name?

 Tah-Mah-Rah – accent on the Mah. I used to tell people in New Mexico to think “manana”  (tomorrow) and they always remembered after that.

We’re excited for all of you to meet the newest member of our team, and we hope you’ll give her a warm welcome to the family!

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.

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.

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!

A Bit of Perspective on the Next Exhibit, Please

Curious about the next exhibit in the Morikami’s galleries? Read on…

Fusing elements of abstract expressionist painting with the textural nature of fabrics and the ruggedness of raw clay, Jun Kaneko is a prolific artist who contributed to one, if not the, most innovative movement in the history of American ceramic art.

From December 22 through March 7, the exhibit, Jun Kaneko, Ceramic Sculptures, Paintings and Drawings, will feature 50 works by Kaneko, an energetic contemporary artist known for his seven-foot-tall, half-ton “Dangos,” monolithic ceramic sculptures endearingly named for Kaneko’s favorite childhood treat: warm, sweet dumplings skewered on stick. Yes, seven-foot-tall, half ton pieces of hollow ceramic! One of the smallest pieces is 1,800 pounds. The man dreamt big!

When Susanna Brooks Lavallee, Curator of Japanese Art at The Morikami, answers what she enjoys most about the museum’s next exhibit, she talks about the “perfect storm” of time, the serendipitous environment and artistic influences that gave the world Jun Kaneko. What she appreciates most about Kaneko’s work is that “it transcends mediums – it is at once a drawing, a painting that uses clay as its canvas, and a sculpture. His work is intelligent, thought-provoking, and most of all engaging.”

When Jun Kaneko arrived in the United States from Japan in 1963, at the tender age of 17, he brought with him a skillful, energetic painting style and an eagerness to develop his artistic impulses more freely. With the aid of divine intervention and the support of his painting teacher in Japan, Kaneko was welcomed with open arms into the supportive, nurturing home of Fred and Mary Marer, avid collectors of a fresh, new style of contemporary ceramics being made by a group of intellectual potters in southern California. In the 1960s, ceramics was the number one industry in the state of California, and the Marers were perhaps the most devoted and passionate supporters of this experimental group of avant-garde potters that produced some of the most innovative and important ceramics of the era.

Kaneko’s arrival in California,  which led to his fortuitous acquaintance with the Marers, who introduced the young painter to the great ceramic movers and shakers of the time – Peter Voulkos and Paul Sondern among others – exemplifies the notion of “being at the right place at the right time.”

Would of any of the circumstances played out differently, Kaneko’s magnificent and magical clay works might never have been realized? Brooks Lavallee adds that Kaneko’s contributions to ceramics is not limited to the United States, but extends also to Japan, where his work plays an important role in the study and development of new kilns and clay methods and in the shaping and formation of contemporary Japanese ceramics as a whole.

Take a peek at some preview images, then stop by The Morikami and see up close!

Susanna Can Tell You What You’re Looking At

If you’re not sure what you’re admiring in the galleries of the Morikami Museum, ask for Susanna Brooks Lavallee.

She is the Curator of Japanese Art, and she gives one heck of a tour – even to someone who knows his or her way around a museum exhibit. She answers questions you didn’t even know you had, like ‘what does the moon mean in some of the woodblock prints?’ Well, glad you asked… The moon symbolizes aspects of change and transformation, also evidenced in the cutting-edge artistic techniques used in the prints that make the figures seem like they’re floating in a 3-D photograph rather than a 2-D illustration.

And the plum blossoms? They stand for hope, renewal or the beauty of the courtesan, who remains lovely even under the harshest conditions. What does an exposed toe or wrist mean on the prints of the women draped in plum blossom-embellished kimono?

She’s the equivalent of today’s Playboy centerfold, enticing men with a flash of flesh not traditionally exposed on a woman’s mysterious body. Deep stuff.

If you plan to check out “Moonlight Memories, Plum Blossom Dreams: Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Collection of James Stepp and Peter Zimmer,” ask for a walk-through with Susanna. She’ll really show you what you’re staring at.

Show is on display until Dec. 6, 2009.

The main spaces of The Morikami Museum's gallery.

The main spaces of The Morikami Museum's gallery.