photo credit: ©DavidMDworkin
March heralds the arrival of spring in Washington DC along with the celebration of the cherry blossoms that bloom along the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. In 1912 the mayor of Tokyo bestowed upon the United States 3000 Japanese cherry trees as a gesture of lasting friendship between the two countries. The initial gift was commemorated by a simple ceremony that featured First Lady Helen Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planting the first trees along the banks of the Potomac River.
In 1915, the United States government sent a reciprocal gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan. In 1981, when thousands of Japanese cherry trees were destroyed in a flood, cuttings from the original gift of trees were sent to Japanese horticulturists to replace the lost and damaged flora.
Over the years the festival has emerged and grown. It is a time in which Washingtonians celebrate the arrival of spring, the beauty and variety of Japanese art in America, Japanese cultural experiences from drumming and dance to tea ceremonies and historic dress. In addition to events that are scheduled to honor Japanese culture, there are traditions that draw over 1.5 million visitors to the nation’s Capital each spring including among others: the annual Cherry Blossom parade, paddle boats on the tidal basin, throngs of photographers-professional and amateur alike, and the daily bloom forecast telling us that spring has truly arrived! Over the years we have seen Japanese influence in hand made objects ranging from glass to wood, pots to silk and jewelry to kaleidoscopes.
I love that American made objects owe so much to the craft, practice and techniques of untold people who came before us throughout history and across the globe. As these trades and crafts passed through cultures, countries and time, they reflect the particular flavors of the people and period. And yet the origins of each can still be seen and felt in the very fiber of glass, wood, silk and metal today.
I see the Japanese influences in a surprising number of our American or Japanese-American artists. Nichibei, which translates as Japan and America, is a studio that blends the elegant tradition of Japanese folk art with the flair of contemporary American pottery. The “chop” used to sign Matsumoto’s pieces is the Japanese character for Pine Tree, the English translation of his familial name.
Good Elephant Studio produces rice bowls, plates and platters evocative of her Korean roots and contemporary graphic design training.
Marc Matsui uses the simple elegant lines of his finely thrown bowls as a canvas for his spectacular glazes that integrate color and geometric designs. Marc is truly a master of the glaze, transforming clay into a glass-like finish with brilliant colors.
The Japanese art of flower arranging is known as Ikebana. Over the years various American artists have begun to create forms or vases that can be used to make Ikebana flower arrangements in which heaven, earth and humans are united in a pleasing design. The use of a kenzan in the interior gives a firm base for these elegant arrangements.
Ikebana artists study for years to acquire the knowledge and skills that eventually can lead them to mastery. It is not surprising that we see Ikebana vessels made from wood, glass and clay. All of these materials were available in early Japanese culture and utilized to create organic presentations that were one with the environment.
Several of our woodworkers have been inspired by the Japanese aesthetics of elegant refinement, delicate detail, and subtle metaphors using archetypal shapes and forms. Cherry blossoms represent classic beauty and fragility. It reminds us that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful and yet tragically short.
The architectural flavor of Japanese influence can be seen in the boxes made by Bill Bolstad. Using spalted woods infused with colored resins, he has created a limited edition set of boxes in various sizes. The ebony detailing and the shapes are evocative of miniature pagoda like buildings.
Silk originated in China in 1700 BC, but there have been silkworms in the oldest of Japanese mythology. Shibori is credited as being a Japanese dying method that clearly gave rise to all of the many forms of tie dye that we have seen over thousands of years. Vivid colors and repeated geometric patterns can be seen in the Antrim Street designs.
Theresa, one of our textile artists, spent 7 years in Japan as a university administrator, where she fell in love with the local textiles. She was immersed in Japanese culture and came to appreciate the embroidered silks and hand painted fabrics used in making kimono. Vintage kimonos are given new life in these handmade silk scarves by her studio.