I recently started writing for examiner.com as the New York Japanese Culture Examiner. My goal is to write stories about Japanese events (cultural, musical, artistic, food related) taking place in New York City. One of the articles I wrote was about a gallery exhibit at the Nippon Club called The Te-WaZa. It featured the work of thirty metalworking artists from Kyoto. When I attended the event, I met Junpei Yamanaka, an artist and president of Seikado, a Kyoto metal arts and crafts studio. After I posted the story, I sent a link to Yamanaka-san. He appreciated my willingness to write about something fairly obscure, so he posted my link on his website. Pretty cool.
Although I had heard of the Nippon Club, this was the first time I attended an event there. The gallery space is on the first floor of the building. The Te-WaZa artwork was neatly displayed on tables that ran alongside the gallery's long walls. A video showing artists at work in their studios ran in a loop on a large projection screen at the far end of the gallery.
The intricate design of this dish amazes me because it seems as if it would be extremely hard to create such precise flowers using metal. The video that played in the gallery demonstrated the sweaty process involved in making art with iron.
This is a bronze tool used in Buddhist ceremonies. It's another example of the fine detail that is a trademark of metalworks artists.
Another Buddhist ceremonial tool. When I visited this exhibit, I had the pleasure of meeting Yorimasa Aiba, who, as the president and director of Aiba Kinzoku Corp, helped to bring these works to New York. He told me that many of the Kyoto artists are commissioned to do pieces for temples. Kyoto is famous for its temples, so I'm sure this is a good source of work for the local artists.
This iron elephant is another commissioned piece and was made by Seiuemon Ohnishi. The elephant is an important figure in Buddhism; it represents the "strength of the mind." According to Aiba-san, this elephant's face bears a slight resemblance to the patron who commissioned this work. (Not sure if this was the customer's request.)
In the picture above, Junpei Yamanaka, the aforementioned artist and president of Seikado, poses with his work.
Yamanaka-san creates beautiful works from pewter. Seikado, Yamanaka-san says, is the only pewter craft specialty shop in Japan. He brought with him to New York plates, hashi (chopsticks) holders, and sake cups. He uses a mold to create the designs on his plates, but he hammers patterns by hand onto the sake cups and pitchers.
Here is the beautiful design of Yamanaka-san's hashi holders. Yamanaka-san's designs are an example of artwork that can actually be used; however, one would probably use these plates and cups only for special occasions.
Above are tobacco pipes Yamanaka-san fashioned from silver. These types of pipes are no longer used, but Yamanaka-san and his colleagues at Seikado like to keep in touch with the technique of making them. He appreciates the challenge of finding a balance between traditional and contemporary design. In fact, Seikado is active in teaching young artists in the metalworks genre. At least in Kyoto, young people are still interested in this craft, so Yamanaka-san is happy to pass on the tradition.
Shigeyuki Satomura's jewelry offers a playful contrast to the elegance of the rest of the exhibit. A dragon, an imaginary animal, and a "jealous female demon" provide an edgier look to otherwise traditional art. Actually, the dragons and demons have a long history in Japan; perhaps Satomura's work is more traditional than I first thought.
We move from the hard edges of dragons to the simple charm of these brass vases, "10 Colors" by Masaharu Nishina.
Chikako Ueda used copper to create these stylized and classy vases.
My favorite vase in this exhibit, however, is this one: "Flower and Bird" by Yuuji Koizumi. The flower patterns on the sides of the vase look as if they are stained glass.
"Chrysanthemum and Hemp," a beautiful copper hairpin made by Tatsuya Kobayashi.
A miniature samurai helmet by Tetsuya Saji. Aiba-san says one of these helmets takes almost three months to produce because of the design and materials. Several centuries ago these helmets adorned the heads of actual samurai, then they were produced for young boys to wear on the occasion of kodomo no hi, or Children's Day. Nowadays, they are for decoration and not to be worn.
Spending some time with Aiba-san and Yamanaka-san – with much appreciated translation from Mayumi-san – was a special learning experience.