View Full Version : My introduction to Japanese arts and Japanning

February 1st, 2016, 09:43 AM
It is the early 50s and the location is downtown Baltimore between the harbor and Mount Vernon Place. Ike was running for President and my school had a mock political convention to help us understand the process. That makes me about eight or nine at the time of this story.

It was late spring; school was about to end and summer was coming on. Trees were in bloom and the weather warm and the smells from McCormick's plant down at the harbor filled the air. It was a weekend and I had gone to work with dad but had set out to explore some of my favorite places.

Just a ways down the hill from dad's office was the Walter's Art Gallery and one area I always enjoyed was their section on Japanese military armor (http://art.thewalters.org/browse/category/japanese-military-armor/) with swords and helmets and parts from swords and daggers often depicting scenes from tales and myths, often engraved or painted but in a way unlike scabbards from European makers. I'd often ask about the scenes on an object and they could always find a man that would explain the history and tales depicted.

Soon it was the images and tales that became my focus and I was guided from the armory into the Walter's vast collection of lacquer and inlay (http://art.thewalters.org/browse/medium/lacquer--inlay/) and then their collection of Chinese, Japanese and Korean paintings and drawing.

The Walter's became my special haunt for the rest of the spring and summer and I would wander down every chance I got. Gradually some of the tales became as familiar as the North American Indian tales of Raven and Coyote and luckily dad insured several companies that could help my explorations into the tea ceremony and incense game, iron and bronze casting. I learned the tales of the Tongue Cut Sparrow, the Mandarin Ducks (that one really bugged me), the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, how a Prancing Pony made the fallen cherry blossoms fragrant by dancing on them and the tale of the Old Man who Made the Trees Blossom.

I learned about urushi and maki-e and "Japanning" (raden) and tea services and boxes to hold writing implements and the inro that took the place of pockets when wearing a kimono. At McCormick's they let me sample teas from all over the world a taught me how to "taste teas" (although I was not allowed to slurp at dinner). A jeweler that dad insured would let me play with bags of different gems and taught me the history and mythos of each stone. I got to visit (later worked one summer there) an iron works and foundry and see molten metals poured into molds. One small shop down on the waterfront sold incense and charms and fans and kimonos and papers with leaves and insects embedded (but they were Chinese not Japanese they said; it was less than a decade since the war ended).

So my fascination with pens that tell stories and incorporate various materials and hand craftsmanship began rather early. Now, on to the Boring Pictures.












Lady Onogaro
February 1st, 2016, 10:53 AM
Thanks for your story. I got interested in Japanese and Chinese art, especially woodcuts and scroll paintings, via a museum, too. It was the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian.

February 1st, 2016, 02:10 PM
I've had two lovely experiences of Japanese at the British Museum. I went in the drawings and prints section when I was about eighteen to take a look at the displays and confessed to one of the staff a liking for Eishi above the much better known Utamaro - and was rewarded by having one of the original prints brought out of its storage and taken from its tissue paper wrapping so I could see the mica background glittering. A very kind curator.

More recently I was there when the museum was having a 'hands on' activity, popular with children, though not intended solely for them. I was given the curator's favourite object to hold - a delightful little netsuke of a sleeping rat. Whichever way you turned it you would find a little bit of rat - an eye, a tiny pink foot, a bit of sinuous tail, an ear. And whichever way you turned it, you could never quite see the whole rat.

This isn't him (I don't think) but you get the idea:http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-9FYO7FfoQH8/U8DqctGVaqI/AAAAAAAACPM/D2OrORxGWwI/s1600/Netsuke+rat.jpg

I could see several of the children there already forming what I hope will be lifelong interests as they weighed the objects and asked questions. There's really nothing as good as hands-on knowledge, and nothing as bad as adults who assume younger people won't be interested in such things.

February 2nd, 2016, 07:02 AM
The Walter's has a program for the sighted impaired based on feeling objects.

February 4th, 2016, 05:35 PM
I picked this, among other items, up in Nagoya. It was indicated to be from the Edo period.

I find the Urushi and Maki e work on fountain pens to be very attracting, but am trying to keep my appreciation based from afar.

http://i.imgur.com/1mnLUUsl.jpg (http://imgur.com/1mnLUUs)

February 15th, 2016, 06:23 AM
Sometimes it seems that reading and contributing to a thread sensitize me in some odd way to the presence of nice things in junk shops, or create some kind of positive pen-finding karma. (Just like eating Readybrek made you glow in the dark, if you remember the adverts.)

And now it has gone beyond pens! I'm very happy to have found this rather damaged, rather faded, but still sweet lacquer bowl at the weekend in an otherwise unremarkable car boot sale:

Even better was what was inside it:

And even better, it cost one euro. I'm not sure that it's top quality work - the inside is a bit rough - but it's pretty enough for me.

Now I just have to find out how to repair that outside bowl.

February 15th, 2016, 07:28 AM
Great find but a bummer on the chip. It could be restored but certainly would increase the net cost somewhat.