Saturday, January 10, 2009

Three on things Japanese

4. Kimono and the Colors of Japan: Kimono Collection of Katsumi Yumioki

As the title suggests, this stunning collection of photographs of kimono and obi groups them by color, an interesting, and very Japanese, conceit. But do not think that we speak of mere "red", "blue", "green", etc. No, there are many aspects of each color. As to each, there are a couple of short paragraphs describing the color, its meaning and use, and the source of the dye. The one thing I miss is specific information about the individual pieces in the collection. Unfortunately, while the rest of the book is in both Japanese and English, the kimono guide, with information about each plate, is in Japanese only.

5. Patterns and Poetry: Nō robes from the Lucy Truman Aldrich Collection at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design by Iwao Nagasaki

I cannot complain of lack of detail in this book! In addition to informative essays about the collector, the collection, and costume in Nō performance, the book gives images of both the full costume and a detail of the cloth. Each plate dates the item, and describes it fully, including measurements, and details of the weave structure. The firm from which Miss Aldrich purchased the robes had labeled many with their provenance, and, where that is the case, images of the wrappers and labels are included.

I must say that Miss Aldrich herself is quite as interesting as her collection. A spinster, born in 1869, congenitally deaf, she traveled around the world three times, and made about 50 trips to Europe with a paid companion, collecting along the way. A very intrepid character, she was kidnapped by bandits following an attack on the Shanghai-to-Peking express, but was apparently unfazed by this encounter. One of the bandits helped her to escape, and a photo is included of "Miss Lucy's bandit"! (According to the biographical essay by Susan Anderson Hay, her hearing actually improved at times of crisis.)

Although Asian art was becoming a focus for collectors in the latter quarter of the 19th-century, Miss Aldrich did not enter this arena until her first trip to the Orient, in 1919. She began purchasing prints, but also bought textiles, furniture and jade. Years later, when she had exhausted her textile collecting, she turned to porcelain, primarily European. Clearly, she was a woman of many and varied interests, and of a great intellect.

6. Wagashi: The Graphics of Japanese Confection, by Mutsuo Takahashi, with photographs by Hiroshi Yoda

Japanese confections are often a mystery to the western palate. Generally made with bean paste and/or various forms of rice, they are an acquired taste. But it takes very little to acquire an appreciation for their design. Often shaped in the form of a flower or an animal, they reflect the Japanese sensibility to nature and the changing seasons. It is the latter that informs this book. Each two month period has its own section, with gorgeous photographs of the confections that reflect that part of the year. And each season has its "Mount Fuji in Four Seasons", of course. There are confections intended for specific festivals, such as a spool-shaped confection for a festival for women who seek progress in their sewing. There are confections shaped like plums and eggplants and sunflowers.
It's a lovely volume, in Japanese and English, and there is, naturally, a bit of poetry.

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