Posts Tagged 'Dallas Museum of Art Collection'

The Texas Kid and “True Stories”

One hour into David Byrne’s 1986 movie True Stories, John Goodman’s character, Louis Fyne, parks his car in front of the eccentric house of a voodoo practitioner. A sign reading “Invisible Hospital of Saint John the Baptist” is barely visible in the nighttime. That sign was hiding another sign that read “The Texas Kid.” The actual owner of the house with a fantastically decorated yard was Willard “The Texas Kid” Watson.

Filming the “Dinero” music video at The Texas Kid’s house in 1984. Top row, left to right: Charlene Dawkins, Lee Gonzalez, George Reiff, Dick Ross, Willard Watson, Kris Cummings, David Byrne, Joe “King” Carrasco. Seated on bottom row, left to right: Adelle Lutz, Georganne Deen. © Christina Patoski

Willard Watson, a.k.a. The Texas Kid, was a folk artist born in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, and raised in Dallas, Texas. He was a local celebrity, recognized for his customized cars, flashy outfits that he sewed himself, and the sculpture garden outside his home near Love Field Airport. Fourteen of his drawings are in the DMA’s collection. The first drawings were acquired just three months after the movie was filmed.

As Watson recalled in his autobiography, “That year, 1985, David Byrne, who had a famous band called Talking Heads, came by the house and asked if he could film part of his movie TRUE STORIES at my house.”

Christina Patoski, a journalist and photographer from Fort Worth, served as a special consultant for the movie. David Byrne called her in 1984, after a mutual friend recommended Patoski to be a point of contact in Texas, and said he was working on a film. In the summer of 1984, Byrne, Patoski, and some friends drove around for three days scouting locations in Dallas and surrounding counties that Byrne imagined as settings for the fictional town of Virgil, Texas. Patoski took photographs during the initial trip and throughout the filming of the movie.

Patoski suggested that Byrne come back in the fall during the State Fair. He returned in October and brought Jonathan Demme, the director of Stop Making Sense. At that time, Patoski was directing a music video for Joe “King” Carrasco staged in the The Kid’s yard. They visited her there and met Watson and saw his incredible yard and home. Byrne decided to use it as a location in True Stories. Demme purchased some of Watson’s drawings and later cast him in his feature film Something Wild.

Byrne and crew came back in August of 1985 and started filming in early September. Patoski says it was an intense six-week shoot. Watson recalled:

“Elnora and I said yes, but we had to give up the use of our home for almost two weeks. They would work all day and often until two or three in the morning. The crew was all over the place. . . . At night, the cast and crew liked to party at nightclubs, particularly Shannon’s club, Tango. . . . I even went to their wrap party at Sons of Herman[n Hall.]”

Watson in the “voodoo room,” built in the dining room of his house in 1985. © Andy Reisberg

While Watson himself doesn’t appear in the movie, his wife, Elnora, and one of their grandsons had roles as the wife and son of the shaman, played by Pops Staples. Patoski says they built the “voodoo room” for the movie, but the rest of the house, filled inside and out with Watson’s art, hardly had to be changed.

While True Stories was filming, a solo exhibition of Watson’s art was on view at the Bath House Cultural Center at White Rock Lake. It was there that a curator from the DMA saw his Life Cycle drawings, and after showing them to the director of the DMA plans were made to acquire them. “I was really really proud for my work to be acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art,” wrote Watson.

Click images to expand.

Lillian Michel is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the DMA.

The Artful Overlapping of Old and Modern Iran

A work by Houston-based Iranian-American artist Soody Sharifi is now on view in the Keir Collection of Islamic Art Gallery. Courtly Love, an archival inkjet print from 2007, is an adaptation of a 15th-century painting in the Keir Collection. The original painting is an illustration of a tale from the Khamsa of Nizami, a collection of five tragic love poems. It depicts a scene from the romance of the Iranian king Khusraw and Armenian princess Shirin. Drunk and guilty of an amorous tryst, Khusraw has arrived at Shirin’s palace on horseback. Shirin, peering out from a window, is counseled by an older woman and refuses him entry. The scene is witnessed by a variety of attendants, including three scribes holding poetic manuscripts below. A darker mood is also present; anxious angels who know the inevitable tragic outcome of the story hover at upper left, while two gardeners with golden shovels foreshadow the twin graves in which the lovers will lie for eternity.

Khusraw at Shirin’s Palace, painting from a manuscript of Nizami’s Khamsa, last quarter of the 15th century, ink, colors and gold on paper, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the DMA, K.1.2014.738

Courtly Love is one of a series of works that Sharifi has termed “Maxiatures,” a play on the term “miniatures” that is commonly used to describe the small format of Islamic book paintings. Sharifi’s works are large. For them, she has selected well-known examples of architectural paintings that illustrate Persian literary classics, such as the Khamsa, to serve as a basis for adaptation through the addition of new figures taken from photography. She also works with the architectural elements in the original image, changing their scale and contents. In this work, some of the original painted figures have vanished, and those that remain become unwitting bystanders to a new cast of figures inserted into the scene: contemporary, young Iranians, mainly women, going about daily tasks. These include making a call at a phone booth, jumping rope, playing with a hula-hoop, painting toenails, installing a satellite dish, and looking over the balustrades and through windows. Three young men speak to the women from outside the garden walls—the circumscribed formalities of courtly love referenced in the title of the work, and perhaps referring to the themes of the original painting.

Soody Sharifi, Courtly Love, 2007, archival inkjet print, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Richard and Glen de Unger in gratitude to Walter Elcock for his attentiveness and support for the Keir Collection, 2018.40

Sharifi’s work appears to be concerned with issues of dual identities, of a past and present that is especially acute for Iranians of her generation who were exiled by the revolution of 1979. Given that the figures in her works are young, this may represent the nostalgia of young Iranians today who still live in proximity to the elegant palaces and gardens depicted in historical paintings, perhaps inhabited now only by ghosts, like the figures in 15th-century paintings. Her concern with dualities—of language, of national identity, of traditions and contemporary technologies, of political tensions—seems to be present in this work, where contemporaneity hovers over a past that can no longer be reached. Certainly, there is also a sense of humor—it is clever and funny to see modern people in these poetical constructs.

Soody Sharifi’s work is displayed in the Keir Collection Gallery alongside the painting that inspired it so that the public can appreciate her interventions, decode her intentions, and enjoy the presence of both works of art at once. Join Sharifi in person as she shares insights into Courtly Love at our next Late Night on February 15.

Heather Ecker is The Marguerite S. Hoffman and Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic and Medieval Art at the DMA.

 

Ruth Pershing Uhler: A Texas Woman Artist to Know

Why do some women artists become famous while others become footnotes in art history textbooks? That is the topic of discussion in The O’Keeffe Sisters and Women of American Modernism, a series of short talks at the DMA on February 2. Few art history scholars knew Georgia O’Keeffe had a younger sister named Ida who was also an artist, and whose work is now exhibited in Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow. Ahead of the talks, we thought we would take a look at another woman modernist in the DMA collection you probably haven’t heard of: Ruth Pershing Uhler.

Ruth Pershing Uhler was born in a small town in Pennsylvania in 1895. Uhler and her family moved to Houston in 1909, but she returned to Pennsylvania to study art. Receiving the proper training was the first hurdle women had to clear to become artists. Women were often encouraged to study “lesser” mediums like watercolor instead of oil, and art was seen as part of a woman’s aesthetic training to create a beautiful home rather than as a career. Uhler didn’t settle for these expectations. She studied at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (and did learn to work in oil), and after graduating she obtained a fellowship that provided her with her own studio and the ability to paint and exhibit art in Philadelphia. She worked in Philadelphia for 11 years before returning to Houston in 1925 and exhibiting across Texas in the 1920s and 30s.

Ruth Pershing Uhler, Earth Rhythms, c. 1935, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Texas Artists Fund, 2018.10, © Estate of Ruth Pershing Uhler

In 1935 Uhler went to Santa Fe with friend and fellow Texas artist Grace Spaulding John. The landscape of New Mexico inspired a series of nine paintings that Uhler completed after returning to Houston the next year. Earth Rhythms (c. 1935), recently acquired by the DMA, belongs to this series. While it is possible Uhler saw and responded to the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, Uhler’s paintings—with undulating forms that glow with an almost spiritual quality—are also reminiscent of Transcendentalists like Raymond Johnson and Agnes Pelton, who were working in New Mexico during the same period. Uhler’s series was exhibited in 1936 at the Twelfth Annual Exhibition of Houston Artists.

Uhler teaching in the MFAH galleries c. 1950. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Archives.

At the time, it was impossible for a woman to support herself as a full-time painter without a gallery to represent her and sell her art, so most women artists took second jobs. Uhler became a teacher at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) in 1937, and in 1941 she became the MFAH’s first curator of education, a position she held until just before her death in 1967. In the same way that Ida O’Keeffe held nursing and teaching jobs on and off her entire life, being an art educator provided Uhler with financial stability, independence, and creative fulfillment. She was hugely influential in the growth of the MFAH’s education programs, but the demands of her job led her to abandon painting.

Curiously, one day in 1940 Uhler intentionally destroyed many of her paintings in a fire. She built the bonfire in the backyard of Grace Spaulding John’s house, which she had been house-sitting. John’s daughter saw her and asked what she was doing. Uhler officially ended her career as a painter that day, remarking, “Well, I only want my best work to survive.” Consequently, her works are few and difficult to find today.

As art historians reconsider the influence of women artists in modernist movements, and as Texas artists are given more serious attention, artists like Uhler will become more popular. It takes time and a conscious effort on the part of curators to shine a light on under-recognized women artists, but we get a fuller and more realistic view of art history when women’s work is recovered from the margins.

Lillian Michel is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the DMA.

2-D to 3-D Wire Creations

This February’s Open Studio will feature funky wire creations! Making sculptures inspired by paintings is a great way to engage with abstract art, and it allows your or your child’s mind to see the differences between a two-dimensional versus a three-dimensional artwork.

Imagine your favorite abstract painting—now imagine it as if it were designed as a sculpture. Would it twist or move? Would it cast shadows not conveyed in the painting? Sculpture is amazing because you can see it in a full 360 degrees and see up close what a painting simply cannot do. I love this activity because it asks the question “what would this painting look like if it were three dimensional?”

The 2-D to 3-D Wire Creations activity is a no-mess art-making project that is suitable for all ages and imaginations. It allows your child to engage with the basic elements of art—color, line, and shape—while introducing more complex subjects like abstract art, space, and movement.

As you twist and manipulate the wire, ask your child questions such as:

  • What kinds of lines can you make with the wire?
  • What colors are similar in the painting and your art?
  • What’s your favorite shape in the painting?
  • Do you like the art better as a painting or a sculpture?

I used Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting Grey Blue & Black—Pink Circle to draw inspiration for my wire sculpture.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Grey Blue & Black—Pink Circle, 1929, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 1994.54, © The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The painting has colors and lines that make my sculpture interesting and recognizable.

This will be a fun project for you and your family. The best part is that you will be able to find the painting that inspired your work of art in the DMA’s collection!

Open Studio is for families and individuals looking for something free to do on the weekend. I am so excited to share with you the monthly art activity, how to engage your child in art projects, and a sneak peek of what you might expect. So stay tuned and see you soon!

February Open Studio Dates and Times:

Theme: Wire Creations
Location: Center for Creative Connections Art Studio
Price: Free
Dates:  
Saturday, February 2
Sunday, February 3
Saturday, February 16
Sunday, February 17
Time: Noon–4:00 p.m.

Melissa Brito is a Teaching Specialist for Family and Access Programs at the DMA.

DMA Online Collection: An Inside Look (Part I)

As the Dallas Museum of Art’s Digital Collections project comes to a close at the end of December, we’re taking a look back at the important work the Digital Collections Content Coordinators (D3Cs) have undertaken over the past three years, including writing, researching, gathering, compiling, and condensing information for over 5,000 individual objects. Their end result is an online collection that takes advantage of its digital format. Unlike the physical limitations of the DMA galleries, the online collection promotes three unique learning opportunities:

  1. Connecting the dots—linking objects and narratives across collections or disciplines.
  2. Deep dives—providing detailed information about one or more objects in texts that far exceed typical wall labels.
  3. Hidden gems—highlighting works that are rarely on view or risk being overlooked in the galleries.

We’ve asked each D3C to recount some of the insights she accumulated on the job.

Jennifer Bartsch-Allen, Decorative Arts and Design, 2016-2018

jennifer allen
Hidden gem:
Although I’ve researched a variety of works across the Decorative Arts and Design Collection, the bulk of my last two years was focused on the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection. This enabled me to draw attention to furniture, including a Baroque cabinet by Pierre Gole. In the gallery, the cabinet remains closed and distant. Online, however, the high-res photos show the drawers in multiple positions and give close-ups of signatures and surfaces. Supplemental essays include biographies of the collectors and definitions of some of the specialized terms.

baroque cabinetCabinet on stand, Pierre Gole, Paris (?), France, 1660–80, wood, ivory, tortoiseshell, shell, and gilt bronze, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.573.a-c

Deep dives:
One of my favorite eras is 20th-century design, so I thoroughly enjoyed exploring works featured in the Museum’s South Gallery. At first glance, Peter Muller-Munk’s relatively modest Normandie shape pitcher appears straightforward and functional. However, it becomes much more impressive and influential after reading about its context in American streamlined design.

pitcherNormandie shape pitcher, Peter Muller-Munk, Rome, New York, 1935, chrome-plated brass, Dallas Museum of Art, 20th Century Design Fund, 1996.27

Similarly, the historical references in René Jules Lalique’s glass vases become easier to identify once you recognize the popularity of neoclassical imagery at the time. Several, including the Denaides vase, rely on these mythological motifs while simultaneously embodying the early 20th century’s Art Deco movement.

vaseDanaides vase, René Jules Lalique, Lalique et Cie, Cristallerie, Wingen-sur-Moder, France, c. 1926, molded glass, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Steinberg, 2004.48.5

Heather Bowling, Classical Art, Contemporary Art, and Decorative Arts and Design, 2016-2018

heather

Deep dives:
Throughout the course of this project, I have enjoyed learning more about contemporary art and decorative arts and design, but it was fun to return to my classical roots and do some original research on a 2nd century CE portrait bust. The DMA’s Roman portrait head of a young woman joins an array of Roman portraits that reflect ideas about gender roles in the ancient world. Spoiler alert: portraits of modest, fertile, upper-class women were created largely to boost the public stature of the men in their lives. Additionally, elaborate hairstyles of wealthy Roman women imitated favored empresses and indicated the wearer’s high status, not unlike today’s celebrities.

roman headPortrait head of a young woman, Roman, 2nd century CE, marble,
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation, 2016.36

Accessioned just three years after its creation, Cathedral is the cornerstone of contemporary art at the DMA and one of the first Pollock drip paintings to enter any museum collection in the world. Because this work is so prolific, I had to wade through a substantial amount of scholarship to create a concise description that answers the question you may be asking yourself: why is throwing paint on a canvas a big deal?

paint canvasJackson Pollock, Cathedral, 1947, enamel and aluminum paint on canvas,
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard J. Reis, 1950.87, © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Hidden gems:
In the galleries it would be easy to pass by this minuscule scarab beetle, but online you can zoom in and inspect each side. Although initially there was no information available about the inscription on its underside, extensive research of Egyptian amulets revealed exactly how it afforded the deceased special protection in the journey to the afterlife.

scarabScarab, Egyptian, 1785–1550 BCE, faience, Dallas Museum of Art, given in memory of Jerry L. Abramson by his estate, 2009.25.4

Connecting the dots:
Alongside my work in the Contemporary and Classical Art departments, researching modern design and postmodern design illuminated the intersection of ancient and contemporary objects, and gave me a new appreciation for how an encyclopedic museum collection can demonstrate the connections between different places and times.

Stay tuned for Part II, coming next week. Meet the other half of our D3C team and discover more insights into our collection!

Artist Astrology: Libra

Whether or not you believe in astrology, it’s fun to read about your zodiac and the characteristics that are associated with your sign! As I was thinking about this fascination of my own, I began to wonder what artists shared my sign and whether their artwork aligned with the traits of their zodiac. So I decided to research the birthdays of some of the prominent artists in the DMA Collection to explore the relationship between their zodiac and their art. Tune in every month to find out what artists share your zodiac!

This first month of Artist Astrology will focus on the balanced, intellectual Libras (September 24 – October 23). Libras are represented by the symbol of a scale. They are often defined by their intellect and, as a result, make great problem-solvers. Although Libras posses great mental capacity, they are also extremely social and very communicative. They have the ability to look at a problem from multiple perspectives, often acting as mediators in a disagreement. Libras lead harmonious, balanced lives and seek to create peace and harmony in their surroundings, including their relationships. They are also creative spirits and their imaginative nature is often represented in their style, interior decoration, and hobbies. Libra’s are said to bring a bit of art into everything they do and enjoy creating new and unusual things. Some of our favorite DMA Libra’s include:

1968_9

Mark Rothko – September 25

Communication is a central element in Mark Rothko’s work. In the late 1940s, Rothko removed figural representations from his work, believing that a universal representation of human drama was better conveyed through large masses of color which for him suggested concrete human emotions. An intellectual thinker, Rothko stated in an interview with Tiger’s Eye magazine in 1949, “The progression of a painter’s work…will be toward clarity; toward elimination of all obstacles between painter and the idea, and between the ideas and the observer.” Rothko’s attention to the reaction of the viewer demonstrates his Libra sensibility for clear thought and observant social prowess.

1975_86_FA

Alberto Giacometti – October 10

Throughout his career, Alberto Giacometti primarily worked in portraiture. His mature style, as seen in Three Men Walking from 1948-49, was especially popular and hailed as a symbol of the isolation and anonymity of the post-war period. Three Men Walking is demonstrative of Giacometti’s keen ability to observe humanity from an impartial and fully-encompassing perspective. Interestingly, this period also coincided with the renewal of his relationship with his brother and marriage to his long-term domestic partner, Annette Arm, in 1949. Socially active individuals, Libras are said to only achieve peace and satisfaction through loving and supportive relationships.

1951_41

Childe Hassam – October 17

Childe Hassam is typically identified as an American Impressionist. His style features soft brush strokes and an attentive perception of the atmospheric qualities of light and air. In fact, Hassam encouraged this label and considered himself a painter of “light and air” rather than solidly an Impressionist. Paintings, such as Duck Island above, demonstrate his tendency to present his surroundings in a peaceful, harmonious composition. Interestingly, the Duck Island coast, one of the Isles of Shoals near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was known among sea captains for its treacherous waves and dangerous reefs. Hassam avoids this dark reference in favor of a restful representation of this popular vacation spot.

1986'8'A-B

Robert Rauschenberg – October 22

Robert Rauschenberg collected the source material for his silkscreen prints from a variety of sources, including newspapers, Life magazines, personal photographs, and New York Times archives. His attraction to such various sources demonstrates his active engagement in current and past historical events. Having collected his varied materials, Rauschenberg successfully organized his images to present one cohesive, effective image. Produced for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Skyway is emblematic of the optimism and expansionism of the early 1960s, featuring images of President John F Kennedy, the space race, urban construction, and the American bald eagle. The title is suggestive of the “New Frontier” of American expansion as space became labeled the ‘highway’ of the future.

A few other lovable Libras include Jean-Francois Millet (October 4), Frank Duveneck (October 9), Jean Antoine Watteau (October 10), and Maurice Prendergast (October 10). Tune in next month for some of our superb Scorpios!

Artworks shown:

  • Mark Rothko, Orange, Red and Red, 1962, Dallas Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated
  • Alberto Giacometti, Three Men Walking, 1948-49, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus
  • Childe Hassam, Duck Island, 1906, Dallas Museum of Art, Bequest of Joel T. Howard
  • Robert Rauschenberg, Skyway, 1964, Dallas Museum of Art, The Roberta Coke Camp Fund, The 500, Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Mark Shepherd, Jr. and General Acquisitions Fund

Hayley Prihoda
McDermott Intern for Gallery and Community Teaching

How It’s Made: Japanese Cloisonné

Have you ever wondered how Japanese artists created such beautiful cloisonné pieces?  Well, I have, and after a lot of research, I’d like to share what I discovered.

What is Cloisonné?

The technique of cloisonné actually dates back to the Mycenaean and early Greek cultures.  In antiquity, it was common for artists to solder the wires to a metal body and then fill the recessed areas with enamel, a compound made of sand, flint, soda, and lead.  After it is fired in a charcoal-fueled kiln at very high temperatures, the enamel compound fuses and assumes a very glossy, glass-like texture.  The Japanese process varied slightly from this, as I will describe in the next section.

“Cloisons” or wire cells used to create cloisonné.
“Box”, Japan, 19th century, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, The John R. Young Collection, gift of M. Frances and John R. Young

The nomenclature of cloisonné stems from France.  The term cloisonné comes from the French word “cloisons,” or wire cells, which are used to create this technique.  Most of the enameling terms you hear will be of French origin, and that’s likely because the French dominated the enameling practice for about ten centuries.  However, the Japanese use a different term to describe cloisonné: shippōShippō references the seven treasures of the sūtra, a direct correlation to ancient Buddhist texts.  The seven treasures include gold, silver, pearl, crystal, agate, lapis lazuli, and coral.  This definition of cloisonné emphasizes the Japanese affinity with nature and religion, while the French term focuses on the technical aspect of the technique.

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What’s the Process of Cloisonné?

Namikawa Yasuyuki loading an object into the kiln. Image from Coben and Ferster’s “Japanese Cloisonné: History, Technique, and Appreciation.”

As mentioned earlier, in ancient times it was common to solder your copper or silver wires down to a metal base.  The Japanese process differs by adhering the wires to a metal base using a rice-paste or glue made from an orchid root, called biyaku-gu.  After the wires are secure on the base, the artist takes the enamel paste, a mixture of water and enamel, and gently place the paste in the wire cells using a bamboo pen.  After this step, the object must sit to allow all the moisture to evaporate from the enamel.  Once completely dried, the artist delicately places the object into a muffle kiln, or a nishiki-gama, a clay kiln that is fueled by charcoal.  After the enamel has fused, the piece can be taken out to cool.  Once cooled, the artist can go back in and add more enamel paste and fire it until the enamel is flush with the metal wires.  The final step includes sanding and polishing the enamel and wires until an even surface is acquired.  Once sanded and polished, the enameled object goes into the nishiki-gama one last time to bring the enamel to a high gloss.

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How Did Cloisonné Come to Japan?

Prior to the 16th century, very little enamelware was found in Japan.  Even with neighboring China, a society already exemplary in producing cloisonné, did the artform hit Japan until artist Hirata Hikoshiro, better known as Dōnin, was commissioned by a lord to create a cloisonné object.  Dōnin learned the ways of Chinese cloisonné and brought back the secrets of the trade to Japan.  He became well-known in the samurai community for making decorative sword furniture, but kept his cloisonné process to himself, and only let his family know the tricks of the trade.  A century later another Japanese artist, Kaji Tsunekichi, sought the mysteries of cloisonné.  In the mid-1830’s, Tsunekichi purchased a piece of Chinese cloisonné and purposely broke it apart to discover the manufacturer’s secrets.  After a lot of trial and error, he found success and became known as the “Father of Modern Japanese Cloisonné.”  Tsunekichi trained many artists, creating a cloisonné community within Japan.

The Golden Age

Because of the Western desire for Japanese cloisonné, more and more workshops opened up in small communities like Toshima.  Toshima became known as the shippō-mura, or cloisonné village.  The mass production of cloisonné wares in workshops like Toshima were part of the Japanese industrial revolution that occurred during the second half of the 19th century.  Rather than the large, boisterous factories we envision of the American and European industrial revolutions, the cloisonné workshops of Japan remained very traditional and true to the lead artist’s designs.  Alice M. Hart, an American journalist, visited one of these workshops and this is what she found:

“What an ideal, no smoke, no noise, and no hurry.  Engaged in the pursuit of delightful art, the workmen had only to lift their eyes from their work to see cherry blossoms tossed up against a blue sky…”

Japanese cloisonné workshop. Image from Coben and Ferster’s “Japanese Cloisonné: History, Technique, and Appreciation.”

All this production during the late 19th century has been coined as the “Golden Age for Japanese cloisonné.”  The Golden Age was brought on by a whirlwind of technological advances that Japanese artists were initiating.  Three instrumental leaders in the Golden Age are Namikawa Yasuyuki, Namikawa Sōsuke, and Andō Jūbei.

Namikawa Yasuyuki was known for his invention of the first transparent black glaze and his ‘traditional’ style.  This new transparent black enamel led to a whole production of transparent enamels, which provided artists more freedom with the material.  With this new application, Namikawa Sōsuke was able to rise to fame with his “painting-like” enamels.  Sōsuke also became known as the inventor of shōsen-jippō, where he would etch away the cloisonné wires with sulfuric acid to create a more natural transition, rather than the heavy outlines of wires.  Finally, Andō Jūbei brought the ‘new fashion’ to Japanese cloisonné by combining various styles and techniques such as plique-a-jour; a technique where the wires are fused together and there is no metal backing, allowing sunlight to shine through the enamel.  His company, the Andō Company, was very prolific and received several international awards.

Ando Jubei, Koro and Cover, c. 1900, Japan, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, The John R. Young Collection, gift of M. Frances and John R. Young

In the Japanese galleries on the third floor of the Museum, you can find exquisite examples from all three artists.  Many of these works instill both awe and beauty.  Even though I know how these objects were created, I’m still amazed by the amount of detail and craftsmanship involved.  Next time you are at the Museum, come explore these small treasures of Japan—I know you will be impressed by their splendor.

Loryn Leonard
Coordinator of Museum Visits

References:

  • Coben, Lawrence, and Dorothy Ferster, Japanese Cloisonné: History, Technique, and Appreciation, New York: Weatherhill, 1982.
  • Darty, Linda, The Art of Enameling: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration, New York: Lark Books, 2004.

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