The Curator's Farewell Exhibition: Cool Stuff from the Morikami Museum's Collection


Ancient Plum

clientuploads/images/Exhibits/Cool Stuff from Morikami/Toms-Cool-Stuff_2006041001.pngartist unknown
ink on paper
signature: Jūryushu; seals: unread
Edo Period, probably late 18th century
museum purchase funded by the Morikami Wisdom Ring membership circle and Mr. and Mrs. Walter May

“Wow! This painting just does things to me. To think that it was painted over 200 years ago is just astounding, given the unbridled freedom of its dynamic brushwork. It is a depiction of an ancient plum tree, but treated in an abstract fashion more in keeping with contemporary art than art that is a couple of centuries old. I can’t help but find the painting amazing and totally captivating. What I respond to is the movement of the brush in such a spontaneous and fluid manner, the brush itself pliable and soft-bristled, heavily laden with wet, light and dark washes creating sensuous forms on the paper.”

Scenes In and Around the City of Kyoto

(Rakuchu Rakugai Zu)

clientuploads/images/Exhibits/Cool Stuff from Morikami/Toms-Cool-Stuff_1998.027.pngArtist unknown
ink and colors on paper
Edo Period, 17th or 18th century
gift of Barbara Adachi

“This painting by an anonymous machi-eshi, or painter of decorative works intended for a popular art market, was a gift to the museum from Barbara Adachi, whom no one here had previously met. I knew of her, though; when I lived in Japan in the mid-1970s, she wrote a column for the Mainichi Daily News on Japanese craft specialists who had been recognized by the Japanese government as Holders of Intangible Cultural Assets, or more popularly, Living National Treasures. She published a lovely book of several of her columns accompanied by gorgeous photos and drawings shortly after my wife’s and my arrival in Japan.

“The painting is a wonderful evocation of the city of Kyoto that I love to bring out and display as often as possible. There is so much detail, it is almost dizzying, and many of the places in the city that the painting depicts can still be visited today. Briefly, the screen on the left shows the western half of the city, dominated by Nijō Castle, while the right screen shows the eastern half, dominated by the Imperial Palace, or Kyoto Gosho (lower left corner) and the great Buddha hall of Hokoji temple (which no longer exists). An imperial procession entering Nijō Castle extends all the way back to the Imperial Palace (in other words, crosses from one screen to the other). Countering this procession on the right screen are the towering floats called hoko being lined up for the summertime Gion Festival.

“Often when displaying these screens we challenge visitors to find certain landmarks. We do this with a detail photo from one of the screens along with a little information about the identity of the landmark. Because of the large numbers of different people depicted in the painting, I thought it had something of the quality of a Where’s Waldo book. I wanted to display a detail photo showing Waldo somewhere on the screen and challenge visitors to find him, but of course he wouldn’t really be there.”

Treadle Waterwheels (Fumi-Guruma) for Irrigation of Wet-Rice Agriculture

clientuploads/images/Exhibits/Cool Stuff from Morikami/Toms-Cool-Stuff_2006004002.pngcypress wood
Meiji or Taishō Period, early 20th century
museum purchase funded by Mr. and Mrs. Albert I. Geller
2006.004.001, 002

“At first I had misgivings about the museum acquiring these unusual pieces. Other staff, however, prevailed with their strong support of such a purchase. Now I am glad they did. They are one-of-a-kind objects, and although they may not be art, their structure and form create visually appealing patterns that captivate our attention and cause us to pause and wonder how they were used. (Even so, our own Collections Advisory Committee has recommended that we de-accession them. I should say not! )  “They are a kind of waterwheel called a fumi-guruma, or ‘stepping-wheel’, that was used until as late as the early post-war era to move water from nearby streams into rice paddies in order to flood them or to regulate their water levels. They were operated by farm laborers who climbed on top of them and rotated the wheels by stepping from one paddle to the next.”