Made with mud, but crafted by geniuses, the more than 30 vases are as beautiful as the flowers they display are part of a new exhibit open Feb. 23 to May 11, at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.
I got a sneak peak of the exhibition, Designed for Flowers: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics just as the final decorations were being mounted on the walls.
If you like flowers or pottery if you thrill at the intricate handiwork of another human being, go. The pieces — which also include a few screens and paintings — are part of a 170-piece gift from Betsy and Bob Feinberg, collectors of Japanese art who have given works of art to three museums.
“This exhibit looks forward to spring,” said Robert Mintz, the Walters’ chief curator and Asian art curator.
The works on display are contemporary clay pieces. They are made the same way potters have been creating vases for centuries — but they take advantage of more modern technology and sensibility, too. Each vase is a jewel. With eye-catching shape, glittering colors, no two look alike.
One may remind you of a celadon vase in your grandmother’s china cabinet while another looks like it got chipped at one time in its history. And because they are so different, each demands visitors to stop, examine, imagine how they would arrange a branch of cherry blossoms or that single perfect stem in the vase before them.
Inside the exhibit space, tatami mats top benches so visitors can stop and let their gaze fall on one vase or another. Books have been left at each bench for visitors to peruse as well. Those so inspired can even pen their own haiku to the moment, to a particular work of art, or whatever else inspires them. Leave them behind with the others on a display wall or take them home.
Feel the urge to arrange flowers? Head over to the felt board and design your own vase and fill it as you wish.
And if this exhibit only whets your appetite for Asian art, I suggest finding your way to the Walters’ extensive Asian collection in Hackerman House. You’ll find Chinese porcelains, an exquisite Japanese study and all manner of arts from China, Japan, Nepal, Korea, India and Tibet. William Walters and his son Henry collected hundreds of pieces from all over Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many works were purchased at world fairs.
Before you leave, stop in the Walters’ gift shop for a Japanese memento — there are books, cards, origami, stuff for children and even a few vases for creating your own Japanese style Ikebana flower arrangements.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman