Japanese Fine Basket-Making | California | Living in Mexico

Japanese Fine Basket-Making

We drove for hours. We wandered half-lost through county roads near Hanford: Born-Again Christian navel of California. We passed body shops and tractor dealers with fish on their signs. We passed billboards that said, "Abortion is Murder" and "Get Us Out of the UN!" Finally we found our destination.

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Doesn't look like much, does it? But wait a minute—the building doesn't the kind of All-American design you'd expect in this part of the country. Those hip roofs. Those sashed exterior panels. That roofed entry gate.

Yep. This building is Japanese.

We've reached the Ruth and Sherman Lee Institute for Japanese Art which, this fall, is showing exquisite baskets made by the Tanabe Family of Sakai (near Osaka). We met them on our Japan Tour this spring (see blog archive 5/17/2006). The exhibition here contains more Tanabe baskets than we saw at the home of the artists themselves.

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This small museum is remarkable. Objects are not kept behind glass, so you can get as close to the work as you want (but don't touch). Magnifying glasses are set out here and there, permitting viewing of details. The lighting has been carefully designed to bring out the texture and patterns of the baskets. Even the ventilation has been designed to prevent the deposit of dust.

I could have posted scores of photographs of baskets. I chose just one image of baskets made by Tanabe Chikuunsai I, the founder of the Tanabe family of bamboo artists.

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I love the old traditional Chinese designs. The work is so fine, it's hard to imagine these baskets began as hunks of bamboo stalks.

You can collect them. A couple members of our tour group bought some direct from the Tanabes. They probably got good prices that way.

But they are expensive. This Tanabe Chikuunsai I basket is, as I write, available from Tai Gallery/Textile Arts of Santa Fe for "more than $10,000."

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The collection consists mostly of baskets owned by Willard G. Clark, who made his money in the international bull semen market. (Hey, I'm just reporting the facts, here.) He and his wife, true Japanophiles, live next to the museum in their Japanese-style house. Hard to imagine dry, hot valley days permitting the growing of a Japanese garden, but the Clarks are doing it.

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