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Back in Business…The Higuchis Unveil Their Newly Rebuilt Studio

While Dalia was off visiting the Mashiko Pottery Festival last week and checking on post-earthquake progress there, I was busy visiting Kimiake and Shin-ichi Higuchi, two of the world’s foremost Pâte de Verre glass artists up at their newly rebuilt studio at the northern end of Nikko National Park. As you might recall from a previous post, much of the Higuchis’ studio and about 40% of their artwork had been destroyed in the Great East Japan Earthquake. The weekend of November 5-6 was their joyous open house – a celebration of their rebuilding and faith in going forward – and we were lucky enough to be invited. Ironically, they had set up their entire exhibit by Thursday afternoon the 3rd, only for there to be a fairly strong quake that evening, which many of my local readers will remember. For safety, they took everything back down and only put it in place just before the weekend open house.

Simple linked buildings flooded with light house their bedroom, living quarters and studio, all surrounding their gorgeous garden which is the main source of inspiration for their work as well as much of their actual food. Upon arrival we were greeted by giant cabbage leaves spread about the grass. They were so life-like, we weren’t sure if they were glass or not!

Everything in the studio was back to being ship-shape and orderly. The rows and bins of glass powders and frits were a modern installation all their own. In the spirit of recycling, all the broken glass works are being ground down and re-used.

We got to see their process from sketch…

…to detail demonstration…

…to finished installation.

Their renderings of the everyday vegetables and flowers around them are so life-like as to almost be surreal. The asparagus looked so delicious that I was ready to pick it up and eat it.

The bearded irises were amazing.

Color and detail, here on a cyclamen panel…

…and here on a trumpet vine.

The little boxes and vessels made me swoon – I wanted this little sakura box…

…or the wisteria.

Some boxes had secret surprises inside.

Can you see the snail and the water droplet on the hydrangea leaf?

I don’t often include pictures of my kids on the blog, but here she provides a sense of scale. Keep in mind she just turned 8. Largest glass cabbage known to man – perhaps the original was the largest ever grown too.

Speaking of the girls, the younger ones had a ball catching praying mantids in the garden. They strongly suggested that Shin-ichi remake his praying mantis sculpture which had been broken in the earthquake.

And the pièce de résistance, which I cannot resist showing is this…

…their bathroom counter, covered in glass roses, and even including clear glass water drops and a few small insects.

Warm thanks to the Higuchis for hosting us and to Debra for introducing us!!

The previous week, Keiko Iishi, a former assistant to the Higuchis during a Corning Museum of Glass education program and a glass blowing artist in her own right, held a charming solo exhibit in a small Ginza gallery. She had been so disheartened by the loss of family and friends in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that she had planned to cancel this long-awaited show. With strong encouragement from her supporters, she decided to go forward and it was a treat of color and pattern.

Having just made butterbeer with my elder daughter and her friends, the piece in the center rear, entitled “Honeydukes,” caught my eye. Keiko, a huge Harry Potter fan, said I was one of the only ones to get the reference.

Congratulations to Keiko on a very successful exhibition!

The net result of viewing all this modern glass art? I think we might need to sign up for classes at Hot Sand on the Asbury Park boardwalk this summer.

Shattered Glass…A Small Tribute to the Work of Kimiake and Shin-ichi Higuchi

“Because of the great earthquake, his house, studio, and storage house were devastated: 
the pillars of the house were snapped, all window panes were smashed.
on the floor in the studio, all colors of frits were scattered. 
the heavy kilns moved unbelievably away. 
To my sorrow, it seemed like all of their glass works in the storage house were damaged.”
-Keiko, friend of Kimiake and Shin-ichi Higuchi
This is just one small story of many in the aftermath of the great Japan earthquake of March 11, 2011. Kimiake and Shin-ichi Higuchi are masters of the art glass technique known as Pâte de Verre, in which glass powder is packed into a mold and then fired in the kiln. Glass Art Magazine has said “many see Kimiake and Shin-ichi Higuchi as the King and Queen of Pâte de Verre. Their work in this medium possesses luster, translucency and shine that seems unfathomable.” Both artists are fine after the quake, but their studio, home and much of their work has been destroyed.

The Higuchis are both inspired by items from nature. Kimiake often works with flowers or vegetables she grows herself in her extraordinary gardens and creates works of such startling clarity and color one can almost believe they are real. “I pick each bloom or leaf in the moment of its prime, and in my hands the plants become glass.”
Shin-ichi uses insects as a common theme in his work to express his concern for the environment and the loss of so many small creatures. “In our civilization, human ego is destroying so much of nature,” he explains, “Some of the most victimized are the smallest creatures. My pieces convey a warning about the insects and also my feelings about their loss.” I love how modern and yet quintessentially Japanese the honeycomb pattern is on his mosaic Bees Casket in the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass, where they had planned to do their annual workshop this summer.  Unfortunately, it looks as if this will have to be cancelled.

Photo credits: 1. via, 2 & 3. via Corning Museum of Glass

Tokyo Jinja

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