Unryūan Team at the Wajima Lacquer Museum

IMG_1718The 3-year project to reinvent the shell boxes of daimyo bridal dowry provenance was recently completed. Under the guidance of Unryūan, with assistance from Professor Yamazaki Tatsufumi of Kanazawa Art Unviersity and Akimoto Yuji Director of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, a team of young artists and specialist practitioners have succeeded in recreating works that have not been attempted for over 150 years.

Complete with the full set of 360 pairs of shells, the shell box project was generously and enthusiastically sponsored by Mrs Pauline Gandel. Using mid Edo (18th century) Mōri clan prototypes from her significant collection of Japanese lacquer, the team set out, through attempted replication, to rediscover and recreate lost techniques. In celebration of the completion of the project and its significance to the lacquer art of Wajima and broader Japan, a teaser exhibition, precursor to a planned major exhibition, of the completed works was recently held at the Wajima Lacquerware Museum.

From the construction of the octagonal body, base and curved lid, to the application of gold foil to the interior of serendipitously acquired thousands of shells; from research into the intricacies of the original game to the detailed tying of the oversized silk cords, all had to be rediscovered through time- consuming and demanding experimentation and consultation.  A core team of 46 artists working tirelessly over a two and a half year period, meeting monthly, recording all data and experimental results, have created a magnificent set of boxes and shells, Heisei kaioke, something not achieved for over 150 years. As interviews with the participants in two recent full NHK documentaries attest, the project has both challenged and rewarded all participants. It is testimony to Unryūan’s reintroduction and honing of the traditional studio system and skills as tōryō (lacquer master) that the group is planning their next project.

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Photography by Byron Bowman Kehoe. © Copyright 2015