Grass Poets: Japanese Baskets, 1845-1953 – with Joe Earle

The Swedenborg Society, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH

Monday, January 15 2018 from 06:45 pm to 08:30 pm

For thousands of years, Japanese farmers and artisans have plaited tropical woody grasses of the bamboo family into practical containers, but it is surprising to discover that basketry as a self-conscious art form is little more than 150 years old.

Based on the recent research and knowledge gained through cataloguing a major European collection, this lecture will explore Japanese bamboo art’s origins in sencha, a supposedly Chinese manner of tea-drinking with Chinese-style utensils that became popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Joe Earle will illustrate his talk with a wealth of previously unpublished works from two of Japan’s greatest bamboo dynasties, the Hayakawa Shōkosai line in Kansai and the Iizuka line in Kanto. Hayakawa Shōkosai I (1815–1897), the first basket-weaver to sign his work, started by making almost direct copies of Chinese baskets but gradually developed a distinctively Japanese idiom.

His younger son, the little-known Hayakawa Shōkosai III (1864–1922), played a critical role in broadening the expressive potential of bamboo, in particular through his use of the ara-ami (‘rough weaving’) technique. His innovations helped pave the way for the extraordinary and varied achievements of Iizuka Rōkansai (1890–1958), widely regarded as the greatest of all bamboo artists.

Joe Earle was Director of Japan Society Gallery in New York until 2012 and has held leadership positions in Asian art departments at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Over the past 37 years he has curated, organized, or written catalogues for numerous exhibitions of contemporary Japanese art, craft, and design, including “Japan Style” (London, 1980), “Japanese Ceramics Today” (the Kikuchi Collection, London, 1983), “The Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art” (London, 1986), “Visions of Japan” (London, 1991), “Splendors of Meiji: Treasures of Imperial Japan (Wilmington DE and Portland OR, 1999 and 2002), “Contemporary Clay: Japanese Ceramics for the New Century” (Boston and New York, 2005 and 2006), “New Bamboo” (New York, 2008), “Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textile Design,” (New York, 2009), “Bye Bye Kitty!!!: Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art” (New York, 2011), “Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers” (New York, 2011), “New Forms, New Voices: Japanese Ceramics from the Gitter-Yelen Collection” (New Orleans, 2017). He is now based in London, and has recently completed a catalogue of 323 works of Japanese bamboo art in the Naej Collection.

Image: Hayakawa Shōkosai III (1864–1922)
Handled Flower Basket
Bamboo; openwork free-style hexagonal plaiting, twining, wrapping
18 7/8 × 9 × 9 5/8
in. Naej Collection

To reserve your place, please call the Japan Society office on 020 3075 1996 or email