By Celma Costa
The Shiogama Sugimura Jun Museum of Art rests on a small hill, in a building that once housed a local community center, constructed during the post-war years. It may appear modest at first glance, but once inside, you’ll realize museum offers many opportunities for exploration. There is the permanent exhibition, featuring the intriguing and often immense oil paintings by Jun Sugimura himself, as well as special exhibitions that cover all sorts of artistic mediums.
An opportunity to experiment with kanshitsu while making something beautiful
One room in particular always catches my attention. A bright and inviting room with tables, lounge chairs and a world of art-related books. This is the museum’s workshop space. Visitors of all ages are invited to come take a break, relax, and make their own art.
I decided to take the museum up on their offer by participating in a dry-lacquer brooch workshop.
Lacquerware is an essential part of Japanese craft. A elegant lacquerware bowl, a pair of glossy lacquered chopsticks—these are quintessential elements of traditional Japanese aesthetics. From Buddhist statues to bento boxes, this traditional craft continues to have its own place in facets of Japanese culture, from spiritual to practical.
Kanshitsu (lit. “dry lacquer”) is a traditional lacquering technique in which a shape is formed out of hemp or linen cloth, and many layers of lacquer are applied to the cloth. Once dry, the lacquerware shape is removed from the mold. In ancient times, this technique was used to sculpt Buddhist statues.
Modern interpretations of the craft lie at the intersection of tradition and innovation. Kanshitsu gives us options—the ability to make and build things that are strong and light, yet still true to traditional Japanese craftsmanship. Anything from furniture to an eco-friendly substitute for fiber-reinforced plastic is possible.
The Shiogama Sugimura Jun Museum of Art had this in mind when conceptualizing ways to make lacquer craft accessible to visitors. Here, this intersection between old and new makes sense. The museum, with the objective of giving the public at large an opportunity to experiment with kanshitsu while making something beautiful, has started this brooch making workshop.
The personalized workshop experience
I watched as Abe-san carefully laid out all sorts of brooch samples, as well as small pieces of kanshitsu dry lacquer. I was intimidated by the workshop tools, but relieved to have her as my guide and workshop facilitator.
Abe-san is also the curator of the Shiogama Sugimura Jun Museum of Art, which to me as a workshop participant was not only an honour, but a great source of knowledge. After having everything laid out, she shared with me a piece of paper with simple instructions written in both English and Japanese. There are only three instructions, but if like me you find yourself needing some additional help, a facilitator will be there to assist you.
- Choose your brooch base.
- Design a pattern using pieces of kanshitsu.
- Paste the pieces of kanshitsu onto the base.
It took me some time to decide on a design. The museum offers some ideas, as their brooches are designed in series. You may choose to make a seasonal brooch, which is sure to be delightful as Japan has a lot to offer in this respect. You may also choose to make a brooch based on one of artist Jun Sugimura’s prominent motifs. Browsing the permanent exhibition, you might notice a lot of vivid depictions of fruits, especially pomegranates. The artist was so fascinated with this fruit, that his very last, unfinished painting features this motif!
Overall, the workshop takes about fifteen to thirty minutes, and is really centered on your own experience as a participant. You can freely pick and choose what colours and motifs you want to work with, change your mind as much as you like, and in the end, you get to keep your creation yourself as a one-of-a-kind memento.
Workshop for Dried Lacquer Brooch・
Hours: 10:00–17:00 (last entry 16:30)
Closed days: Mondays* and the New Year's holiday period (December 28–January 4)
*If Monday is a public holiday, the museum will be open Monday and closed the following day.
Languages: English OK
Fee (workshop): ¥1,500
Museum admission (required for participation in workshop): ¥200 adults, ¥100 college & high school students, children ages junior high & younger free
Reservations: Available, but not necessary. You can book one online in English if you like.
Time required for workshop: 15–30 minutes
Workshop details (English): sugimurajun.shiomo.jp
Location: Shiogama Sugimura Jun Museum of Art (塩釜市杉村惇美術館)
Access: 10-minute walk from Hon-Shiogama Station