- Museum number
- Object: Hirin gen'ei 碑林玄英 (Stela Forest in Winter)
Small chest with drawers made of maple wood finished in urushi lacquer, with metal lock.
- Production date
Diameter: 34 centimetres
Height: 17 centimetres
Width: 11 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Hirin Gen'ei (Stela Forest in Winter), 2013
By Suda Kenji (born 1954)
Suda Kenji believes that by opening the darawers of an objecy such as this, one can gaze into another world. He created his traditional interlocking chest (sashimono) without the use of nails or glue. Every part of the process, including making the metal lock and fittings, was done by him.
Based in the heavily wooded area of Gunma Prefecture, Suda is the fifth generation in his faily tofollow ancient Japanese woodworking traditions.
He was designated a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government one year after this work was created.
Maple wood finished in urushi (lacquer) with metal lock
Purchace funded by the JTI Japanese Acquisition Fund
(Label copy, 2017)
The main woodwork technique employed by Suda Kenji is called ‘sashimono’, the Japanese traditional technique employed to create boxes and furniture. The first step is to cut pieces of wood accurately, taking the wood grain patterns of each piece into account. Then, wood is planed or carved away to create protrusions or indentations that act as joints, which are fit together at right angles to make items such as boxes. Traditional Japanese wood joinery is done without using nails or any other metal hardware and without adhesive.
In the kōgei (craft) field, Japanese have had a particular interest in boxes since ancient times. Suda said the boxes were designed to store objects but utility was not their main objective. For him, the space within the box is a source of mystery, a box is capable of shutting off a section of space, and so to open the lid is to gaze into the world. He has been fascinated by this concept of the box and produced many examples while also making other daily use items from wood.
In this example, he chose maple wood as the main material, which has a highly decorative grain. The outside of the box is lacquered with black urushi, by which he feels represent the image of a group of stelas standing in the cold winter, as the title of the object reveals. In contrast, he leaves the original pale colour of the wood for the inside of the box. Another important aspect of the box is the metal lock attached on the anterior surface. This specific form of lock is called ebijō (shrimp lock) which forms an arch like a shrimp. It is the oldest extant type of lock found in Japan with examples in the Shōsō-in, the treasure house of Tōdai-ji, Nara dating to the mid 8th century. In autumn of 2012, Suda had the rare opportunity to personally examine some of the treasures in Shōsō-in, which in turn inspired him to make this work. He also employed a heart shape for the metal base of the lock based in the form of the iron pendants created for horse decoration in Kofun period, which are presented in the BM’s Gowland collection.
Suda said, ‘while I give due consideration to the function of boxes as containers, that is not my only consideration when making them; I also focus on decoration, appearance and texture- kogei works need to be fondled to be fully appreciated’. This is not only an incredibly beautiful box, rather it was made with the highest levels of precision and craftsmanship resonating with historical precedent but very much a creation by the artist himself. (NT, 2015)
- On display (G94/dc14/sG)
- Exhibition history
2016 Apr–, London, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
- Acquisition date
- Registration number