These baskets are some of the finest bamboo craft work ever done – anywhere. They are to crafts what cut diamonds are to lesser jewels. Some of these baskets took a full year to construct. Each of the seventy-five featured baskets has its name and artist’s name, date, what kinds of bamboo were used, then a very illuminating paragraph with further information. Some of the objects aren’t actually baskets – there are shelves and sculptures and a box and a tobacco pouch. The most popular kind of bamboo for the baskets is madake with shichiku being a fairly common choice as well. Many of the baskets are made of more than one species of bamboo and the results are more complicated than words can describe. It’s truly hard to believe what can be done with sticks of bamboo. At one time, there were thousands of Japanese craftspeople creating baskets and more. Now there are about 100. This fine art is in danger of disappearing as a living craft. The publisher’s editorial staff has put together an extra section showing the techniques. Each fundamental technique is named, illustrated, and explained. So not only is the book inspiring, it also serves to help perpetuate the skill.
Both the introduction and history chapter give a very complete picture of where the art came from (China between 1200 to 1600) and when it started to become an independent Japanese style (the mid-1500’s to around 1700). During the Meiji period (1868 to 1912) the title of kagoshi began to be used to denote a master basket weaver.
Some baskets have photos from various angles and close-ups. Nothings is as good as really seeing one of these baskets (I’ll testify – see testimony below *) but these pictures come darn close. There are three very insightful interviews with artists and at the end of the book are a couple of fine essays and a biography for each artist. The interviews contain much valuable information such as when to harvest and what such factors as wind condition have on the bamboo cane.
* Seeing an exhibit of fine Japanese baskets is a life-changing experience. Over a decade ago I saw an exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and immediately called everyone I knew in the Bay Area. After those people had seen the exhibit, they each called me back, profusely thanking me for letting them know about it.
Kodansha International, (800) 451-7556, kodansha-intl.com, New York City, 2007, 978-4-7700-3062-7, 159 pages, color photographs, hardback, $45.00