Presented by Los Angeles Toy, Doll & Amusements Museum (LATDA)
in collaboration with the Japanese American National Museum
(visit JANM site for more info)

Casting a fresh eye on the iconic and ubiquitous Japanese folk toy, KOKESHI is organized into three sections. First up: an overview of tradition, exploring the origins and history of the iconic folk toys known as kokeshi. On display will be over 200 breathtaking examples of traditional kokeshi dolls from the extensive collection of Itske and Anthony Stern.

The second section of the exhibition stands in brilliant contrast to traditional kokeshi, showcasing the work of eleven contemporary artists who produce interpretations inspired by -- and which pay homage to -- these humble dolls. Working in disparate media, this center part of the exhibition will convince you that the appeal of the simple kokeshi form has grown stronger in direct proportion to the dynamism of the personal interpretation. Artists include: Nicole DeLeon, Alexandra Gjurasic, Sachiho Hino Lee, Margaret Kasahara, Emi Motokawa, Joji Okazaki, David and Kazumi Kobayashi Svenson, Phoebe Washer, James Watts and Kathy Yoshihara.

The third component of the the exhibition is Custom Kokeshi 2009, demonstrating beyond a doubt that, even without arms, the reach of kokeshi has extended deeply into the cutting edge world of the art toy. Curated by Christina Conway in a lively reprise of her hit 2007 show in San Diego, this section presents a thoroughly eclectic display of all new work. Over 100 well-known international contemporary artists demonstrate the breadth of their artistic inspiration and the malleability of form and concept, and all based on the same simple kokeshi form each was given. These original artworks will be offered for sale through the Japanese American National Museum Store.

 

 


 

 

KOKESHI: FROM FOLK ART TO ART TOY
Sketches of the eleven featured artists

Nicole DeLeon (Los Angeles, CA) DeLeon has a personal passion for the art and design of Japan, and as principal designer for Alexander Henry Fabrics, she has incorporated many elements of Japanese designs into her textile patterns. As a collector of kokeshi, she was drawn to their diversity as a vehicle to create patterns with Japanese cultural appeal. Her kokeshi fabric has been made into clothing and accessories that have increased awareness and interest in kokeshi worldwide.

Alexandra Gjurasic (Albuquerque, NM)
Rather than exploiting the similarities of mass-produced objects, Gjurasic emphasizes the variety and richness in multitude through her kokeshi inspired paintings and collages. Gjurasic’s mother grew up in Japan playing with, collecting, and coveting kokeshi dolls. For the artist, the dolls became symbols of her own inner world where fertility, conception, pregnancy, birth and transitioning into motherhood were all themes within her work.

Sachiho Hino Lee (Los Angeles, CA)
As a freelance designer for the clothing and accessory line Spicy Brown, Lee created a signature line of kokeshi designs for t-shirts and bags. Her choice of kokeshi as characters within her designs marries her cultural background with her experience as a designer for Sanrio. Her graphic treatment approach to kokeshi is multi-cultural and has created a global appeal for kokeshi.

Margaret Kasahara (Colorado Springs, CO)
A nisei born in New York City and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Kasahara has been using kokeshi in her work since 2002. To the artist, kokeshi represent self-portraiture or serve as a stand-in for Japanese or Asian women in general. Her paintings are explorations of identity, where memory, autobiographical experiences and observations combine to create personal abstract narratives.

Emi Motokawa (Los Angeles, CA)
In the spirit of kokeshi artisans of the past, Motokawa designs and mass-produces her own line of original kokeshi. She calls her creations “Krokeshi” (a play on crocheted kokeshi), which possess the tactile appeal of soft stuffed toys and belie their Japanese forebears turned out of hard, unyielding wood. Her natural artistic instincts and superb technique led her to push the boundaries of scale in her work, to great effect.

Joji Okazaki (Los Angeles, CA)
Okazaki, originally from Kanagawa, Japan, has worked as an artist and designer in the U.S. since 1993, and is the maker of Lounge Family art toys. Okazaki, a former magazine designer and illustrator, conceived of his Swing Heads characters when he noticed a lack of kokeshi in modern American and Japanese homes. In his recent work he has created characters using lathe-turned wood (echoing kokeshi manufacture of old), but his painting and use of color is pure 21st century art toy genre.

David and Kazumi Kobayashi Svenson (Wrightwood, CA)
Although David Svenson is best known for his work in glass and neon, his roots are deep in the tradition of wood sculpture. His father is a renowned Claremont woodcarver, and since 1969, David has taught woodcarving techniques in the Tlingit tradition. He has always had an interest in the classic form of kokeshi dolls, but made his first kokeshi out of glass, using turning techniques that echo the lathe work of traditional kokeshi artisans. Kazumi Kobayashi Svenson is from Sendai, Japan, and shares David’s love of kokeshi. Kazumi, a neon artist and teacher, has been using lampwork techniques to produce colorful kokeshi jewelry. In addition to their careers as artists, the Svensons are also collectors of traditional kokeshi.

Phoebe Washer (Petaluma, CA)
The youngest of the eleven artists, Washer began creating her own brand of contemporary kokeshi, combining both her painting style with objects that she grew up admiring in a family friend’s Japanese art collection. Her life and career tragically ended at age 20, but not before she took large strides in developing a personal artistic exploration of kokeshi. At the time of her death, she had been mentoring a young child in kokeshi-making; that child has continued to make kokeshi on her own and recently had her own show at a gallery in Northern California – a sign that the continuum of kokeshi-making, as of life, proceeds unabated.

James Watts (San Diego, CA)
A self-taught artist raised in National City, CA, his family was the only Japanese household in a Hispanic neighborhood where the Japanese Christian Church provided the only source of Japanese culture. Watts creates paintings and sculptures that emphasize the retelling of stories and myths from around the world. His kokeshi series started in 1995 as an homage to his Japanese mother; his first kokeshi grouping represented his immediate family of brothers and sisters. For this exhibition he has created kokeshi representing his children. The figures are a mixture of images and color that represent influences of multiple cultures on his family.

Kathy Yoshihara (Pasadena, CA)
A mixed media artist, with a background in graphic design, Yoshihara studied painting, sculpture, graphic arts at the University of California, Los Angeles. In a singular twist of fate, a large purchase of gourds inspired her to incorporate them into her ceramic work. To the artist, the gourds suggested heads; the results were an ongoing series of kokeshi... an organic outgrowth of Yoshihara’s own cultural heritage.


 

 

 

CUSTOM KOKESHI 2009, CURATED BY CHRISTINA CONWAY
Participating Artists

Adolie Day
Aline Yamada
Allison Sommers
Amy Huddleston
Amy Paul
Amy Ruppel
Amy Sol
Ande Cook
Andrea Innocent (Innocentgirl)
Annie Wilkinson
APAK
Bailey Saliwanchik
Betsy Walton
Brigitte Coovert
Bubi Au Yeung
Caia Koopman
Calef Brown
Camilla D'errico
Camilla Engman
Catherine Brooks
Cathie Bleck
Celëne
Christina Conway
Chun Eun Il
CJ Metzger
Crockett Bodelson/Sandra Wang
Dacosta!
Dan May
Danamarie Hosler
David Horvath
Edwin Ushiro
egg scissors
Eliza Frye
Eveline Tarunadjaja


Ferris Plock
Florence Pacho
Fontaine Anderson
Gustavo Aimar
Harmony Gong
Hine Mizushima
Jacqueline Myers-Cho
Jaime Zollars (paper forest)
Jason Levesque (Stuntkid)
Jason Limon
Jen Lobo
Jeni Yang
Jenn Playford
Jenn Porreca
Jennifer Davis
Jeremiah Ketner
Jody Hewgill
Joel Nakamura
Johnny Yanok
Julie West
Kathleen Lolley
Kelly Tunstall
Kelly Vivanco
Ken Garduno
Kent Williams
Kozyndan
Kris Chau
Krista Huot
Kristin Elder-Kwan
Kukula
Laura Laine
Lilly Piri
Liza Corbett
Lorena Alvarez


Lou Pimentel
Macoe
Mar Hernández (Malota)
Marcos Chin
Mari Inukai
Meredith Dittmar
Michelle White
Mike Rivamonte
Miss Mindy
N.C. Winters
Nassyrova Dilka
Noferin (Nicho & Candy)
Paola Zakimi
PCP/Heisuke Kitazawa
Pietari Posti
Pilar Berrio
Poketo x Busc
Raquel Aparicio
Red Nose Studio
Samuel Ribeyron
Sandi Calistro
Sandra Equihua
Sayaka
Stella Im Hultberg
Sterling Hundley
Sun-Min Kim
Tado (Mike & Katie)
Tara McPherson
Tessar Lo
Timothy Karpinski
Toshiyuki Fukuda
Travis Louie
Yellana James
Yoskay Yamamoto