The Japanese aesthetic of using natural forms in wood with minimal additions by the artist are some of the most beautiful objects in my collection. The one on the far left is a lidded box for tobacco that has signed & dated Kanji
The middle object is a root-wood Okinomo from the late 19th Century that the artist has added only a tiny bit of carving to make the snake head. The snake revered in Japanese culture was associated with medicinal rites and remedies. As a symbol of good luck, it was also though to bring good health and embodies regeneration, healing, and medicine.
The far right Burl-wood Okinimo is in the form of a gourd, in Japan, the gourd is often associated with divinity and is often found in many regional folk tales stemming from Taoist beliefs. Its curvaceous shape is commonly met with affection as a symbol of good luck, good health and prosperity.
These three objects placed together in any order bring a sense of wonder & joy.
In Zen philosophy there are seven aesthetic principles for achieving Wabi-Sabi as listed below;
Fukinsei (不均斉): asymmetry, irregularity;
Kanso (簡素): simplicity;
Koko (考古): basic, weathered;
Shizen (自然): without pretense, natural;
Yugen (幽玄): subtly profound grace, not obvious;
Datsuzoku (脱俗): unbounded by convention, free;
These three finely carved Neckrests from the Tufi area are called Gira Kukai in the local dialect and are an iconic object from this area. They were used by both Men & Women when sleeping so as not to disturb their finely coiffured hair styles.
The openwork geometric designs remind me of small architectural models.
They are quite unique in being different heights & widths and two of these have incised geometrical designs on the base.
One has to wonder if the person who was going to use the headrest requested a specific height or width for their maximum comfort just as when we shop for just the right pillow height.
All three of theses neckrests are well used and date from the late 19th to early 20th Century.
Provenance: Ex John Friede Collection NY
All of these finely carved and painted little figures appear to be made by one master carver.
They are in form of anthroprmorphic ancestors that represent a category of powerful ancestral beings called waken.
Small amulet figures like these were kept by men in small woven bags or even sometimes woven into their beards. They were used for magical purposes such as; love magic, controling the weather, hunting for wild pigs & cassowaries, to protect the owner and his family from melevonent sorcerers & the spirit world.
It is unkown were Mr Friede acquired these but its possible they were collected by Douglas Newton in New Guinea in the 1960’s.
Each of these old tobacco cases are beautiful forms with deep old patina from handling . The top right object in the photo is a round belt toggle made from burl wood & on the concave interior is a carved a lucky gourd where the string or rope would attach it to ones belt sash and robe. These tobacco cases are rare, in the 40 years of collecting I only found these 7 pieces. Every culture in the world makes small objects of beauty that are used and handled daily & admired by others. These tobacco cases are a great example of this, the simple elegant forms made from a beautiful type of wood that only looks better as it ages from use. I am sure there must be more information about these Tobacco Cases and their forms, if you know of any other information about them, please let me know.
The Portuguese introduced tobacco in Japan in the second half of the sixteenth century. The Japanese were particularly surprised to see the Portuguese smoking pipes and spitting out smoke and would have exclaimed “The Southern Barbarians have a fire in their belly!”
Tobacco was quickly adopted by the Japanese people by the end of the sixteenth century, the Kerisu or Smoking Pipes, were used as the only way to smoke tobacco in Japan and it they would remain that way for the next three centuries, until the Meiji Restoration (1868), when cigarettes arrived in Japan and became very popular.
The smoking implements needed to smoke while outside or travelling were a set consisting of a pouch to hold the tobacco called TONKOTSU and the Pipe or Kerisu & its holder. Tobacco pouches were usually beautifully decorated and with delicate metal clasps to close the pouch, they also had a Netsuke on the end of a small chain or string so as to tuck into the traditional sash called (Obi). Japanese robes did not have pockets & that is why their tobacco smoking sets were tucked into their sash.
A young Japanese woman lighting her Kiseru, by Th. Stevens (1886) (source : www.japanbiking.com)
The Edo period (1603-1868) that precedes the development of cigarettes in Japan was the heyday of Kiseru Pipes & Tobacco smoking paraphernalia. In the Edo period there was in the high society a ” Tobacco Ceremony” or ” The Way of Tobacco” (tabako-dō 烟草道), similar to the Japanese “Tea Ceremony” where rules of politeness and decorum were fixed and there were procedures or good manners to give and receive the Kiseru pipes when smoking with company. It became very fashionable to have a silver Kiseru and beautiful Tobacco Case and it was an essential fashion accessory for young people from rich houses.
There is even a Kiseru Festival that happens every year on the first Sunday of September in Ibaraki region. The “Kiseru Matsuri” Ceremony in which men carry a huge Kiseru Pipe up to three meters long associated with Shinto rituals. This festival is held every year on Mount Kaba-san, in Ishioka since 1954, after the tobacco crops in the area were “miraculously” saved from heavy hail. A massive 3.5-meter Kiseru made of bamboo and tin by the peasants was then given as an offering at the local Shinto shrine. Ten years later, in 1964, a magnificent Kiseru (see picture below) was crafted by the famous Murata factory who wanted to offer this symbolic Kiseru to the local deity before stopping the production of its famous Kiseru.
Some of the most beautiful small objects made in Japan were used for Tobacco Smoking. This fine collection made over 40 years and each of these Tobacco Sets were acquired because of their individual unique beauty, there is such variation from the most simple natural form burl wood containers to the elaborate carved wood examples with finely incised designs such as dragons.
2.6 meter long Murata Kiseru (Source : www.ishioka-kankou.com)
A collection of 36 Ceramic Figures (both human & animals forms) from the Sukhothai & Sawankhalok Area of NE Thailand , from 13th-14th Century.
The best known of all traditional Thai ceramics are those from Sukhothai and Sawankhalok. Sukhothai wares were generally treated with a creamy white slip and decorated in black with an opaque or greenish glaze. Examples of the wares can be found in many leading museums of the world. These beautiful figures are incised and often include animal shapes.
These are mostly from two from two historical collections in Australia put together in the 1950’s-1960’s
Shigaraki (信楽焼) is one of the areas of the six ancient kilns. Located near Kyoto and using a clay & glazes that were developed over centuries, the beautiful natural forms & drip glazes termed Wabi Sabi
Classic Japanese ceramics, which matured and flowered in the early shogunate period, are guided by the aesthetic of “wabi-sabi”.
This approach, which reflects the ideals of Zen Buddhism, embraces simplicity, naturalness, ageing, and irregularity. These effects were achieved with several techniques. Vessels were moulded manually, instead of being precisely shaped on a potter’s wheel. Baking was conducted at relatively low temperatures, thereby avoiding the glassy, polished look of high-temperature ceramics. Instead of being allowed to cool gradually, hot vessels were removed from the kiln and plunged into straw or water, causing such effects as warping, crackles, and distorted colours.
Spinning tops seem to be a type of object independently created by many world cultures used a kids toys.
With the Abelam people they are used both as kids toys but also as a ceremonial game that initiated men play with the winner thought to be the clan that will have the biggest ceremonial yams during that years harvest. The concave surface is decorated with various stylized and other geometric designs.
One of the major focuses of ceremonial life among the Abelam people of northeast New Guinea is the competitive growth and exchange of long yams. The Abelam cultivate two distinct categories of yams—a small variety used as ordinary food and long yams, massive tubers that can be as much as twelve feet long. A man’s social status is determined largely by his success in growing long yams. Each man has a permanent exchange partner to whom he ceremonially presents his largest yams following the annual harvest, later receiving those of his rival in return. Men who are consistently able to give their partners longer yams than they receive gain great prestige. Lavishly adorned for the presentation ceremony, the finest long yams are essentially transformed into human images, decorated in the manner of men in full ceremonial regalia. The “heads” of the enormous tubers are adorned with specially made yam masks such as this one, which are made exclusively for yams and are never worn by humans.
Similar tops used in a harvest ceremony are illustrated in fig. 48 in Margaret Mead’s book on the Abelam’s neighbours, the Mountain Arapesh.
Provenance: These lime spatulas collected over 40 years are from several important historical collections from the late 19th Century.
The utensils made for chewing betel nut are some of the most beautiful smaller scale carvings made in New Guinea. Lime Spatulas are usually carved from a dark native ebony hardwood with the finials usually depicting a stylized human ancestor figure in profile.
These six lime spatulas show the high quality of aesthetics that Massim Master Carvers could achieve working in this scale. After carving & polishing the artist would put white lime into the incised designs to highlight them.
Lime Spatulas were used for chewing betel nut by dipping the end into powdered lime (crushed & burnt sea shells) & licking it off as you put a Betel Nut from the Acacia Palm to chew together, the lime diffuses the alkaloids in the Acia Nuts. In the Massim Culture chewing of Betel Nut is a important daily ritual.. Betel Chewers would have a lime gourd & spatula for dipping into the lime, older men with poor teeth would also have a small mortar and pestle for crushing the nuts into a mush where easy to eat.
Many of the most beautiful Massim Lime Spatula were made by Master Carvers for use only by important Chiefly Persons. The motifs are part of the Massim belief system & spirituality
All six of these Lime Spatulas were kept by me over the last 40 years that I had been collecting them as they showed the great skill and imagination the carvers had. Number D has been identified by the world renown Massim Art Scholar Dr Harry Beran as “ THE MASTER OF THE CONCAVE BACK “
The 6 Spatulas Numbered A to F are for sale individually or as a collection, The other 12 Lime Spatulas 19th Century are sold as a collection.
Provenance: Collected during WWII by a USA Serviceman Stationed on Manus Islands
These four daggers with finely made obsidian blades and the handles are made wood covered by Parinarium Nut (putty nut).
Obsidian is a naturally occurring glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock from rapidly-frozen lava. The Bismarck Archipelago, off the north-east coast of Papua New Guinea, is a rich natural resource of obsidian; in particular, the islands of Lou and Manus in the Admiralties.
Obsidian has been used for projectile points since ancient times. This is due to its lack of crystal structure, which gives the blade edges an almost molecular thinness. Even today, well-crafted obsidian blades are used in medical surgery since their cutting edge is many times sharper and finer than that of even high-quality surgical steel scalpels.