Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala Coming Next Week!

August 31, 2012

As you’ve hopefully seen on our website (or Facebook or Twitter) Pacific Asia Museum is excited to host a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks next week as they create a sand mandala. They’ll have an opening Blessing Ceremony on Wednesday, September 5 at 10:30 a.m. and then begin working on the intricate artwork through Sunday, September 9. On that Sunday, we’ll be free all day and host the Dissolution Ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Both ceremonies include chanting and music as the monks bless the Changing Exhibition Gallery where they’ll work. During the Dissolution Ceremony, the monks will sweep away the mandala and distribute the sand to everyone present.

A 18th century Tibetan dorje from the Pacific Asia Museum collection.

The mandala is a traditional Tibetan Buddhist art form that involves the careful placement of colored sand in a design that references the world in its divine form, a path for the mind to reach enlightenment, and balance. But before the monks begin creating the mandala, they first hold a Blessing Ceremony that includes chanting, mantras and music to invoke Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion.  During the ceremony, the monks will use two traditional objects: a bell and a dorje (in Tibetan) or vajra (in Sanskrit). The bell is traditionally held in the left hand and symbolizes the female and wisdom, while the dorje is held in the right and symbolizes the male and the “thunderbolt of enlightenment.” These implements are also common motifs throughout South and East Asian art– look for them within our galleries on your next visit!

After the Blessing Ceremony the monks will begin creating the mandala. This intricate design is extremely labor-intensive, and up to four monks at a time will work for five days. To see the progress of a previous mandala created at Pacific Asia Museum, check out this Flickr album from last year and these YouTube videos showing how the monks “draw” with the sand. Using a bronze funnel-like instrument called a chakpur and a bronze wand, the monks release a fine stream of sand by moving the wand across the grooves of the chakpur. The finished mandala will be about four feet across.

Don’t miss this great opportunity to see this beautiful artwork created in our galleries. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates, pictures and video, and watch the blog for another story next week!~CM

Image: Dorje, Tibet, c. 1700, Bronze, Gift of Alyce and T.J. Smith, 1997.66.153.


The Art of Korean Lacquer

August 23, 2012

The Korean art of najeon is just one of the beautiful traditions we’re exploring in our upcoming Korean Gallery. This traditional art of mother-of-pearl inlay on lacquerware takes a great amount of skill–  a single piece requires woodwork, metalwork and lacquer techniques as well as mother-of-pearl carving and inlay. Read on for the history and techniques associated with this art form, as well as an upcoming opportunity to try it yourself!

Lacquer is an important art form in Korea, and throughout Asia. Evidence suggests that lacquer works were produced in Korea by the Neolithic period (6000–1000 BCE) as both China and Japan had lacquer by that time. Lacquerware is produced by layering the processed sap of the lacquer tree onto a core of wood, bamboo or other material to create a variety of items including furniture and other household decor. Each thin layer must dry completely before the next is applied, resulting in resistance to heat and moisture. Pigments can be mixed into the lacquer for different colors in the finished product. Because of the many layers involved and long drying times, a single piece can take months or even a year to complete.

The technique of mother-of-pearl inlay (najeon) also originated in China, and evidence suggests that the technique had reached the Korean peninsula by the eighth century. Today, this is a dominant feature of Korean lacquerware. In this technique, the thin inner layer of shells like abalone are carefully cut and inlaid on the lacquerware. Sometimes the design will be laid on top of the many base coats of lacquer and coated until submerged. Then, the top layer of lacquer is ground down until the mother-of-pearl is exposed. Alternatively, the design is carved into the surface and the material inset, and again more lacquer is applied and ground down. Occasionally other materials such as metal, tortoise shell or sharkskin, are used alongside the mother-of-pearl. Artisans in the Goryeo period (936–1392 CE) began using copper-alloy wires in their inlay designs, and this has remained unique to Korean lacquerware. Usually, only visible surfaces of a work are decorated– the inside of a box, for example, is usually not inlaid.

During the Goryeo period, lacquerware was prized among the elites and was mostly produced in connection with Buddhist practices. Production was monopolized by the imperial workshop during this time, but during the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910 CE) lacquer became more accessible and applied to secular objects as Buddhist influence weakened.  The expansion of najeon use also saw new design motifs including auspicious plants, animals and mythological figures (for more on these motifs, check out our previous post on last year’s exhibition Auspicious Beauty: Korean Folk Painting). 

There are still many Korean artisans who create najeon today, and we’re hosting one of them on September 26 for a full-day workshop. Master artist Myung-Che Jung, an Intangible Cultural Property of Seoul, will give an illustrated overview of the art of najeon and conduct a live demonstration. Following dosirak (Korean box lunch), guests will have the unique opportunity to create their own najeon object in a hands-on workshop. More information is available on our website— don’t miss this chance to try this beautiful traditional art for yourself! ~CM

Workin’ in the Garden

August 9, 2012

As our curatorial team is hard at work renovating the new Korean Gallery, another group of staff and volunteers are also restoring and maintaining our courtyard. For several months a dedicated group of staff, trustees, docents and volunteers have done weekly gardening maintenance and are working toward a comprehensive knowledge of the various plants and other features of our courtyard. In addition, restoration of the roundel, the beautiful doors and other features has been a top priority.

Seed pod on our camellia japonica

As this group does the essential work of keeping our garden in good shape, they’re also learning. With the help of guest experts from local gardens and nurseries, they hope to identify every plant and research its cultural connections. For example, after identifying the camellia japonica, the group found that the seed pods of the tree have historically been ground up and applied to the face as a beauty treatment in Japan. Today, essential oils and other extracts from the plant are still used in beauty products. Learning not only about the plants but also their cultural significance will help the museum share even more about Asian culture with our visitors.

Wood exposed as Mike restores the doors

We’ve also brought in specialists to return our big blue doors at the entrance to the courtyard to their former glory. Longtime supporters Robert and Susan Bishop have generously funded the effort to inspect and restore these “Doors to Education.” Made of wood and wrapped in tin, the doors are original to the building (built in 1926!) and have weathered quite a bit. To prevent the wood from rotting, our specialist Mike had to expose it first– he cut through the tin and pulled it off to apply a resin to the wood itself. He then fitted a new sheet of tin onto the door and painted it over to match the original color. There’s still more work to be done on the opposite door and on the iron metalwork, but we’re taking great steps to preserve our building for future generations.

Interested in learning more? We can always use more volunteers Tuesday morning when our gardening group meets to maintain the grounds and do research. Contact Sunny Stevenson, our Volunteer Coordinator at 626-449-2742 x 30 and get involved! ~CM

More Japanese legends in ukiyo-e

August 2, 2012

Last time, we told you about the Kintaro legend seen in both our Gajin Fujita and Yoshitoshi exhibitions. But given the wealth of stories in the Yoshitoshi exhibition, we didn’t want to stop there! Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s woodblock prints frequently drew on ghost stories and legends to create dyanamic and often terrifying images that would have called to mind well-known stories of his time.

This print is that of Kiyohime, and is part of a series Yoshitoshi entitled One Hundred Tales of China and Japan. This name references a popular game in the late Edo period (1615-1868) when a group would sit in a room with one hundred oil lamps. Each would take turns telling (usually scary) stories, and after each tale a lamp would be blown out. The room would get darker with each tale, and after the hundredth story the room would be completely dark, and ghosts and demons were said to appear. Kiyohime’s legend was perfect for this game–obsessed with a Buddhist monk named Anchin who rebuffed her advances, Kiyohime attempted to follow him to his monastery. Upon coming to the Hidaka River, she was unable to cross and became so enraged that she transformed herself into a serpent. She then swam across the river, and we see her in this piece emerging from the water. Yoshitoshi was particularly skilled in creating textile patterns, and you can see the suggestion of scales in Kiyohime’s garment. This wasn’t the only print of Kiyohime that Yoshitoshi made; a second work dated 1890 (25 years after the top image) is also in our exhibition.

Yoshitoshi also turned to legendary battles for inspiration. This work shows the encounter between Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Mushashibo Benkei on the Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. Both of these figures were real people living in the mid- to late-12th century. As the story goes, one night the warrior monk Benkei attacked the teenage Yoshitsune to steal the tip of his sword– Benkei needed 1,000 sword tips to create a weapon that would make him invincible. But Yoshitsune would not be beaten and Benkei was forced to concede defeat. Benkei became Yoshitsune’s loyal retainer, and eventually died defending him.

There are so many stories within this exhibition, and it’s only at Pacific Asia Museum through August 12! Make sure to come and take advantage of the detailed labels and our audio tour to get the most out of your visit. ~CM