Osaki Collection 2

Generations of Work
One of the most commonly used timbers for craftwork in Japan is zelkova (Zelkova serrate).  As a type of elm it is native to the southern part of Europe as well as in areas of southwestern and eastern Asia.  It can also be found in some parts of the United States where it has been planted for its ornamental qualities.

In Japan its wood is also used for building, not only for its structural strength but quite often to take advantage of its distinctive figuring.  The grain of this hardwood is, in fact, its signature, which is easily recognised in this plate made by Shoemon, the first of four generations of true lacquerware specialists working in Wajima under the name Osaki Shoemon.

This thinly turned plate was made from a piece of zelkova and finished using several applications of true lacquer.  It is applied with a spatula or brush and then the excess is wiped off before the piece is set aside to dry hard for at least 24 hours in controlled conditions before being sanded and coated further.  The grain is expressed as it is filled with lacquer and, in the case of this plate, the leaf motifs appear to have been painted on after the application of several coats of true lacquer.  It measures approximately 13cm across.

It dates from the latter half of the 19th century when the Osaki workshop was in its infancy.  Information about how it was made has, therefore, been handed down by word of mouth.  What is not known can be professionally guesstimated.

Measuring about 11cm in diameter and made about the same time, these two smaller plates are for individual portions of food.  If we were to use Western tableware nomenclature they could perhaps be called appetiser or dessert plates.  They are, however, for one-person servings of food and were thinly turned from pine, a timber which can be a little more problematic to finish with true lacquer than zelkova because of its resin.

The one on the left is decorated with what is loosely called Indian ink and signed with a red seal.  Sadly my reading of handwritten characters is not up to deciphering or translating what is written, and that is also true of the other plate.  The bold sweeps of the grain and the hand-painted work, however, would make an interesting accompaniment to any food that was placed on them.

The unpretentious, relaxed delivery and boldness of the design on this plate, too, is its accolade.  Yet another example of Shoemon’s work from the late 1800s, it would have found a place at a dining table and has been treasured ever since by three generations of the same family.  It has now found its place in a collection of lacquerware to inspire not only this generation of craftspeople but many who will follow.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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