Baby Spoons Compleated

Over the past four weeks I have been featuring the baby spoons which were made by members of the Wajima Lacquer Study Group—Wajima Urushi Tanteidan.  The making of these spoons was part of a project to boost morale and enthusiasm in the community after the earthquake of 2007.

Some of the spoons are clearly functional whereas others are clearly commemorative—that is their function while they also act as a talisman of good luck, health and happiness.  As such they are a piece of memorabilia to be cherished in the years to come by both child and parents.

A few of the spoons in this lacquerware collection were made and decorated by the person who is named.  Most, however, were designed and then made by specialists.  In the case of lacquerware this is common.

Think of the “art works” of Damien Hirst.  He is a “commissioning artist” or “designer”.  Although he may understand the mechanics of what he commissions, it is unlikely that he actually possesses the skills to make such things as the famous diamond studded skull.

This approach is particularly true of much of the work produced in Wajima.  The services of a specialist can be called upon at every stage.  The designers do, nevertheless, have a grounding in true lacquerwork and know this mercurial material’s strengths and weaknesses.

The baby spoons themselves are roughly equivalent to a Christian spoon.  These are given by family members when a baby is baptised into the church.  The spoon might be engraved with the date of the Christening and are made of silver or are silver platted.  They tend to be rather simple.  Some people may commission a spoon.  These days that would be a rare occurrence.

Many of the spoons in the collection could not have been made were it not possible to draw upon the skill of a specialist to realise what the “designer” wanted.  “Designer” and “artisan” are symbionts, each reliant on the other and willing to draw on each other’s strengths.  There is a bond of mutual respect.

In a sense this highlights one of the strengths and weaknesses of Wajima lacquerware.  This is true, too, of the other traditional crafts that exist in Japan today—I have said as much elsewhere in this blog.  There is an abundance of skills but in many cases a shortfall in design ability.  Saying that is, I believe, a challenge for both designer and artisan.  There are many ways to work together.  The opportunity to do a piece of work is what is needed.  The Baby Spoon project was just such a golden opportunity.

All photographs courtesy of the Wajima Urushi Tanteidan—The Wajima Lacquer Study Group

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