By: Denver Art Museum

The Japanese have woven bamboo into baskets, mats, and containers for thousands of years. Although the earliest woven articles are gone, their impressions are known from prehistoric archaeological sites. The tradition of weaving bamboo into a variety of objects continues to the present day, especially with baskets for flower arrangements. Contemporary artists both preserve the artistic skills of the past and develop new forms for their bamboo artistry.

The circular basket shown here features a cross pattern at its center, where the varying thickness of the bent bamboo strips helps create the image. The basket also utilizes contrasting colors of bamboo to create visual depth while highlighting its intricate surface. It was created by one of Japan’s greatest living artists, Hayakawa Shokosai V, the fifth master in a line of Osaka-based artists stretching back to the early 19th century. His works often possess multiple layers and intersecting patterns that blend delicacy with apparently solid structure.

Born in 1932, he studied under his father, the previous Hayakawa master, from the age of nineteen. He exhibited at his first solo exhibition in Osaka in 1965 and three years later became a full member of the Japan Traditional Crafts Exhibition. He succeeded his father as the current Hayakawa master in 1977, and in 2003 was named a National Living treasure by the Japanese government. This honor is given to only a small number of individuals for their unique skills in traditional Japanese arts. Hayakawa Shokosai V believes that his work is a reflection of his inner self, and is the result of a dialogue between himself and the bamboo he weaves.

Bamboo grows abundantly in Japan and was traditionally used for crafting utilitarian items. During the 1900s, mass produced utensils manufactured from synthetic materials began to replace bamboo buckets, brooms, boxes, and other everyday objects. However, these manufactured goods could never achieve the natural beauty of woven bamboo. The techniques of working with this versatile material have been passed down to the present day and appear in the works of Hayakawa Shokosai V and other inheritors of this tradition.

The Asian Art Department at the Denver Art Museum is currently featuring the works of these masters and their predecessors in an exhibition titled “Texture & Tradition: Japanese Woven Bamboo” in the Walter + Mona Lutz gallery on the 5th floor of the museum’s North Building. Over eighty pieces created by Japanese bamboo artists show the range of styles and techniques, colors and textures used in this artform. For more information on this exhibition and other events at the Denver Art Museum log onto www.denverartmuseum.org/asianart.​