japonisme: japonisme & buddhism • part I

03 March 2009

japonisme & buddhism • part I

and i begin again, but this series will wrap itself inextricably with the previous, a story of wright, and dow, and fenollosa, and, well, we'll see where it leads us. i see there has been far too little about fenollosa up to now, other than this, which is important, so i'll be remedying that. let's start building the connections....

"In 1871, as the infant Wright was already constructing with colored blocks, Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern, starting the Great Chicago Fire that destroyed the city. When young draughtsman Wright arrived in 1887, Chicago was the booming de facto capitol of America's west. Chicago needed to rebuild and had the money to do it. The city was a 'perfect storm' of architectural thought and development.

"On his fourth day looking for work, surviving (he claimed) on ten cents worth of bananas, Wright found work in the office of Joseph Lyman Silsbee, one of Chicago's most respected architects. In a contemporary photo of Silsbee's living room a 'kakemono' painting hangs by the hearth. This may have been Wright's first exposure to Japanese art.

Even more fateful, Ernest Francisco Fenollosa, America's foremost expert on Japanese art, decorated by the Emperor Meiji himself, was Silsbee's cousin. Fenollosa stayed with Silsbee on trips home. At some point Wright met Fenollosa, later recalling:

"'When I first saw a fine print it was an intoxicating thing. At that time Ernest Fenollosa was doing his best to persuade the Japanese people not to wantonly destroy their works of art.... On one of his journeys home he brought many beautiful prints, those I made mine were the narrow tall decorative form hashirakake -- these I appreciate today more than I did then.'

"Those 'hashirakake' turned Wright's thoughts eastward forever. 'The first prints had a large share I am sure in vulgarizing the Renaissance for me.'

"Wright soaked up Fenellosa's lectures on Japanese art and architecture: harmony with nature, simplification, honest use of materials, and minimal decoration. Wright wrote on Japanese houses, '... all ornament, as we call it, they get out of the way the necessary things are done or by bringing out or polishing the beauty of the simple materials used in making the building." 1

(in the following paragraph there is a link to a video of a garden; you think it will be too long, and then you'll beg it not to end.)

"When Wright went to Japan, he visited Shikoku, Nagoya and Kyoto. Wright declared the Shugakuin, a seventeenth-century imperial stroll garden in north Kyoto, as the world's greatest work of art. "All that was like an open book to me," he recalled of the garden's design, "and I knew how to read it. I could read every word in it.... It was a great educational experience." 1

1. Burbank, Jon. "Frank Lloyd Wright's Japanese legacy." World and I April 2006

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Anonymous harlequinpan said...

Great! Great!

For me, "Japonisme" is always a great blog for educational experience.

07 March, 2009 01:21  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

i am so grateful that it pleases you, harlequinpan! i think it's the architect in you that responds to this one :^)

07 March, 2009 16:40  

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