Friday, December 19, 2008

Netsuke: Wisteria Woman

One of my favorite things to collect and view are the tiny Japanese-carved toggles (often made of ivory, though I like the hardwood ones) called netsuke, that are part of a system designed to hold small carved inro (kind of like pocketbooks) onto the belts (obi) of a Japanese samuri's robe. Here is an example of one, an intricately carved representation of a Japanese woman (possibly a geisha, though more likely just a beautifully clad lady). Remember that these carvings are often only about an inch tall, they have to be able to stand on their own, and have two small holes (usually) through which a strand of silk rope should pass when they are in use. Many are as old as the 17th century, though there are many very good carvers still today throughout the world. They can be quite expensive, even the modern ones. I do support the ban on newly carved ivory. A lot of these tiny pieces were brought to America after they were sold or traded to American servicemen during the occupation of Japan at the end of World War II. Sometimes you cna still find them at small shops in the backcountry or at a garage sale, though seldom anymore. You also have to be careful now, because as they became more recognized as a collectible and pricey, fakes started popping up (as well as really poorly made knock-offs). It takes time to get used to recognizing a good, authentic patina. I still remember with much joy, after I took some of my netsukes to a Japanese language teacher to read the signatures on the bottoms, whne he pulled one aside and said, "I can't read this one. . .this is really old Japanese." My mother had discovered it in a little shop off the Appalachian trail and purchased it just because she likes it, and when I was telling her about this new collecting craze of mine, she said, "You know, I think I have one of those." And she fished it out of her jewelry box. I was stunned. A few years later she gave it to me as a Christmas present. Just another way I remember my mom.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful item to collect! This post made me smile.