Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan
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EDITORIAL REVIEWS


Reviewed in

Independent Review

Date: November 2005

Reviewed by:

Martha Drexler Lynn Ph.D., former associate curator of decorative arts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the author of many books on twentieth-century decorative arts.

Michael Evans and Robert Wolf,  Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan, a Visual Exploration (Vermillion Press: Carmel, California, 2005)

Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan, a Visual Exploration by Michael Evans and Robert Wolf is a visually exciting and intellectually engaging exploration of a charming aspect of Japanese folk art called Kokeshi. Kokeshi are a traditional wooden (lathe or hand-carved) doll that appeared in the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century as a toy, and later became tourist wares. Formally, they are abstracted anthropomorphic figures (either elongated and elegant, or squat and sweet) and as toys-cum-tourist treasures, they showcase the Japanese talent for nuanced decoration, paired with graphic rendering of human characteristics – all accomplished with a delightful economy of means. Conforming to conventions of shape and content  - with sparks of innovation present in the more contemporary work - these beguiling toys have not received the academic attention they deserve and this dazzling book is the first in English to provide systematic information, as well as an informative (and stunning) visual record.

As often happens with new areas of scholarship, the critical early steps are taken by dealers who know the material first-hand. This is the case here. Gathering from sources both antidotal and documented, the authors position the history of Kokeshi as folk art manifestations and cultural artifacts. With over 400 artists currently working in the field, the authors state that “[a]s supporter[s] of traditional folk crafts and arts, our aim in producing this book has been to transmit faithfully not only the visual beauty of the Kokeshi doll, but to add to their historical base and origins, and to also impart a little of the importance of keeping alive the tradition involved in folk arts.” Underpinning this preservation of folk traditions is a text that describes specific doll types in detail, while informing the reader of relevant cultural history, including the traditional use of Kokeshi to embody folkloric characters; for example, describing the Oshin’s (babysitter) figure and its place within the Japanese rural culture. Such tidbits enrich understanding and hint at the larger importance of Kokeshi as cultural expression and marker.

Authors Evans and Wolf are long-time devotees of Japanese culture  and their twice yearly trips to secure wares for their shop have paid off in their hands-on experience of Kokeshi. Inspired by their love of the form, the book illustrates the wide variety of dolls, roughly categorized as either dento (representing traditional style) and sosaku (encompassing the creative), along with their multiple sub-categories. Details such as the woods used (mizuki, birch, cedar, cherry, maple, elm, camellia), fabrication methodologies, and decorative schemes are highlighted. Threaded throughout the text are oversized photographic images of individual Kokeshi, often with the marks of the makers incorporated into the design. This links visual information to content while honing the connoisseur’s eye.

A note should be made about the sensitive and intelligent design by Ann Gallenson of A Charles Design, Inc. Vivid red paper with white text serves as the cover, followed by two semi-transparent sheets that screen the modest and beguiling Osono Kokeshi (female dancer) who gazes out from the title page. As a delicious nuance, her profile is graphically rendered on the backcover, suggesting a Japanese kanji (calligraphic stroke) or even a string of folded paper. The overall format of the book is elegantly elongated, as the dolls are, with nuances of design that turn, for example, the recording of marks (of interest to any scholar) into a design feature on each page. Lavishly illustrated with over 300 images of Kokeshi, each element honors the work and captures the inherent winsomeness of Kokeshi dolls.

Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan, a Visual Exploration offers both a beautiful object in its own right  and a clarifying history of the dolls, leavened with nuances of cultural history and custom. For the general reader the book offers many delights, and for the specialist collector of Kokeshi, the images and marks will aid them for years to come.


Reviewed in

Independent Review

Date: April 2005

Reviewed by:

Melia Childress, Media Salad

This gorgeous new book - the only one on the subject in English and in print - captures the charm of these wooden treasures with 224 full color plates of the very best examples of both traditional and creative Kokeshi dolls from all regions of Japan. The cover is unusual and has the look and feel of hand-crafted binding. Size: 6 9/16” x 11” x 3/4”. Condition: New. ISBN: 0975957007. Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan, is a modern exploration of a folk craft two centuries old. This timely publication reflects both the growing interest in Japan and Japanese culture in the West, and the rediscovery of folk art, traditional crafts and culturally unique handmade objects. Beyond simple visual charm, the book presents an entirely new way of appreciating Kokeshi. By exploring the variety, diversity, and historical uniqueness of Kokeshi, the dolls become - beyond a delight to the eye - an important representation of a culturally rich and creative society. Familiar examples along with rare and lesser-known dolls are presented according to traditional or creative association. Special attention is given to dolls of the ten traditional Kokeshi families, as well as creative dolls depicting popular folk legends and figures. Kokeshi by representative artists, and regional and religious dolls are also included. To complete this publication, artists’ marks, signatures and places of origin are illustrated. This book is an essential reference for the serious collector, and a fascinating education for anyone interested in folk dolls, traditional arts, or Japanese culture.



CUSTOMER REVIEWS


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Reviewed on ebay

 

Date: May 2005

Reviewed by:

Makiko K.

It is just fascinating to me to know more about Kokeshi. I am overjoyed that someone took the time to publish a book of Kokeshi (so beautiful, too) and I am having a difficult time to find any information about these Kokeshi artists. I really respect and appreciate the volume of information you have presented in your book.


Reviewed on ebay

 

Date: May 2005

Reviewed by:

I go to extreme length to find excellent publication on dolls and thank you for producing a wonderful reference.


Reviewed on ebay

 

Date: May 2005

Reviewed by:

My father has been collecting Kokeshi since the 1930's and has never found a publication as complete and informative as this book.


Reviewed on ebay

 

Date: May 2005

Reviewed by:

This is a museum quality collection, beautifully presented with signatures.


Reviewed on ebay

 

Date: May 2005

Reviewed by:

I never knew what I was collecting until a friend presented me with this exciting book. I take my book to every flea market.


Reviewed on ebay

 

Date: April 2005

Reviewed by:

Robert Sensei, thank you very much for your effort to represent the Japanese culture in an authentic and culturally sensitive way.