‹ Past Exhibitions

Listening to Bamboo: Japanese Baskets from the Collection of Ritalou and Robert Harris

This exhibition from the collection of Ritalou Harris, Class of 1957, and Robert Harris features baskets from the Meiji era (1868–1912) to the present and includes works by anonymous craftsmen as well as contemporary masters, including bamboo artists honored with the designation of Living National Treasure.

An intimate, spiritual connection between artist and material characterizes the Japanese art of bamboo basketry, whether functional baskets made for use in ikebana (flower-arranging) or purely sculptural works. Due to its strength and resilience, bamboo has long been venerated as an emblem of the literati ideal in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese culture. The artists who made the baskets shown here underwent many years of rigorous training learning to gather, split, strip, and polish bamboo; only after mastering these preparatory steps would they be allowed to weave and plait baskets. This foundation in technique promotes such humility, discipline, and respect for bamboo that many artists describe the creative process as a dialogue, often attributing the outcome to the bamboo itself.

We are grateful to Ritalou and Robert Harris for generously sharing their prized baskets with our visitors and for the wonderful gift of a basket by Nagakura Kenichi to the Johnson Museum’s permanent collection.

Ellen Avril
Chief Curator and Curator of Asian Art