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A S E N S E I A N D H I S S T U D E N T S :
B A B A S H O D O , F U J I T S U K A S H O S E IA N D YA K O H O D O
BABA SHODO (19251996), a pioneer of sculptural bamboo art,remains unknown outside Japan. I also knew nothing about Mr. Baba
until January of 2001 when Yako Hodo took Robert Coffland and me
to meet Baba Kazuharu, the artists son. As soon as we entered Baba
Kazuharus home, we encountered Babas eight-foot-tall blazing fire
sculpture. I was impressed by its size and moved by its visual power.
A portrait of Baba hanging in his sons living room showed the artist
stitching his work while holding a fine, long strip of bamboo between
his teeth, his facial expression revealing the confidence and determi-
nation of a samurai warrior.
Baba was the second son of a farming family living near the city
of Niigata. He served in the Imperial Navy during World War II and
returned home disabled. He studied basket making under Kosuge
Shochikudo, Nakajima Hoso, and Okada Setsuya before appren-
ticing with Hayashi Shogetsusai. His first important sculptural work
was made for a local art exhibition in 1956 (pages 10 11), the
same year Shono Shounsai made his famous Doto (Surging Waves).
Beginning in 1961, Baba showed many sculptural works in Nitten
exhibitions. By the late 1980s, he was semi-retired and teaching hob-
byists. He resumed his artistic career in 1993 and this time began
exhibiting in the Traditional Craft Arts Association.
Yako Hodo and Fujitsuka Shosei, Babas two most important
students, were inspired by Babas free spirit and encouraging nature.
When they talk about Baba, it is with reverence and warmth.
Fujitsuka Shosei Proportion, 1988, 7 x 5 1/2 x 141/2 inches (left)
Cover: Baba Shodo Mountain, 1993, 10 1/2 x 81/4 x 141/2 inches
I had four masters during the 15 years I trained in my art, but
Baba was the strongest influence, Yako says. Baba always respect-
ed his students personal visions. When Yako encountered technical
problems making exhibition pieces, he felt free to consult his teacher
who always urged him to follow his instincts. Make your own art,
Baba often said. Dont be influenced by what other people say.
Baba limited his instruction to technical and practical advice. He
might tell a student to enlarge an area so he could fit his hand inside
an artwork and gain more control over the form. But he never told
a student what form to make.
Everything I know and do in bamboo art, I learned from my
master, Baba, says Fujitsuka. Even though Fujitsuka had no previous
experience in bamboo art, Baba encouraged him to make his first
exhibition piece just six months after he began his studies. Fujitsuka
recalls Baba saying, Learning many techniques can limit your imagi-
nation and creativity. You know nothing of techniques now so you
can be very creative. Fujitsuka made a parallel-construction design,
heeding his teachers advice to look to the design itself for guidance.
His very first piece was admitted to the Kanagawa Prefectural Art
Exhibition. Be proud, Baba told him, you are the only man I know
who has been admitted to a prefectural exhibition only six months
after beginning to work with bamboo.
In 2006, Babas students suggested an exhibition pairing their art
with their teachers. Baba Kazuharu generously agreed to part with
some of his fathers most important works from the 1950s through
the 1990s. Everyone at TAI Gallery is deeply touched that he has
entrusted us with this historically significant art.
Yako Hodo Spring Light, 2007, 12 x 31/2 x 16 inches
A R T I S T S S TAT E M E N T S
Master Baba Shodo transformed me into a professional artist. The
clock wont lie to you, he told me when I was in training. If I can
make ten lampshades a day, so can you. He didnt consider me a
professional basket maker until I matched his speed. Toward the end
of my training, he gave me a great gift: he paid my salary while I cre-
ated a piece to submit to the Nitten. That piece was accepted. Back
then, the title Nitten Artist was a sign of professionalism, which helped
me to make a living after becoming an independent artist. Both Fujit-
suka Shosei and I feel that, by exhibiting our work with our teachers
at TAI Gallery, we are bringing him some of the honor he deserves.
Master Babas art and personal integrity inspired me so deeply. I
believe I wouldnt have become an artist if I had never met him. He
passed away ten years ago, and even in Japan, his art has not
gained the recognition it deserves. He returned from World War I I
without one of his legs, and that is in part why he studied bamboo
techniques. I never heard him speak ill of Americans or complain
about his war-time experiences. I am sure he would be pleased that
his art is part of a dialogue with American audiences. For me, this
show at TAI Gallery represents peaceful reconciliation.
Baba Shodo Fire, 1977, 13 x 12 x 461/2 inches
Baba Shodo Sukashi Ajiro-ami Offering Tray, 1992, 20 x 151/4 x 31/4 inches (below)
Baba Shodo Infinity, 1975, 16 x 42 inches with stand (right)
Baba Shodo Susutake Offering Tray, 1956, 36 x 26 x 91/2 inches
Fujitsuka Shosei Bamboo Boat, 1997, 19 3/4 x 11 x 2 3/4 inches
Fujitsuka Shosei Big Wave, 2008, 20 x 10 x 251/2 inches (right)
Fujitsuka Shosei City, 1994, 10 1/4 x 41/4 x 15 inches
Fujitsuka Shosei Spiral Hexagonal Flower Basket, 2007, 9 x 15 inches (left)
Yako Hodo Sound of the Tide, 1980, 271/2 x 271/2 x 231/2 inches
Yako Hodo Stream of Sunlight in the Forest, 1983, 20 x 91/2 x 23 inches (right)
Yako Hodo Left by the Waves, 2007, 18 x 12 x 16 inches
Yako Hodo Warmth of Spring, 2007, 14 x 41/2 x 9 inches (right)
T A I G A L L E R Y1601 B Paseo de PeraltaSanta Fe, New Mexico 87501Across from SITE Santa Fe