My Japanese Discoveries II: Hand-Hammering Traditions of Gyokusendo

Exhibition Dates: November 11 – 15, 2014
Opening Reception: Tuesday, November 11, 6-8 pm
Location: Onishi Gallery, 521 W. 26th Street, New York City
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm




Onishi Gallery is thrilled to announce the second installment of its latest exhibition series, My Japanese Discoveries, sharing highlights of Japanese heritage and culture with the New York public. In this second show, Hand-Hammering Traditions of Gyokusendo, unique metalwork traditions developed nearly 200 years ago are showcased through fine and functional hand-shaped copperware.

The iridescent metalwork of Gyokusendo is rooted in the landscape of Niigata Prefecture. Niigata Prefecture, which stretches along the coast of the Sea of Japan on Honshu Island, is known as one of the main high-quality rice and sake producers in Japan, the origin site of the decorative Koi fish, and producer of the highest volume of Azaleas and cut Lilies across the country. From this ecologically fertile area, distinctive cultural traditions have also flourished. Gyokusendo, set among Niigata Prefecture’s famous rice fields, has been manufacturing functional and beautiful metal crafts since the Edo period. Drawing upon local resources, primarily raw copper, this seventh generation company is an exceptional example of how a creative tradition is nurtured and mastered over time.

While Gyokusendo first produced only daily use objects such as pans, pots, and kettles, the company expanded over the generations to include aesthetically driven forms and decorative items as well. The traditional metal craft techniques used today employ over 200 hand hammers and 300 iron shaping rods. Declared an “Intangible Cultural Treasure” by both Niigata Prefecture and the Japanese National Cultural Affairs Agency, the creative process is labor-intensive and meticulously executed by masters of the art. This exhibition will showcase much of Gyokusendo’s functional ware, including beverage cups, sake/wine bottle coolers, tea kettles, teapots, tea cadies, and flower vases.

Additionally on display will be several unique pieces created by Tamagawa Norio, brother of sixth heir of Gyokusendo and, in 2010, designated one of Japan’s “Living National Treasure” artists for his “Mokume-gane” technique. This mixed metal technique involves the manipulation of multiple metal sheets to produce a wood-like texture, the name of the technique translating closely to “wood grain metal.”

Both Gyokusendo’s and Tamagawa Norio’s pieces, with their finely hammered, multi-faceted surfaces, bring together the delicacy of long-refined handwork and the strength of a metal form that has existed for hundreds of years, and that continues to astonish both tea-drinkers and beauty-seekers with their historic auras and innovative designs.

Japan has 47 prefectures, each one with its own cultural, artistic, and culinary traditions. Because tourists often travel to Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto rather than venturing to more remote prefectures, Onishi Gallery’s My Japanese Discoveries initiative intentionally highlights the cultural histories and creative traditions of lesser-known locales, such as Niigata Prefecture. Supported by the Japanese government, Onishi Gallery makes possible exchanges between gallery patrons and artists from these distant prefectures. Gallery visitors are thus able to learn about the prefectures’ artistic masterpieces, functional-use crafts, and culinary specialties through public programming that include social exchanges, as well as local food and drink tastings. Our goal is to blend Japanese traditions with American culture so that participants may bring home these products for assimilation into their daily lives.


For more information, please contact Nana Onishi at 212.695.8035 or nana@onishigallery.com.