MCBA Visual Journal Collective: Jean Shannon and Japanese Folk Art Toys

January 20, 2010

A report on Monday’s exciting meeting about Japanese Folk Art Toys!

Left: Artist Jean Shannon presenting at the meeting. Her accordion journal shows sketches she made of a Japanese folk art toy exhibit at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The exhibit fed her interest in these charming toys. On the foreground table you can see prints from a stenciled calendar by artist Keisuke Serizawa.

On Monday 18 visual journal keepers listened intently as Jean Shannon introduced us to the world of Japanese folk art toys by recounting her own growing interest in these objects and her use of them in her artwork.

Jean's collection began with a woven grass owl she purchased for $1. In the 1980s when the Walker Art Center had a show of these toys Jean became completely captivated. She returned daily to sketch the toys, filling an accordion journal with images of the toys (journal is shown in the photograph).

Later, Jean accompanied her husband to Japan when he went to study with a pottery master—a "living treasure." During their sojourn in Japan Jean continued to pursue her interest in collecting these toys and exploring their shapes and colors in her own artwork—printmaking and watercolors.

JeanClackerSketch9079 Left: Jean displays a painting of a dragon clacker toy and some tops. She discussed various ways to approach toys as art subjects—catching a likeness or catching the character or psychology of the toy.

Jean explained about textile artist Kesiuke Serizawa who took his fabric stenciling techinques (katazome) and applied them to paper. On hand were actual prints by Serizawa to study, as well as images from his sketchbooks. (We were able to see both "rough" sketches" and finished stenciled prints.)

We also learned about some of the individual toys which vary from region to region. Jean brought numerous examples including a variety of Kokeshi dolls which have simple bodies and sweet or enigmatic faces and are meant for display, not play. Inu Hariko (hariko is papier maché in Japanese) are lucky dogs. They are given to pregnant women and babies. The Daruma, a New Year's doll has an interesting characteristic—blank eyes. You make a wish and paint one of the eyes. Then when the wish comes true you paint in the other eye.

I was surprised to learn that many of the toys were made with watersoluble paints. Jean explained to me that they were not meant to be kept. Often at the end of the year all the toys from the previous year would be burned in a bonfire.

At the conclusion of Jean's presentation we positioned clusters of toys around the room on the work tables and Collective members spent 45 minutes observing and sketching in a variety of media.

MaryBriana9080 Right: Painter Mary Hanson (left) next to teacher and creativity coach Briana Goetzen  (right) as they capture a trio of toys in their journals.

Following the sketching session the group shared their journals, work, and news. On hand were a few of the Collective members who participated in last year's journal card exchanges.

There were two groups of 6 and each person in each group created cards the size they desired and passed those to the members of their group with any instructions, including a theme. (For example my instructions included a prohibition against using smelly materials such as plant matter or leather because of my allergies.) The goal is that all the cards will make it back to the originator and she will bind them however she desires. (Mine will be put into a custom made box.)

It was great to see the variety of methods and approaches to the various themes, as well as the variety of card size. However I didn't remember to take a photo until most of the cards had been packed away. Not all the cards have been completed so the exchange will continue on.

100118Toys Left: My journal page spread from the meeting is a mix of notes from Jean's talk and the sketch I did of the three toys near me. I was particularly fascinated with the bobble head cow, a good luck cow, just as the fish on wheels is a good luck fish. In the center is a Kokeshi doll, approximately 9 inches tall. I used my Pentel Pocket Brush Pen for the quick sketch and then applied some light washes of gouache. I'm working in a journal I made with the now defunct Lion's Cover, from Barcham Green. It is a lightweight but sturdy paper with stiff sizing that adores watercolor. You can see the lovely deckle edge of this paper on the left side of the image. There is a slight nubby texture to the paper which imparts character yet doesn't interfer with writing should you choose to write on it. In short it is one of those perfect papers, now lost. I have about 5 more books made with this paper and have been doling them out to myself, one a year, to enjoy. Of course I also love the way this paper smells, wet or dry! Click on the image to view an enlargement (sorry the scan went a little pink the paper is actually a creamy white).

There were so many lines of discussion brought up at this meeting—folk art toys around the world, what types of toys we have in the U.S., the folk art museum in Sante Fe (highly recommened by people who had been there), color choices, printmaking techinques… It was an inspiring meeting. I had trouble falling asleep when I returned home, as Jean's talk put so many toys from my childhood in a new light.

If you missed this meeting I hope you'll consider joining us at one of our upcoming outings or meetings. Attendance at the monthly meetings is free and open to the journaling public. This is a diverse group—chockful of creativity. You will come away inspired to push your own journal work and artwork to another level. Check the MCBA Visual Journal Collective Page for meeting details or watch this blog for updates (see "Category List—Visual Journal Collective).

  1. Reply

    Must have been a great meeting Roz and I like how you used your journal to capture the notes and subject. And yes, the folk art museum in Santa Fe is a must-see–it truly is fabulous!

    • Diane
    • January 20, 2010

    Between you and Danny Gregory’s books I am feeling overwhelmed (in a very good way!) about my new interest in drawing and specifically in journaling. I am 65 and have always wished I could draw. Finally I am doing something about it. You are my first online visit every morning and you never disappoint. It is not only “real” artists who appreciate your thoughts.


    • velma
    • January 20, 2010

    i just think being close to mcba (or another of the book arts centers) would be almost perfect. except, of course, it’s not here. a beautiful book, roz.

    • Roz
    • January 21, 2010

    Donnamcm and Carol, yes it was a great meeting and the group is a great resource that MCBA supports free! I volunteer my time and they provide us with space and there is no cost. How great is that! Of course I hope that members of the group join MCBA when they are financially able (membership isn’t expensive but I know people are on tight budgets these days).

    I try to be a good resource to the group, but what is particularly exciting to me now that we are past our first year (started in fall 2008) is that we are still getting a core group of people that come to every meeting, still getting a good meeting size at each meeting, and people are so gracious about volunteering to speak at a meeting, which then inspires others to work and also to come forward and speak.

    So many people know so many cool things that if there is just a venue for those things to get out…

    As Velma says, it is great being near a book arts center—But I have to say, I’m very partial to the Minnesota Center for Books arts!

    • Roz
    • January 21, 2010

    Diane, well being overwhelmed in this way is a great thing! I’m so happy that you are reading Danny’s book and being inspired by all the great art and the artists’ profiles he has created. It is such a fantastic resource (“Illustrated Life”) and I’m thrilled to be included in it. His earlier journaling related books (“Everyday Matters” and “Creative License”) are also great books for getting people started on the drawing path! I’m so glad that at 65 you are making your wish to draw a reality!

    I’m also glad you visit my blog and enjoy it. (I’m still transitioning from my year of daily posting to a 3-day a week posting schedule—which has turned out to be more like a 6-day a week posting, though this week I’m coming closer! I do hope you’ll continue to make frequent visits even with the reduced posting schedule!)

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