Japanese Metalworking Residency

detail of the artwork, dark metal, lidded box with rounded edges and a curved profile, marked with gold ovals and silvery stripes


Japan’s history of metalworking has evolved for more than two thousand years. Today metal in its diverse formats is a major medium practiced by studio artists. The National Museum of Asian Art established a Residency in Japanese Metalwork Design in 2015 to recognize outstanding artists in this medium and to introduce their work to our audiences.

Portrait of Ms. Osumi, a woman with glasses and rusty-red hair.The first recipient of the award was Osumi Yukie. Ms. Osumi (born 1945) is known for her specialization in hand-raised silver vessels decorated with nunome zōgan, an inlay technique similar to damascene. Her designs, executed in a palette of silver, gold, and lead, evoke clouds or water and waves. Her works are in numerous museum collections, including the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Ms. Osumi’s vase Sound of Wind received the prestigious Nihon Kōgeikai Hojisha prize at the sixty-first annual Japanese Traditional Art Crafts exhibition in 2014. The following year the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology designated her as a Preserver of an Intangible Cultural Property. Recipients of this award are known informally as Living National Treasures. Ms. Osumi is the first woman to be so designated for metalwork.

Ms. Osumi traveled to Washington, D.C., in October 2015. The month-long residency enabled her to share her work, philosophy, and expertise with museum visitors, art students, artists, and museum staff through teaching, conversations, and public events. In preparation for her visit, Ms. Osumi commissioned a video of her working processes and showed it as part of a public talk in the Sackler Gallery.  She also recorded an interview reflecting on her approach to her work. During her residency, the Sackler Gallery exhibited her work in Osumi Yukie: Wind and Waves.

Beyond the museums, Ms. Osumi taught a weekend workshop on the nunome zōgan technique at the Baltimore Jewelry Center. Every participant received a set of chisels that she had customized by hand. During her travels on the East Coast, Ms. Osumi visited museums, workshops, and metalwork artists, gave a talk to the jewelry and metalwork students at the Rhode Island School of Design, and had an uncommon opportunity to view the Statue of Liberty from the inside to see how its colossal copper form is constructed.

Collector and researcher Shirley Z. Johnson presented a second talk in November 2015, illuminating modern and contemporary Japanese metalwork.

Second Artist in Residence, April 2018

portrait of Mr. Tanaka standing beside his work, a rounded rectangular dark metal box with gold oval and silver stripe markings.The second artist to receive the Residency in Japanese Metalwork Design was Tanaka Terukazu, a master of uniting the tonalities of copper alloys with gold and silver in his signature oversized box forms. Copper alloys—copper blended with another metal—range in hue and mood from ruddy brown to cool blue-gray or near black. Such alloys include shakudo (copper with 3 percent gold), shibuichi (copper with 25 percent silver), and kuromido (copper with 1 percent arsenic). These distinctive Japanese alloys originated centuries ago for use in sword fittings and Buddhist ornaments.

By juxtaposing alloy shades, Mr. Tanaka evokes painterly realms of light and shadow, sky and water. He joins metal sheets in contrasting shades and hammers them to shape his vessel forms. The artist then adds ornamentation by chiseling fine patterns into the metal substrate and overlaying the patterns with gilding.

The son of a metalsmith, Mr. Tanaka received his early training from his father and graduated from the Tokyo Metropolitan Crafts High School. He was born in 1945 in the Yanaka district of Tokyo, where he still lives. This vibrant area of the old “downtown” continues to thrive as a center for household-based artisan workshops. Mr. Tanaka’s career launched when his work was accepted in the 1971 Nitten, the annual exhibition of the Japan Art Academy. He began participating in the annual New Craft Exhibition (Shin Kogei Ten) in 1979 and now serves as a judge for that event. Mr. Tanaka’s work has been recognized with many honors, including the Tokyo Governor’s Award and the Hakone Open-Air Museum grand prize.

Mr. Tanaka was in residence at the  National Museum of Asian Art in April 2018. During his public talk in the Sackler Gallery, he showed a video of his working processes for preparing a box for the 2018 Shin Kogei exhibition. Three of his works spanning 1985 to 2012, from the collection of Shirley Z. Johnson, were on view in The World of Colored Metal: Tanaka Terukazu in the Sackler Gallery during the month of April. In a recorded interview, he discussed his career and his collaborations with other Yanaka metalwork specialists to realize his work.

Elsewhere, Mr. Tanaka taught a three-day workshop at the Baltimore Jewelry Center. He also presented talks to the jewelry and metalwork students at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the Baltimore Museum of Art in collaboration with the Walters Art Museum.

Louise Allison Cort

Curator Emerita for Ceramics