Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan, a Visual Exploration
By Michael Evans and Robert Wolf
Kokeshi are a traditional wooden doll that appeared in the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century as a toy, and later became tourist wares. Formally, they are abstracted anthropomorphic figures (either elongated and elegant, or squat and sweet) that showcase the Japanese talent for nuanced decoration, paired with graphic rendering of human characteristics – all accomplished with a delightful economy of means. Conforming to conventions of shape and content - with sparks of innovation present in the more contemporary work - these beguiling toys have not received the academic attention they deserve and this dazzling book is the first in English to provide systematic information, as well as an informative (and stunning) visual record.
As often happens with new areas of scholarship, the critical early steps are taken by dealers who know the material first-hand. This is the case with kokeshi. Gathering from sources both anecdotal and documented, the authors position the history of Kokeshi as folk art manifestations and cultural artifacts. With over 400 artists currently working in the field, the authors state that “[a]s supporter[s] of traditional folk crafts and arts, our aim in producing this book has been to transmit faithfully not only the visual beauty of the Kokeshi doll, but to add to their historical base and origins, and to also impart a little of the importance of keeping alive the tradition involved in folk arts.” Underpinning this preservation of folk traditions is a text that describes specific doll types in detail, while informing the reader of relevant cultural history, including the traditional use of Kokeshi to embody folkloric characters; for example, describing the Oshin’s (babysitter) figure and its place within the Japanese rural culture. Such tidbits enrich understanding and hint at the larger importance of Kokeshi as cultural expression and marker. For the general reader the book offers many delights, and for the specialist collector of Kokeshi, the images and marks will aid them for years to come.
Paper: 232 pp.