Colorful Culture: Howard Kurtz and Pigment & Hue

Gesturing to you with a raised paw, the cat seems to know a secret about your future.

For centuries, the image of the maneki neko (“beckoning cat”) has been the object of curiosity and amusement in Japanese culture, generally viewed as a sign of good luck. But when artist Howard Kurtz applied the enigmatic feline and a few other Japanese symbols to some melamine children’s dishes and began showing them at trade shows, he was surprised by the reactions he received.

“Customers were responding to the images as ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ for teens and adults, not just for children,” says Kurtz, founder and president of the Los Angeles-based company, Pigment & Hue. “Stores on college campuses started buying them to sell as really fun ‘dormware.’”

Pigment & Hue’s successful “Japanese Wishes’ dish set, which Kurtz created in collaboration with Maria Kwong of the Japanese American National Museum, evolved from one of the company’s earlier products, a collection of Colorpix® children’s coloring cards entitled “Treasures of Japanese Life.” The cards featured Kurtz’s drawings of the maneki neko along with an origami tsuru (crane), a koinobori (carp windsock) and other popular images.

For Kurtz, the maneki neko and other meaningful characters have become effective ambassadors—inviting people to explore cultures that may be different from their own. Drawing from his training in classical studies (Latin and Greek), education and fashion design, Kurtz has great enthusiasm for using art as a tool for teaching.

“How lucky we are to live in a world where we can share in so many diverse traditions,” Kurtz remarks. “If my products can help kids and young adults appreciate that opportunity, then I am really satisfied with my work.”

Over the past nine years, the assortment of Pigment & Hue products has grown from a single pack of Colorpix® “Christmas Cards for Kids to Color” to over 100 items. The line now includes placemats, coloring books and the recent addition of My Little Dishes®.

“One of my most heartfelt goals is to help children realize that people of all backgrounds share many of the same desires and dreams,” says Kurtz. “When I visited the National Museum during a recent exhibition, I met a wonderful woman docent who reminded me of my own grandmother. Her kind words and gentle smile made me realize, once again, that we all wish for the same basic things in life—whether it’s with a ‘lucky cat’ or some other symbol. We all hope for the treasures of long life, good health and happiness.”

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