By Jamie Hunt

A field trip of fifth and sixth grade students from Washington Elementary School in Lindsay went to the Ruth & Sherman Lee Institute of Japanese Art on April 12.

The trip was arranged by the After School Art Media Program director Michelle Bussey, Norma Irwin and Jackie Ballard, and was extremely interesting and educational.

The Institute is located six miles south of Hanford. Its current exhibit, &#8220Surface, Line and Color,” showcases the spirit of design in Japanese art from simple objects to grand pieces of art made for kings.

The museum's exquisite main collection dates from the 16th to the late 19th century and is housed at the Clark Center, an elegant enclave of traditionally designed Japanese buildings located in the middle of the Central Valley, surrounded by dairies and and other industries.

Yuri Yamada, Collections Assistant at the Institute, gave an interactive style tour to the the class. The students and their teachers had a wonderful experience at the museum looking at a variety of artwork from fine Japanese hanging scroll paintings, to ceramics, bamboo baskets, and wooden sculptures.

&#8220The art in the museum is very fragile,” Yamada explained to the class, &#8220The air is controlled because of the fragility of the artwork.” Only a small amount of the school group could be allowed into the museums main entrance before the main door needed to be closed, until the temperature could equalize, then the inner door to the museum could be opened.

Entering the foyer, the students and visitors took off their shoes as directed by the docents, before proceeding into the museum.

Yamada told the students, that there is no &#8220right” way to look at art, that art is mainly for enjoyment and can be interpreted differently by whomever sees it. That is one of the the purposes of the museum. She asked the students questions about the artwork's color, depiction and materials and textures.

Yamada directed the students to look at a hanging scroll titled &#8220Boy on Bull” from the late 19th century. When asked about what the picture meant, many of the students replied, &#8220The bull is smiling!”and, &#8220The kid seems to be saying, ‘I shouldn't have done this.'

One of the students said &#8220the side of the ox is not complete.” Yamada explained that the artist used a style of cropping that was used by Georgia O'Keefe, to move it forward in space.

The next painting on a hanging scroll was an image of the moon.

&#8220The moon is out in the mountains,” one student said. Others saw a hand in the clouds, and another said, &#8220I see fog.”

Yamada said the style of painting was difficult because the white of the moon and clouds was the natural surface of the silk, so there is no room for error.

Displayed underneath the hanging scroll was a ceramic bowl.

&#8220What was the bowl used for,” asked one of the students. &#8220It looks like a bowl that the Yokuts used,” another student said.

&#8220The ceramic bowl is new, about 2004, but the style used to make it was very old and traditional,” Yamada said.

Yamada then directed the school group to look overhead at the guardian of the museum. There was a giant Japanese dragon painted over head on the wooden ceiling in the foyer. One of the students said the the dragon looked like it was at war. But Yamada pointed out that there was only one dragon in the painting, and that the dragon was a typical Japanese dragon.

&#8220Not all of the dragon is painted, part of the dragon is natural wood.” One of the students then said, that it looked like the dragon was breathing.

Another docent, Mary Louise Vivier, told the students that the dragon's main purpose was to protect the museum.

&#8220The dragon is the guardian of the museum, who keeps away fire, disease, and all kinds of pestilence,” she said.

Yamada then directed the students to look at a hanging scroll painting that showed a fish hooked on a line, titled, &#8220Fishing with a Bamboo Rod.” The painting was made of ink and colors on silk, and a bamboo basket with an elongated shape was placed on a tatami shelf below the painting.

&#8220We were told that Japanese people have a lot of paintings with watercolors,” a student said. Yamada then told the students that a haiku poem that was inscribed on the painting by Fukuda Kodojin:

Three generations past,

Now my boat is traveling -

the mist.


Yamada said that the museum's exhibit, &#8220Surface, Line and Color: The Spirit of Design in Japanese Art,” was really about enjoying art and learning to see the difference between functional pieces of art and representative pieces.

She directed their attention to a Buddist figure carved entirely of wood. Titled &#8220Daiitoku-Myo-o,” the figure had six heads, six arms, and six legs and was from the 10th century. Yamada explained that Buddism, which started in India, moved to Japan very early, and that the Buddist figure was a very old and precious piece of art.

After a wonderful field trip to the Institute and learning about art, it was time to leave. The students all bowed to the Yamada Vivier, thanking them for the visit.

The museum's present exhibit is &#8220Surface, Line and Color: The Spirit of Design in Japanese Art,” April 4 through July 29. For more information or tickets call 582-4915 or fax 582-9546.

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