During hundreds or thousands of years, cultures across the globe have developed their own ways of working with basic materials such as clay, fiber and metal. This global nature of craft is brought to light in a new exhibition at the Penland Gallery in Mitchell County, which presents a brilliant exploration of traditional Japanese metalworking as it is practiced today. The show, titled “Tradition of Excellence: Japanese Techniques in Contemporary Metal Arts,” runs through Nov. 17 with an opening reception from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5.

Featuring work by 22 Japanese and seven American artists, the exhibition was curated by metalsmith Hiroko Yamada, a jeweler and teacher who divides her time between Wisconsin and Japan. All of the artists make work based in historical techniques and approaches: some of them adhere strictly to tradition while others reinvent or reinterpret it through contemporary practice. Among the artists are three who have received the highest honor in being designated as Japanese Living Treasures. Also part of the exhibition are three artists who live near Penland School of Craft: Marvin Jensen, a longtime Mitchell County resident and former Penland employee; Seth Gould, a recent Penland resident artist; and Andrew Meers, a current Penland resident artist.

Curator Hiroko Yamada has taught at Penland School regularly since 2005. Over the past five years, she has helped organize several exhibitions and workshops aimed at introducing Japanese metal work to Western audiences and metalsmiths.

“My mission,” she said, “is to bring together artistic skills and knowledge that will help both Japanese and American artists grow in their work and achieve new levels of excellence.”

What is hard to convey about this show is the astonishing level of excellence displayed by this work — in technique, design and sheer artistry. The exhibition includes vessels, jewelry and small sculpture. All of the work could be called decorative, with each piece creating its own special kind of beauty. Although few people who see this exhibition will arrive familiar with terms such as shakudo, kinkeshi or mokume-gane, it’s unlikely that anyone will leave unmoved by this display of the incredible work that can be made by artisans committed to the highest levels of craft.

The Penland Gallery and Visitors Center is located at Penland School of Craft on Conley Ridge Road, just off Penland Road in Mitchell County (near the town of Spruce Pine). It is the first building on the right as you enter the Penland campus. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays noon to 5 p.m., and closed on Mondays.

For more information call (828) 765-6211 or visit penland.org/gallery.

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