|The Prodigal Son|
concept of mingei folk art consisted of objects made by hand from natural materials in sufficient number to serve or to be used by the masses of people daily, and he argued that “it was because they were used that they were beautiful” (p. 21).
Watanabe Sadao entered the museum in 1937 to see an exhibition of Keisuke's prints. At age 17 Sadao had become a Christian and was baptized. Prior this event, his life had been a sad one because his father had died when he was ten. Then he had to quit school after his father's death to help support his mother. After a bout with tuberculosis in his teens, he was apprenticed to a dyer's shop, where he began to learn the technique of designing and dyeing patterns for kimonos and obis. He also loved to study and draw traditional Japanese and Okinawan designs in his spare time.
|Watanabe Sadao (left) with his teacher|
Serizawa Keisuke taken in front of
The Story of Ruth (1947), at the
Japan Folk Art Museum.
study with Serizawa presented a way to merge his faith with his artistic talent using the direct and simple folk art approach, which he believed came closest to the heart of his people. As Watanabe himself recalled, the mingei philosophy with its “artistic sense of the common people that puts aside display and ostentation, is simple in its tastes, and concentrates on what is really useful in the work and lives of people,” made a deep impression on him... Watanabe interpreted Yanagi’s [Buddhist] philosophy in the light of his own faith. He believed that if his work resulted in beauty and usefulness, it was because of the grace of God shining through the natural materials he used. Through this succession of events, Watanabe’s artistic career came to be a unique combination of Japanese folk art and Christian affirmation (p. 22-23).
|The Story of Ruth|
|The Bronze Serpent|
Buddhist wood-cut artist Munakata Shiko. Then in 1962 author James Michener included Sadao's Listening (Kiku) in his book The Modern Japanese Print, Michener's tribute to the Japanese art form. Sadao said that Listening was his first print where he used color successfully!
Sadao's deepest desire was to reach his fellow Japanese with the message of the Gospel, in a form that was fully Japanese. This was one of the primary reasons he chose the art form he did, as well as for depicting the biblical subject matter in fully Japanese cultural settings. As his life progressed, the process of creating his art became a form of worship, inspired by his daily study of the Bible. He continued to fuse the influences of Keisuke and Shiko into his own style.
In spite of becoming one of Japan's greatest national artists, he received very little recognition from his countrymen or fellow Christians, who have never comprised more than 1% of the modern population. Pyle concludes that "it is ironic that from one of Japan’s most deeply rooted indigenous art forms came the work of its greatest Christian artist" (p. 29). Perhaps one day, the artistic and spiritual seeds that God planted through Watanabe Sadao will grow and bear fruit in the hearts of the Japanese people.
|Lamentation Over the Body of Christ|
For more on this great artist, please read the full text of Anne H. H. Pyle's informative article, which includes more about the man, his technique, and descriptions of the prints listed here (as well as others). To see images of his work, check out the following websites:
Scriptum Modern Japanese Prints
Los Angeles County Museum of Art