View all News & Photos

Shokunin: Shuji Nakagawa, Wooden Vessels

Photo by Yuya Hoshino

In celebration of our current Art in the Garden exhibition, Shokunin: Five Kyoto Artisans Look to the Future, each week we’ll feature one of the five artists whose work is showcased in the exhibition. Last week we shared the work of Hosai Matsubayashi who specializes in pottery. This week, we’re featuring the work of Shuji Nakagawa who is reinventing his traditional craft to serve modern purposes.

“Repetition and continuity are the baseline for the work of shokunin.” – Shuji Nakagawa
Photo by Yuya Hoshino

Shuji Nakagawa is a third-generation wood craftsman who learned the traditional craft of making wooden buckets, or oke, from his father and grandfather. Today, despite the fact that wooden buckets for everyday use are almost extinct in the face of industrial plastic containers, Nakagawa is reinventing his traditional craft by designing and creating new vessels that serve modern purposes and appeal to modern taste, including finely hewn stools and champagne coolers.

The objects he produces today are sought after internationally. He continues to explore the boundaries between art and craft, moving between designer, artist, and artisan.

“These days, I get a lot of opportunities to create one-time art pieces for exhibitions, and I often encounter new technical challenges in order to respond to the requirements of a designer, a client, or a collaborator working in a different medium. But what makes the work of an artisan different from that of an artist, is that such one-time creations are really the result of endless repetitions of planing and splitting, etc., not just from practice within my own lifetime, but from the experiences handed down to me from my ancestors in a perpetual line of accumulated wisdom from ancient times.” – Shuji Nakagawa