• a street while raining

      Shumei America on Colorado Blvd (Photo – Emmanuel Krauletz ⒸColoradoBlvd.net).

      Elegance and Emotion: The Unique Dolls of Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi curated and organized by Meher McArthur.

      By News Desk

      Japanese dolls are appreciated worldwide for their beauty and artistry. The most elaborate are made with porcelain faces and hands and decked out in layers of gorgeous silk kimonos. These have been collected and displayed at Hina Matsuri (Dolls’ Festival) on the 3rd day of the 3rd month for many centuries. The simplest are the cylindrical kokeshi dolls, carved on a lathe out of wood and often painted with vibrant designs in bright colors. Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi’s dolls are very different from both of these traditions, but they are just as exquisite to behold, take many days to complete, and employ a traditional technique that will soon be lost to the world.

      Koyanagi’s dolls are built up out of a paste and then smoothed down and coated with gofun, a white pigment made of ground-up seashells. She then paints them very simply, occasionally adding floral details or gradations in color on their kimono. Though their tall, slender forms convey an elegance and a stillness, their faces and sometimes even the gentle tilt of their heads suggests strong emotions beneath the surface.

      A doll figurine

      Elegance and Emotion: The Unique Dolls of Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi (Photo – shumeiarts.org)

      Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi (b.1932)

      Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi was born into the Muraoka doll-making family in Tokyo. Her mother was a second-generation doll-maker, and her father came from a family that specialized in making glass eyes for dolls. One of eight children, she learned how to make dolls as a child using a technique that was passed down to all of her siblings, and she has been using this technique, with her own modifications, to make dolls for over 70 years.

      As a young artist, she began to develop her own style that was more akin to sculpture than traditional doll-making, creating tall, slender figures with a graceful profile and an economy of gesture and detail. Many of her figures wear black, which differs from the traditional colorful dolls and reflects Koyanagi’s own personal style and aesthetic. Koyanagi moved with her husband to Ontario, Canada in 1966 and while raising a family, she continued her craft, eventually exhibiting her work in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, Tokyo, the United States, and Mexico. She now lives in Los Angeles and, at age 92, continues to create her beautiful dolls.

      Her Doll-making Technique

      To make her slender dolls, she creates a core of wire and sets the position of the figure before molding a rough unfinished form from a mixture of paste, rice paper, and finely ground paulownia wood shavings. After the work has dried and hardened, she delicately carves and sands the doll to produce its final form.

      She then applies several layers of white pigment called gofun made from powdered seashells, as a surface finish. At the end of a two-month process, the doll is finally painted with a blend of seashell powder and watercolor pigments.

      She learned this basic technique from her family but modified it while living for over 50 years in Canada so that the dolls would survive well in an environment that has dramatic fluctuations in temperature and humidity. No other doll maker creates dolls using this technique.

      Elegance and Emotion:
      The Unique Dolls of Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi
      Opening Reception: Jan. 13
      2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
      Exhibition: Jan. 13 - May 5
      Monday – Saturday
      9:30 am – 5:30 pm
      Sundays: Closed
      Shumei America - Pasadena
      2430 E. Colorado Blvd.
      Pasadena, CA 91107

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