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examples of Japanese metalwork


Fred E. Zweig

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Here is a match safe decorated with wire and sheet zogan. Unsigned and also decorated with fuku characters in a fan cartouche on the back.

 

post-1610-1187390720.jpg

 

I can only imagine that the wire used in this inlay must be froggy hair fine. Not certain what sort of wire drawing device was used to create the fine wire stock. I have never seen a Japanese drawplate. The iron background is covered with blackened lacquer. Not certain when that practice was stopped. I have examples made by craftsmen at the Komai shops and Hattori shops. It is so difficult to find literature in English that explains the history of this work and the shops and craftsmen.

 

Please forgive my ramblings. It is so inspiring to see the delicacy of these pieces. I hope this is an appropriate forum to share this information and these images.

 

Thanks,

Fred

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Aloha Fred,

 

Welcome. Nice to see you here. Thanks for showing us this piece.

Brings to mind a couple of questions:

1) How did you determine that the ground is iron; that lacquer is present? If it's iron (I'm not doubting you), could it be the often mentioned Higo Inlay technique for blackening?

2) I wonder if ultra-fine inlay is as much determined by the groove cut as the availability of dimensioned material inserted?

 

KC

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Hi Karl,

 

What I particularly like about this forum is the need of it's participants to know as much as possible about an item and your questions are vital in any critical discussion.

 

I determined the composition of the base through examination and a magnet protected by a cloth. Examining the interior indicates that the metal is not sleeved and that it is intirely made of iron.

 

I had just returned from an extended stay in Thailand and had seen examples of there gold and niello work as well as the silver and niello. When I saw this vesta I assumed it was Thai. On closer examination I discovered the telltale cross hatching made to capture the gold. The black was shiny as if paint had been applied and I found a spot near the lip where the lacquer had been abraded off. It was not until much later that I noticed the Kanji Characters Fuku. The literature written prior to the late 1920's talks about covering the surface with lacquer and then baking it until it blackened. This was repeated several times before the lacquer was abraded off to reveal the gold and silver. The newer literature speaks of treating the background to rust it and then boiling in green tea or some propriatery solution to darken it. The Spaniards use a hot caustic solution to achieve similar results.

 

In my reseach I have seen several matchsafes with highly decorated surfaces in dragons, birds, and floral designs. The symetrical decoration of my matchsafe is rarer.

 

I do not think the wires are set in channels and istead they are set into the hatch background. There are telltale signs to corroborate this. My initial experimentations tell me that the wire had to be extremely thin to create this thin of a line. I will try to take closer images to show the cross hatching.

 

Fred

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I discovered the telltale cross hatching made to capture the gold.

 

I do not think the wires are set in channels and istead they are set into the hatch background. I will try to take closer images to show the cross hatching.

 

Fred

 

Aloha Fred,

 

Thanks for the reply. Are we talking nunome zogan (or some variant) here? In the course of removing the lacquer overburden, it seems that you would need remarkable control to prevent cutting through (or exerting too much pressure on) the foils and exposing the iron ground? Just trying to understand the process. :)

I have seen blackened urushu used before as a finish for tansu hardware.

 

KC

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Hi Karl,

 

I believe the decoration on the matchsafe is nunome zogan. It appears the entire surface was cross hatched and then the wire and punched out petals were set in place. The sides of the container have a band of gold that shows signs of wear, exposing the cross hatching clearly. I will do my best to get images and post them

 

I will transcribe the descriptions I have found in a few of the books of the period. Perhaps there is a wording that I am missing. I believe the abrasion with charcoal is slow and maybe this allows a gradual, less damaging removal of the lacquer. This is not a process I have any experience with. The cross hatching is barely noticeable under the lacquer in spots.

 

Fred

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Aloha Fred,

 

Thanks for the pics. I'm barely picking up on the cross-hatching (guess you have to be there), but neither do I believe all that detail is inlaid. Detail does give me feeling of mosaic or assemblage. There is a piece with similar characteristics on pages 184-85 of Joe Earle's Lethal Elegance (sorry, scanner is down). I wonder if the lacquer is part of the bedding? Still a nice piece. Thanks for sharing.

 

KC

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Hi Fred

 

Thanks for the close up images, from the image on the left, it looks like the lacquer may have been set over the inlaid work and maybe scraped/stoned down to give an even finish to the whole piece... something similar to cloisonne work

 

My humble opinion only...

 

Regards

 

Mike Mc

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Mike,

 

I agree that the black is applied over and around the applied gold decoration. So as to better hide the unused cross hatched background. I will need to find the literature that I have that describes the technique.

 

This is not shippo zogan since a vitreous enamel is not being used. The black in this matchsafe is a burnt lacquer. I will post better close-up images of the revealed cross hatching.

 

It is my belief that the decoration is true nunome zogan using both wire and sheet with a burnt enamel lacquer.

 

I try to only use terms that I am certain about. I am reluctant to guess what is the correct Japanese word to use. Forgive me if I tend to use Anglo terms until I am more secure with my terms and vocabulary.

 

Fred

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Hi Fred

 

Thanks for the reply, I think that regardless of how the piece was made, whatever style or methods used for decoration.

 

It still remains an excellent study piece, I should imagine that every time you look at the piece, you find something new to admire and this leads to further exploration, this is the beauty of such impressive art, it educates us with it's presence alone.

 

thank you for sharing a very nice subject piece.

 

Regards

 

Mike Mc

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Mike,

 

You are right. I have spent hours admiring these works of art and learning of the craft. Knowing how an item is made only amplifies my appreciation of the craftsman.

 

I visit the site often and have corresponded with a few of it's members. I am less in sync with the collecting side and lean more towards understanding the process and perhaps using it in my designs and asthetics. Tuson is the home of Bruce Clark who does very contemporary designs using the damascening technique. He has created diffused billets of fine gold and silver and then damascened cross sections of the billets onto steel to develop wonderful designs. Bruce recently returned from Toledo where he reseached the work of the craftsmen there. I have seen a video where the cross hatched grooves were scored into the steel with the blade of a knife. A fascinating process.

 

I have a few pieces that I will share of the finer Spanish work.

 

Fred

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Hi Fred

 

It would be nice to see the spanish works, It is true as you say, that each piece sparks the imagination into how they are made, sort of trying to get into the mind of the artist to see the journey they took in their creations.

 

I often find that even the simplest design can spark the most curiosity as these designs seem to hit the right note with their simpicity. I hope that makes sense...

 

Thank you

 

Mike Mc

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Mike,

 

I will get togeher a few images I have of the Spanish work and post them.

 

These are the other images of other zogan inlay examples from the matchsafe website.

 

http://www.matchsafe.org/pmo-007_komai_ori..._bird_motif.htm

 

http://www.matchsafe.org/pmo-006_komai_ori..._bird_motif.htm

 

These two are probably entirely cross hatched with blackened lacquer in the background.

 

http://www.matchsafe.org/pmo-017_japanese_...on_by_komai.htm

 

This last one is hatched only in the areas to be decorated and then the steel is darkened through chemical and heating processes. The characters read right to left "Kyoto Ju Komai Sei"

 

The term Komai has been erroneously coined to describe zogan inlay. Shusuke Komai and his son Otogiro Komai were both superb craftsmen with shops that specialized in zogan work. Work from Otojiro's shop is more common.

 

Fred

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Hi Fred

 

Funny that you chose those three examples, as these were the one's that had me going back and forth between each of them. to look at all of the details...

 

Tocadero shop sell a few fine examples, here is a nice box from their site with a similar design to your match safe although it is not Otogiro Komai or Sei Komai it is none the less a fine piece.

 

http://www.trocadero.com/orientaltreasureb...store.html#item

 

To quote their own blurb "A simple and quietly elegant box"

 

Thank you

 

Mike Mc

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Mike,

 

That is a great laquered box. I admire the laquer ware and have no desire to make it. I did find a large steel chest that had similar decoration in one corner. I will soon try to make a similar sample to better understand how this was done. I need to be brave and draw down the wire in my finest drawplate and see if I can make something.

 

Fred

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Mike,

 

I do not own the chest. I saw it on an intenet listing. Here is the link.

 

http://www.bonhams.com/cgi-bin/wspd_cgi.sh...p;iSaleNo=13741

 

If I did own it I would not do anything to it. My sample will be made on a steel fender washer. I may even place a copper plug into the hole and perhaps decorate the copper as well. So little time.

 

Fred

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Hi Fred

 

Wow... That is some lovely piece on the Bonhams site. Be sure to keep us updated on the progress of you piece

 

Regards

 

Mike Mc

 

Hi Jeff

 

That is certainly a nice study set, Are these Menuki, if so, are they original or a set that you made yourself?

I have to agree with you on the inspiration point, there is so much fine work out there, that you could spend a lifetime studying.

 

Thanks for posting the image

 

Regards

 

Mike Mc

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Mike,

 

It will be some time before I can start on the sample. I am backlogged with orders for forged neck collars and they have my priority. I will post and document when it is finished.

 

Jeff,

 

Nice set of menuki. The gold stripes look as if they are an example of the nunome zogan technique. Thanks for sharing!

 

Fred

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