A natsume (tea caddy), the turned wood body finished in polished black roiro lacquer and decorated in hiramaki-e and takamaki-e lacquer with gold kirikane, hirame, and nashiji and fragments of shell with a design of partially unwound itomaki (silk spools) and silk threads, the interior and recessed base gold nashiji, the rims gold lacquer. Comes with the orginal fitted kiri-wood tomobako storage box signed underneath Sōga and sealed Arai.
Born in 1935 in Yamanaka Town, Ishikawa Prefecture, a long-standing center of high-quality lacquer production, Arai Sōga (birth name: Manpei) started his professional education in 1943 and moved in 1958 to Kyoto, where he spent five years studying the refined techniques practiced in Japan’s ancient capital. He returned to his native Ishikawa in 1963 to focus on maki-e (literally, “sprinkled picture”) lacquer decoration and in the same year embarked on an intensive program of training with the Urasenke school of chanoyu (often known outside Japan as the “tea ceremony”). He began to exhibit his work two years later and by 1974 his chanoyu studies had advanced to the point where he was awarded his own tea name of Sōga, as seen on the storage box for this piece. His work was first selected for the Nihon Shikki Ten (National Lacquerware Exhibition) in 1975. Renowned for his mastery of Yamanaka-nuri lacquering (named for the town of his birth) Arai Sōga produces utensils for chanoyu that are characterized by technical refinement combined with the wit and elegance of old Kyoto lacquer. His chosen motifs of spools for silk thread stand for the Tanabata Star Festival held on the seventh day of July to mark the one time of the year when the Herd Boy (Altair) and the Weaver Girl (Vega), separated on either side of the Milky Way as a punishment for neglecting their duties, are allowed to meet. Beyond their seasonal significance, however, the spools and their trailing threads presented Arai with wonderful opportunities for witty, teasing design choices and informal yet carefully considered placing, qualities seen in some of the finest lacquers of the Edo period (1615–1868).
The cores of this caddy and its lid, an airtight container used to store powdered dark green matcha tea, were made from wood turned on the rokuro (lathe) until it was only three or four millimeters thick. The wood was then covered with repeated applications of increasingly refined sap drawn from lacquer trees (Rhus verniciflua) each of which was allowed to set and then painstakingly polished, the upper layers blackened with iron filings and then polished to a high gloss that provided the background for the decoration, executed in hiramaki-e and takamaki-e, low- and high-relief lacquer repeatedly sprinkled with fine gold dust. The graduated misty gold background was executed in slightly larger hirame, flattened gold filings, while some of the winders were embellished with larger pieces of cut gold foil and shell. For the interior, Arai applied a rich coating of nashiji, irregularly shaped fragments of rolled gold suspended in yellowish lacquer.
Combining time-honored skills with a fresh take on a traditional theme, this tea-caddy would form an ideal addition to any collection of Japanese lacquer.