On a cold rainy morning in Western Japan, I
set out to meet with American ikebana artist and furniture maker Cynthia
Kingsbury. Although Shibuno-cho, the village where she has lived and worked
for the past three years, is only about an hour by car from my house, I
feel as if I am entering another world. From Matsushige, a noisy airport
town, through clots of traffic and past the neon glow of Tokushima City's
pachinko parlors, I come to a quiet community at the foot of a lushly forested
mountain. The only sound is that of the rain falling through the trees.
is busy at work in her studio, a 100-year-old timber storage building.
She is preparing for her first formal show to be held two weeks hence at
Tokushima's Wake Up Gallery. Dried sticks are piled like kindling beneath
her worktable. Her dog Tingi, a black lab-doberman mix, is sprawled across
a carpet of woodchips and shavings, chewing on a twig. A branch with a
knob evocative of a deer's head leans against one mud and straw wall.
("You see a deer?"" Kingsbury
asks. "I see a giraffe.") At the moment, the artist is
contemplating the placement of a stick in the back of a chair.
works almost exclusively with found wood, such as that which drifts in
from the estuary of Tokushima's Yoshino River, thus the name of her company,
Found Wood. "I like working with wood," she says, "but
I don't like cutting down trees."
When she first began making furniture five years ago in California, she
used cuttings from the bush maples on her property. She soon began scavenging
wood from trimmings along the sidewalks of San Francisco and in Golden
Gate Park. For Kingsbury, the use of unmilled wood is a shift in starting
point as well as a shift in consciousness: "It is the woodworker
saying to wood, 'I want to go with what you've got;' 'I like that curve
you've got going there; how can we best show it off?" The rustic
furniture maker is essentially looking to the tree for its basic expression."
A student licensed to teach in the Sogestu
school of ikebana, Kingsbury credits her studies in Japanese flower arrangement
for training her to improvise.
"In the art of ikebana, it is essential to become attuned to
the line and specific character of whatever material comes into your hands,"
she explains. "It is by working with [the material's] unique qualities
that you ultimately create a satisfying composition."
Kingsbury, 37, first became interested in ikebana duringa brief stint
teaching in Tokushima nine years ago.
"I wanted to learn something cultural," she says of
She already knew that she enjoyed working with flowers, their colors
and fragrances. After graduating from college, she'd made bouquets for
a delivery service that supplied blossoms to supermarkets.