Ikebana and the Art of Furniture Making
by Suzanne Kamata
page 1 of 4

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.

Kingsbury StudioKingsbury 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.

driffwood chairKingsbury 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 Cynthia Kingsburystint teaching in Tokushima nine years ago.

"I wanted to learn something cultural," she says of that time.

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.

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