It was the summer of 1995. I had just finished my Masters at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) majoring in Japanese art. I had invested the last two years of my life and all of my savings studying Asian art. I loved what I’d been studying and was determined to make this career choice work. However, at that time there were probably literally 10 full-time positions in the whole of the UK in the Asian art field, and they were taken. The Japanese economy had crashed a couple of years before, followed by its art market, so this made my area of specialty particularly troublesome. Soon after I completed my studies, I understood it was going to take a miracle for me to become an Asian art historian. Sam was my miracle.
Today, I met my friend Ted for lunch. Ted is an artist whose work ranges from whimsical pictures of cats to semi-abstracted paintings of human figures in great pain or pleasure to his powerful Scarred for Life series. For this series, Ted takes mono-prints directly off the skin of models scarred by spinal surgery, mastectomies, bullet wounds or amputations. The models choose their own colors and Ted then adds details with gouache and color pencil, creating delicate abstract compositions in which the incision mark becomes a bold stroke emanating richly colored energy. Next, he photographs the models with the same paint color on their scars and includes their own story of the scar and its affect on their lives. The combination of print, photograph and words are powerful visual documents of human healing and resilience, depictions of brave personal victories, from the graceful dancer who continues to dance from her wheelchair to the devoted mother who survives a mastectomy to raise her twin sons. In 2013, I wrote about his work for KCET Artbound and his work moved so many people that the story was made into a video that was included on one of their tv episodes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bixGXFVCow).
Ted understands about pain and healing. He was born with Gaucher’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes pain and deterioration of the joints and organs, and he spent much of his childhood in hospital. Art helped him cope with his condition. After studying design at college, he began painting works that reflected his constant battles with his body, his pain and the sense of being trapped inside a damaged shell. Years later, thanks to successful hip replacements and improvements in medical treatments, Ted is healthy and is a busy artist, creating art, working as a designer, traveling the country giving talks about his work and signing his hilarious cat books series (http://www.tedmeyer.com). I wanted to give him something artistic that both reflects his quirky, playful side but also relates to his work on the Scarred for Life series that I admire so much. What I chose was a round little African gourd that has a spiraling pattern carved into it – kind of like a scar, I thought. I knew it was a bit of an odd gift, but I knew that someone as unique and creative as Ted just might appreciate it.
And he did!
Today’s Giveaway was more books, but this time twenty or so children’s books that I selected for a very specific purpose. I have been helping organize educational programming at the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden in Pasadena, a magical place that is focusing its mission around nature, culture and wellness. The garden is open the last Sunday of every month to the public, and programs on these Open Days range from lectures, to healthy cooking workshops to musical performances. It occurred to me that on those days while adults might be engaged in listening to music or a lecture, children who have had their fill exploring the garden might enjoy sitting in a corner of the garden or the main house leafing through – or even reading! – books relating to the garden.
So, I gathered together – nay, curated! – a selection of 20 or so children’s books relating to art, Japanese and Chinese culture, nature and the environment and placed them in a basket that can be placed enticingly in the kids’ corner. These are all books I had collected over the years to read with Theo and his friends, either individually or in small classes I was teaching, but although we have looked through most of them, they don’t get a whole lot of use in a house with one child living in it. Although I have always been very particular about keeping our books in good condition – and very rarely will write in my own – it has recently struck me that there is such a thing as a book that’s too clean. Far better, it seems, that these books to be available to children visiting this magical garden so that they become grubby and dog-eared from use by little ones whose curiosity is sparked about nature, art and the many wonders of our world’s different cultures.
The book basket will be available for kids to enjoy on the Garden’s next Open Day, Sunday April 26. On that day, there will be a Japanese Rice-Ball Making Workshop with Japanese home-cooking instructor Sonoko Sakai for kids and parents. Learn how to make healthy, cute, and delicious onigiri for snacking and lunches. For more information, please check the website: http://www.japanesegardenpasadena.com.