Chicago Shimpo
Rare Exhibition:
All Kinds of Metal Arts Brought in One Place

• An Exhibit “A Tradition of Excellence: Japanese Techniques in Contemporary Metal Arts” was held from May 21 to 31 at the Japan information Center of the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago. The exhibit focused on traditional Japanese metalworking techniques expressed through the works of Japanese master artists and their students with American metalsmiths.
• Although the exhibit was over, the Chicago Shimpo asked Hiroko Yamada about the Metal Arts world. She is organizer of the exhibit; owner and metalsmith of HYART Gallery in Madison, Wisconsin; and director of the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.

Hiroko Yamada, organizer of the exhibit; owner and metalsmith of HYART Gallery in Madison, Wisconsin; and director of the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina

• According to Yamada, American metalsmiths have established the Society of North American Goldsmith (SNAG) and celebrated its 50th anniversary at its 48th annual conference from May 22 to 25 at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. The members of SNAG welcomed some metalsmiths and educators from Japan and shared their works, techniques, activities, and other items.
• Yamada said that the metal arts haven’t been known widely in North America, but “mokume gane”, a name of metal art method has been widely known and become an English word. She said, “This attributes to Ms. Hiroko Sato Pijanowski who taught how to make mokume gane in the University of Michigan.”

• While metalsmiths in North America have lateral connections, similar horizontal connection is rare in Japan. Each master artist or school holds exhibitions; however, there is no collaborated exhibition among them. No master work is allowed to loan to other exhibitions hosted by other metalsmiths. In this respect, the exhibit held at the Japan Information Center, which displayed numerous works by many master artists and metalsmiths in one place, was really a breakthrough event more than ever before.

• Hiroko Yamada was originally in the architecture field in Japan and attended master courses in the University of Wisconsin, Madison where she was fascinated by the metal arts. After graduating from the school, she opened HYART Gallery of jewelry while she was teaching metal arts at the school. She also became a director of the Penland School of Crafts and has devoted herself to spread the metal arts in the U.S. for 20 years.

• With this background, Yamada thought if she could bring Japanese and American metalsmiths together and hold an exhibition. She visited Japanese master artists one by one and tried to talk about her plan; however, they closed their doors in front of her without listening to her.
• Yamada never gave up and held an exhibition in Tokyo in 2016. At the exhibition, she displayed works of American metal artists and their history of how they developed and advanced mokume gane, a 300-year old Japanese tradition. Eventually she persuaded Japanese masters through the exhibition and could achieve the reality of her plan in Chicago. She said, “It took me for five years, but it’s just the beginning. If anyone becomes interested in the metal arts, we can convey the traditional metal arts to newcomers.”

• The exhibitors in Chicago included Japan’s Living National Treasure Osumi, Yukie; Tamagawa, Norio; and katsura, Morihito, and many other exhibitors were full members of prestigious Japan Kogei Association, professors and instructors.

What is Mokume Gane?

• Mokume Gane is a metal board which consists of layers of different color metals. A metal pot or object is made from a mokume gane, and beautiful wood grain appears when a metalsmith beat it to shape an object. But the wood grain is never made by serendipity. The wood grain on the surface of an object was designed from the beginning, and a metalsmith makes a mokume gane with his or her design in their minds. It is very difficult and complicated work and requires high skil.


Hiroko Yamada, organizer of the exhibit; owner and metalsmith of HYART Gallery in Madison, Wisconsin; and director of the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina


A work of Taguchi, Fumiki. It looks like shining laces. Taguchi made it possible by carving it from 12 different directions.


A work of Mitsuda, Haruho. All the joints of the tiny insect are able to move freely by using very tiny rivets. The work is called “jizai” and was made possible by using techniques from sword making. After the Meiji Restoration, the samurai class was no longer allowed to carry their swords, and many sword makers lost their jobs. They were encouraged to make jizai objects, and the Japanese government brought them to world expositions to impress Japanese technologies upon the visitors.

A work of Takagawa, Norio. He beat a mokume gane to shape the pot. There is no seam. According to Yamada, it is very difficult to make such a big pot from single mokume gane.


A work of Tamagawa Tatsushi, son of Norio. The beauty of red and black wood grain is planned when he made a mokume gane.


A work of Okahara, Yuko. The deep persimmon color was created by boiling copper with patina liquid.