The civilizations of the East can teach us much about appreciation of beauty
ANNE ELIZABETH WILSON
The Home Beautiful
SPRING ever brings to mind the love of the Japanese for blossoms and flowers—a devotion and joy in the mere sight of them which surpasses any conception we may have of appreciation. In cherry blossom time it is the custom of the Japanese family to walk for miles, in order at last to sit down and drink in the beauty of the flowering orchards. The peasants come in their thousands from the surrounding country to refresh themselves with a few hours’ viewing of the bloom that is to them so symbolic and so precious. And when the day is done, they pick up their luncheon baskets and trudge the weary miles home, well repaid in beauty for whatever fatigue the journey may have cost them.
Is it much wonder that the decorative art of such a people have a charm that is unequalled for its simple beauty? Beauty with them is a tradition as deep-rooted as the ways of life. Whatever art they have embraced has become deeply nationalized, chiefly because it has been taken so seriously by every class of people. For when a craftsman takes up his art in Japan, it is usually an hereditary matter. Ilis father has probably practised it before him, as will his sons after him.
Japanese Grass Cloth
PAPER as a wall covering first reached us from the Orient, and the patterns which were extant in the seventeenth century are to this day manufactured in Japan. Many of the grass cloths which are in evidence among the wall papers this spring are in the identical designs which have persisted for centuries. During the famous Tokugawa regime, the arts flourished in Japan, and it is the original Tokugawa pattern in grass cloth which is to-day in decorative favor. A special charm exists in the variability of color which occurs in the
printing of the grass cloths. They are block-printed by hand, and the stamping paints are remixed from time to time by the individual workman. When he is relieved by another man, who in turn prepares his own colors, it is often noticeable that there is slight change in the cast of the printing. Such little variations are sought for in the imported grass cloths by knowing buyers, for they indicate the time-honored process by which they are made.
One of the outstanding characteristics of the Japanese is their great love of home—the actual building is a dear and sacred thing. No matter into what decay it may fall, it is always beloved and held together by the tendrils of affection. This is beautifully symbolized in a paper design widely known as the ‘the broken bamboo pattern.’ In it may be seen the splintered ends of bamboo, representing the aging and failing of the home structure— but holding them together and supporting them still, are the vines of wistaria which cover them. It is a poetic conception as well as a beautiful soft-hued design.
These traditional patterns are all favorites, but they by no means complete the array. By appointment within the industry, an artist whose sole profession is creation of wallpaper design, is constantly at work evolving new patterns. They are often considerably occidentalized out of consideration for their eventual market. The artist, however, is a man of some distinction, and usually a descendant or pupil of similar designers of the past.
The ‘plain’ grass cloths are of metallic nature, being woven with a golden weft. Any grass cloth is always distinguishable from ordinary papers, by its rough surface, in which the weaving is evident. It is backed with stiffening so that its hanging is identical with that of paper.
In draperies to accompany grass cloth there is nothing more effective than the metallic gauzes or metallic shot reps which now are prominent.
Adaptations of the Japanesque
' I 'HE beauty of Japanese, or, in fact, any Oriental -*• feeling, is that it usually fits in graciously with whatever setting we have to offer. The influence of the Orient pervaded English furniture and design, as early as William and Mary became a strong influence in house decoration. One therefore, need have no fear of introducing a false note in the decorative scheme, when the question of an incidental piece of Chinese or Japanese decoration is involved. Many of the new Canadian wallpapers show the Japanesque influence. Birds play an interesting role—often the tall graceful herons, standing meditatively among the marshes on one leg, or in flight across the sky, add a high-light to a neutral paper. The beloved cherry blossoms appear, with the shadowy suggestion of a pagoda behind them, and the drooping wistariafallsin delicate cascades of pale lavender from gnarled branches.
The Chinese lamps are of particular richness. Mounted on vases of Chinese pottery, their shades are a most effective means of displaying a fine bit of Chinese embroidery. Frequently the panels of a fine old mandarin coat will find preservation there. Another delightful use
for delicate embroidery on silk or rice cloth are the small screens, just ‘knee high’. Theyjare fire screens primarily, but only in the sense of the old face screens, that they protect the person from the heat of the blaze, rather than the room from flying pieces of fuel. In all the delicate shades, pink, yellow, blue and mauve, they are particularly lovely for bedrooms.
Jade, of course, in white and green, was ever a favorite with the Chinese for fine carving, but it is exceedingly expensive. As " a substitute for this, the modern craftsman has made use of a substance called stealite which takes carving exceedingly well and also can be secured in very attractive colors. Many lamp stands are carried out in this material, and are available to the average purse.
The little art pieces which are always needed about the drawing room—under vases and knick-knacks to prevent scratching or marking—are to be secured
chiefly among Chinese importations. Embroidery on old silk, pineapple or rice cloth invariably gives them a bit of color which provides just that small note in the room-plan that the elusive touch of irridescence or unexpected spots of brilliancy might give a bird’s plumage. There is nothing in worse taste in the living room than a white doily! Odd pieces of Chinese embroidery have many incidental uses. The pleated tails of a mandarin coat make a stunning piano cover. Odd cuttings may be made up under glass for trays of various sizes. One very artistic woman I know had a great, exquisitely painted, silken kerchief framed and hung as a picture. The richness of coloring and finesse of design in Oriental workmanship seems to carry with it a special distinction, however it be used.
LACQUER, originally Chinese, was - taken up extensively by Japan when the demand from European countries became keen. Lacquer pieces are imported from both countries and are also beingproduced on a large scale domestically. Like other things Oriental, lacquer may be introduced in conjunction with almost any other sort of furniture. You will find delightful bedroom sets in black, yellow, green or cream domestic lacquer with just enough of the Oriental feeling left in their decoration to retain a flavor. For the living room or hall, the most vivid pieces in red and green are in vogue. In garden planning they would be called ‘specimens’ for they stand out alone asa sharp note of interest and color in contrast to whatever background they
embellish. These are usually round tilttop tables, desks or chests. They are a distinctly modern tendency. Lacquers of different colors may be mixed, or used on any wood. They are quite the smartest addition to any decorative scheme.
JAPANESE prints are the hobby of collectors. Their history is a fascinating one and must be studied if one wishes to appreciate them or understand their significance. Of all the results of Japanese creative effort, they are perhaps the most keenly enjoyed by connoisseurs the world over. Centuries ago, the first Japanese printers began their trade, reproducing action studies of wrestlers. Later their subjects broadened out into scenes from plays in which male mimes represented women. The printer’s calling was considered so low in those days that he was of a social caste almost unspeakable—yet among the common people his products found favor. So again, it is to the inherent artistic appreciation of the Japanese populace at large, that we owe the preservation of one of the world’s most exquisite arts. Later on, the Geishas became the subjects of prints, and finally
the landscape was conceived and the ubiquitous crest of Fujiyama, the volcano, was perpetuated for all time. Japanese print-making reached its zenith of production as well as official recognition in the early nineteenth century. Thereafter it declined. There is at present a modern, symbolic and impressionist school at work, but their art is often too subtle for the occidental mind.
If one ever undertakes the collecting of Japanese prints, one must remember one thing, however Unlike other Oriental incidentals, they must reign alone. They cannot be mixed with other pictures of any kind.
When it comes to appreciation of the beautiful, the Japanese and Chinese can teach us much. The mere arrangement of a vase or bowl of flowers, the laying out of a garden, with them, is bound up with rules of symmetry and balance, symbolism and imagery, at which we can but marvel. Yet, to the merest Japanese or Chinese farmboy, such knowledge is as common as the knowing of his right hand from the left. Truly what we may absorb from even a smattering of the culture of such a people in the mere lovely dignities of life, must be of advantage to our own ability to perceive beauty.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.