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The Bowser Ivories

The Bowser Ivories

Sculpture has existed in Japan from earliest times, and sculptors throughout Japanese history have used an extensive variety of media for their work. Carved-ivory sculpture, which has deep roots in Asia and is one of China's oldest arts, was not a major technique used by Japanese artists until the Edo period (1603-1867), the final period of traditional Japan. Carvers of this time developed a mastery of ivory sculpture, particularly in miniature, that continues to influence modern Japanese artists and win the appreciation of collectors throughout the world.

One notable form of miniature sculpture that developed in the Edo period was the netsuke. These togglelike ornaments were used to suspend objects, such as medicine boxes or tobacco pouches, from the sash of the kimono. Originally carved from boxwood, netsuke began to be made of ivory and other materials in the 18th century and to feature subject matter largely related to Japanese and Chinese legends, religion, customs, and manners.

Okimono are another class of Japanese miniature sculpture. These carvings are made as ornaments for display in tokonama, alcoves in traditional Japanese homes. Okimono are usually larger and less compact than netsuke and, unlike netsuke, have no place for attachment of a cord.

This exhibit presents a selection of netsuke, okimono, and other Japanese carvings from the Bowser Collection [opens in new window]. Most of the selections are of ivory and depict archery-related themes. These miniature works of art offer a treat for the eyes as well as a glimpse of Japanese habits and customs.

The Bowser Collection [opens in new window] contains Japanese ivory carvings and other Asian decorative arts dating from the 18th through the 20th centuries. These items are from the estate of William A. and Florence T. Browne [opens in new window], who collected Asian archery-related arts and crafts and donated an extensive collection of archery thumb rings to the Museum. In 1999, in honor of Mrs. Browne, Miss Eva Bowser purchased and donated to the Museum the Browne's collection of ivory carvings and related materials.

Related Links

Miss Bowser donor profile [opens in new window]

The Brownes donor profile [opens in new window]

Museum Collection Databases

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