Watanabe Kunihiko kokeshi Dolls exhibition
Feb 13th 2022, Written by Taru
Kunihiko Watanabe is one of Japan’s leading kokeshi artists. His style is very vibrant, joyful and unique in the kokeshi world.
He was born in Shiroishi city, Miyagi prefecture and that’s also where he resides today and creates his lovely dolls.
This time I went to Mito city, Ibaraki prefecture to meet him in his personal exhibition in Keisei Department store.
It was a very rainy and cold day in Tokyo, with a snow fall forecasted for the evening which could potentially stop the train traffic to and from Tokyo, but as we both probably know – that’s not going to stop a kokeshi fan from going to see some amazing works!
I stumbled upon Kunihiko san as I got out of the elevator on the 6th floor of the beautiful Keisei department store and he showed me the way to the gallery.
I was happy to see that the gallery was very spacious which left room for lots of kokeshi dolls, almost 40 of them if I remember right.
One of the first dolls that caught my attention was this beauty with her autumn inspired kimono.
The thing that I liked about her the most is how Kunihiko san combined the natural wood part with the colored Kimono. I’m not used to see unpainted dolls by him and this was a really lovely surprise. Unfortunately, she wasn’t available so she couldn’t join my collection.
The next doll that magnetized me was this stunning lady with her red & brown kimono and her magnificent hairstyle.
Kunihiko san explained to me that the most complicated part in making her was carving the front circles on her hair since they had to match on both sides. They also resemble tree rings that help us check how old trees are.
Shortly after I finished admiring this doll I noticed another amazing piece at the corner of the gallery.
Sitting there at the corner with a dark olive-colored kimono and staring at the skies with a kind look – she was impossible to ignore. The body color combination as well as her unique shape & size made photographing her a real pleasure. With fear in my heart I dared to pick her up and got a reminder just how heavy keyaki (zelkova) wood can be.
I envy the collector whom she’ll be going home with.
I wasn’t ready for the next kokeshi lifting challenge when Kunihiko picked this kokeshi up from her top knot and suggested I try the same but this time the fear overcame me and I politely dodged the unexpected challenge. It was a superb example of how well a master knows his craft!
If you look closely at her you’ll also notice that her eyes are an evolution of the one brush-stroke eyes.
Another design element that I found very fascinating is the darker areas in which Kunihiko san repeatedly burnt the wood to create a rugged surface which contrasts perfectly with the surrounding smoother wood. You can also see it in the Asanoha pattern in the background.
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Want to read more? Click here to visit Kunihiko Watanabe’s artist page!