Ikebana: The Art of Japanese Floral Design

With the arrival of spring (even with all the snow), what better time is there for an abundance of blooms at the Canadian Museum of Nature? While interning with the museum’s exhibits department, I was given the opportunity to help with the installation of this year’s Ikebana – Horizons exhibition.

My role was to provide the artists with any assistance they required, including carrying materials, setting up tables and mounting labels. It was a privilege to have witnessed these amazing artists at work.

Ikebana is much more than just beautiful flower arrangements. Ikebana is the discipline of Japanese floral design, in which the floral arrangement itself is a living thing, emphasising closeness with nature.

A floral arrangement.

This work of art, created by Marie-Eve Coupal, was designed in the style of the Ohara school of Ikebana. The Ohara school highlights the beauty of natural environments, while integrating seasonal characteristics. As shown here, large flat vessels are often used to create a “landscape arrangement”. This arrangement features protea (Protea sp.), cymbidium (Cymbidium sp.), tea tree (Leptospermum sp.), weeping willow (Salix alba “Tristis”), ceriman (Monstera deliciosa) and begonia (Begonia sp.). Image: Lyndsey Sullivan © Canadian Museum of Nature

Various plant materials, including branches, leaves, grasses and blooms, among many others, are brought together in a single design to create beautiful colour combinations, natural shapes and a sense of movement. Harmony between the organic materials and manmade components is crucial to the practice. The spiritual aspects of Ikebana also guide practitioners to live in the moment while creating their arrangements.

The three principal schools of Ikebana are Ikenobo, Ohara and Sogetsu. Ohara and Sogetsu styles are featured in this year’s exhibition, Ikebana – Horizons.

A floral arrangement.

This piece, created by the museum’s own Anne Breau, follows the Sogetsu school of Ikebana. This school promotes the idea that “an arrangement can be created anytime, anywhere, with any material”, within the rules of Ikebana. Manufactured materials are often incorporated into the abstract designs of Sogetsu design, thereby encouraging individuality. This arrangement features blue lily of the Nile (Agapanthus sp.), sea holly (Eryngium sp.), gloriosa lily (Gloriosa sp.) and corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana “Tortuosa”). Image: Lyndsey Sullivan © Canadian Museum of Nature

When working with an exhibition that involves the use of natural materials, there are some conservation considerations. The preparation procedures ensure that pests such as insects or moulds are not brought into the exhibition space.

View inside the freezer.

The museum’s large, walk-in, –30°C freezer holds materials in preparation for installation in Ikebana. Image: Lyndsey Sullivan © Canadian Museum of Nature

In preparation for the Ikebana exhibition at the museum, dried materials such as branches, driftwood and vines were placed in a large freezer for a period of five to seven days prior to installation.

The pieces were then taken out of the freezer and left to acclimatize to room temperature for one to two days before being moved to the exhibition space. These organic materials were inspected by a conservator to guarantee that no pests remained.

The transformations that occurred over the three days in which the artists created their pieces were incredible. Many of the designs began with support materials or the installation of larger components. Gradually, other components were carefully added during the creative process.

Each additional branch, stem and blossom contributes to the colour, shape and overall sense of movement of the piece. The scale and intricacy of the arrangements are amazing. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the evolution of these stunning works of art.

Collage: A man works on an arrangement, and the finished piece.

(Left) Terry Hodgins begins to create his piece. (Right) The completed work of art. The arrangement features calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica), azalea (Rhododendron sp.), mugho pine (Pinus mugo), bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), leather fern (Rumohra adiantiformis) and ground pine (Lycopodium obscurum). Image: Lindsey Sullivan © Canadian Museum of Nature

The impact of the floral designs can only truly be experienced first-hand. Ikebana – Horizons will be on display from March 21 to 24, 2013, at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

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