The art of Ikebana gives life to the moment

Ikebana—a beautiful, brief burst of spring that comes to the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) every year—is back again from March 20-23.

Ikebana is the art of Japanese floral design; a creative expression with origins dating back to the 6th century. Materials such as branches, leaves, dried plants and fresh flowers are used. Nowadays there are over 2,000 registered Ikebana schools in Japan and 164 practising chapters worldwide.

An example of an ikebana arrangement.

Anne Breau’s arrangement at the Museum in 2013. Image: Gregor v. Bochmann © Ikebana International Ottawa

This elegant exhibition which the CMN is honoured to host yearly is jointly presented with Ikebana International’s Ottawa Centennial Chapter 120. 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of this special partnership.

The Museum’s relationship with Ikebana International is thanks to former long-time CMN employee, Anne Breau. She was introduced to the art of Ikebana on a trip to Tokyo in 1976 where she attended a demonstration at the Sogetsu School by the top Master. She remembers feeling blown away by the experience. The following year, Anne began studying the Sogetsu style of Ikebana. In 1984, Anne put forward the idea of an exhibition to the director of the (former) Museum of Man (now the Canadian Museum of History). The Ikebana-Museum partnership was created, with the first exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Museum Building “castle” mounted in 1985.

A woman stands beside an ikebana arrangement.

Anne Breau, Ikebana artist and former Museum employee, stands by her floral arrangement at the Embassy of Japan in Ottawa in 2012. Image: Helene Breau © Anne Breau

In 1988, the Museum of Man moved out of the “castle”, which it had jointly occupied with the National Museum of Natural Sciences (now the Canadian Museum of Nature). Ikebana, which aligns with the Japanese philosophy of developing a closeness with nature, remained a project of the new nature museum.

Thirty years later, Ikebana continues to bring beauty and grace to the museum through a four-day showing of live floral arrangements. Both the Sogetsu (contemporary) and Ohara (traditional) schools are represented.

After many years of study, Anne holds the highest rank diploma (Riji) that is awarded by the Sogetsu School in Tokyo. Each year, she has presented an Ikebana display in the museum’s exhibition. In 2013, she retired from the CMN and continues to practise her art.

A woman stands beside an ikebana arrangement.

Anne stands by her floral arrangement at the Embassy of Japan in Ottawa in 2013. Image: Helene Breau © Anne Breau

I asked her what was involved in the planning of her Ikebana design.

Preparation is very important: drawing the design, making a solid base, and freezing materials, such as wood, for 10 days to avoid pest contamination in the museum. But there are sometimes unforeseen glitches. One year, the flowers Anne had ordered arrived frozen, and she had to quickly order something else.

Does she deviate from the plan once she arrives in the exhibit space to assemble her arrangement? Anne chuckles when she replies, “Always!”

“You have to allow flexibility,” she says. “Once you’re in the room, the environment where you place your arrangement…who is next to you…all that has to be taken into account.” Not to do so is a disservice to your arrangement, she feels.

A stack of slices from a log.

These five pieces of wood from New Brunswick provide the base and focal point for Anne Breau’s Ikebana arrangement this year. Image: Anne Breau © Anne Breau

Look for Anne’s arrangement in the exhibition beginning March 20. Hers will have a wooden base from New Brunswick that you can see in this picture. Anne grew up in that province in a small town right on the border with Maine. Her love of nature was born at an early age when she would go for walks with her father and collect tree branches which she learned to identify.

Ikebana brings Anne serenity and wellbeing. “It’s not a hobby; it’s a way of life”, she states.

“Ikebana sort of gives life to the moment. That’s what life is all about—to enjoy the moment. It is very fleeting. Once I’ve created a piece for the exhibition, I’m already thinking of the next one. I don’t dwell on what’s there; I move on immediately.”

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