Hideko Masuda Essay

Hideko Masuda Essay

Hideko Masuda
Spring 2001 Fellow

The work of Hideko Masuda, a Spring 2001 resident fellow of the Creative Glass Center of America, might be divided into two primary categories: sculpture which stands alone and sculptural containers for flower arranging. It’s easy to see that patterns of growth are a formal influence on all her work. In other respects as well, her sculpture reflects or expands upon the sense of contrast, balance, and natural order which are intrinsic to Japanese flower arranging.

Before she turned to glass, Masuda’s varied career began with the study of textile design in art college. A very influential period for her was 13 years during which she practiced flower arranging and taught it in a school owned by one of her sisters. In Japan, ikebana (flower arranging) is a highly evolved art form with a roots going back at least to central Asian murals of the eighth century which depict the offering of blossoms in Buddhist rituals. The indigenous Shinto religion of Japan also incorporated plant decorations on shrines; so, by the fifteenth or sixteenth century the Ikenobo (or classical) tradition of flower arranging had developed with its distinctive spiritual connotations.

The most basic Japanese ikebana pattern is a representation of the universe with tall elements suggesting heaven, medium-height elements suggesting humans and lower elements representing the earth. Each part has its own importance and the whole can be related to the proper structure of the family or society. Landscape features are also mirrored in ikebana, as is the relationship of yin and yang.

The modern development of flower arrangement, Sogetsu, allows for more freedom and variation but the meaningfulness of the work is no less. Masuda was no longer working with ikebana when she became enamored of art nouveau pate de verre while traveling in Europe. But, as she began to explore the glass medium, naturally she made some containers for flowers. Three years ago she met Takashi Mikawa, a flower designer whom she describes as “a genius.” Mikawa had an important success with a large cast bowl made by Masuda. The bowl, a half sphere with an irregular edge, is composed entirely of spiral shapes resembling ammonites. It has a frosted surface. Mikawa simply laid a branch of flowering cherry into the bowl without a holder allowing some frothy pink blossoms to cascade over the edges while others stand upright. The icy but soft forms of the glass contrast with the dense glossy cherry wood and the delicate ephemeral petals.

Masuda’s sculpture frequently explores the nature of glass as medium in transition. A signature technique for her expands on the traditional drip mold technique. She melts glass in plaster molds which allow it to flow through a grid of small holes where it pools beneath the plaster. But she cools the glass before it all runs through the mold which is then carefully removed revealing thin columns of glass, standing upright like growing shoots ending in fragile tendrils or mushroom-like caps. One motive for Masuda’s interest in a CGCA residency was the possibility of making works of this type in a large kiln. In the studio where she works in Japan, she has to make several small works and glue them together to complete a larger one.

Masuda often integrates elements made with this casting technique with other kiln cast forms. In Energy, a cast of a human foot is placed on glass threads, which could describe something (gravity or chewing gum) anchoring the foot to the earth or a force propelling it upward.

An untitled image inspired by Mt. Fuji is composed of partly fused chunks of glass and topped with a gold cap. Three vertical glass filaments project above the summit, needle-like, both fragile and dangerous. Their translucence hints at threads of steam, the power within the volcano.

By fusing chunks of incompletely melted glass within completely vitrified masses, Masuda suggests crystals growing in molten rock. Many of her most effective CGCA works contrast dense rather organic interiors with simple geometric exterior forms. She generally prefers clear or smokey neutral colors with occasional flashes of silver.

One work resembles a bouquet or container of fruit, small gold-covered balls clustered at the edges of a basket-like form. Translucence and light and dark play a subtle role in a semi-circular, bowl-shaped slab supporting a dark cube with a metalic silver interior. This is perhaps the most striking of a series of semicircles often inset with rectangular openings. A jade-colored one encloses a metalic gold rectangle supporting multiple tendrils of glass.

A blue-black obolisk shelters a gold-covered cube–a precious base for a field of delicate glass seedlings. Beneath them partially fused balls of glass are suspended within the translucent mass. Like others of Masuda’s sculptures, this could almost be imagined as a kind of ikebana sculpture with self-contained plant life. It speaks of the cycle of life and the proper relationship of parts to the whole, though perhaps it says more about the hidden earth and the secret life of plants before they appear above the ground. Precious growth seems to Masuda’s subject.