Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Netsuke from Maryknoll Sisters Heritage Exhibit

Before Pockets, Purses or Wallets

Every day, Mr Wong, grumbled and grumbled. He lived a long time ago in China when men had to carry an inkpot and a stamp wherever they went.

Mr Wong complained to Number One wife. “I don’t like carrying things, and sometimes I drop the inkpot and my hands get all dirty.”

.Number One wife said, “Oh, honorable husband, without it, you cannot buy anything.”

Mr. Wong said, “I know. Without it, I can’t sign a document, buy rice, or that piece of silk you want, but I don’t like carrying things.”

Number One wife wanted a new silk gown, so she quickly made a silk bag for Mr Wong. “Here you are,” she said. “You can carry your inkpot and stamp in this bag”.

Mr. Wong set out to do business in his city. When he met his artist friend, he complained again, “I don’t like carrying things.”

The artist said, “Oh, I can fix that. Just wait here. I have something for you.”

The artist returned with a tiny package. “Here you are, Mr. Wong. This will solve your problem.”

Mr. Wong made a face and groaned. He said, “What is this?” Something else to carry?”

The artist said, “Oh, no! Open the package and you will see.”

Mr. Wong tore off the wrapping. He found a tiny carving with a tiny hole and a black silk cord.”

He said. “What good is this trinket?”

The artist laughed. He threaded the black cord through the tiny hole in the carving. He tied the black cord to the string on Mr. Wong’s silk purse. Then he tucked the tiny carving into the sash around Mr.Wong’s robe.

“There you are,” said the artist. Now you don’t have to carry your inkpot and stamp.

Mr. Wong thanked the artist. He smiled as he walked off to make his purchases.

He showed the tiny carving to all his friends.

Some of Mr Wong’s Japanese friends bought the tiny carvings to take home.

When artists in Japan saw the tiny carvings, they named them netsukes (pronounced nets-uhkees).

.In Japan, times were hard, and artists had little work. When no one asked them to do big monuments, they worked on little things.

Little things were important to these artists. An artist took as much care doing a little figure as he did with a big monument. Very soon artists were carving all sorts of netsukes.

They carved Uzume, the laughing goddess, Hotei, the god who loved children, and Shoki, the slayer of demons, as well as many other figures. Everyone used netsukes to anchor items at their waist.

Next time you clip something on your waist, put something in your pocket, or carry a purse, remember Mr. Wong and the artists who made netsukes.