We tend to think of baskets as dreary objects that we put things in, well people did in the 60's anyhow.
Baskets were always carried to the shops by old spinsters who would buy strange things from another age. They would put flowers and jam jars in them and there were even stretchy covers to pull over the edges, some even had hinged flaps that opened from the centre outwards.
They tended to be the same mass manufactured type that became common place in the shopping centres that sprung up through the 70's.
I first became aware of the beauty of the basket weave of the Japanese by an antique dealer who became a friend who, lived in Chicago. I would often meet him in France.
While staying with me here in Liverpool we visited the Bluecoat Bookshop, which was then in the Bluecoat on School Lane, where he found a small amount of books on the subject, he bought the lot.
You see I love it when I am enlightened by someone who knows more about a particular subject than I do. With there being so many shows on the TV these days, that are full of so called experts, it is easy to think that we all can just switch it on and know about everything. But its not like that in real life, we can only have a small amount of knowledge in reality on antiques in general and then specialise off on a specific genre. I would like to see more so called experts who say, “I don't know much about that” or “You have opened up a subject that I did not know anything about and therefore my life is richer for it”. An admission, is nothing to be ashamed of, you cant know everything, its impossible, its not wrong to own up to it, its right.
Steve had been collecting baskets for a while and although new to me, when I glanced through the books he had purchased, I was taken by the beauty of some of the simple baskets, that turned them, in my mind, into works of art. In this country basket making, though skilled, is thought of as a handicraft practised in the country by people who will never make it pay.
Japan has a steep mountainous environment and a lot of goods were transported by people. Some baskets were made to shape into certain parts of the body. They could be strapped to the waist carried on the back, and even strapped or carried on the head. So baskets will require a different shape and a different weave.
This makes the versatility of bamboo as a ideal choice of material.
Its lightweight and its strength give it such a versatility. And of course its beauty.
The baskets were made for flowers and also utilitarian objects such as sieves and strainers.
Its quick growth means that the material bamboo, is readily available and available for use within a few years of planting.
The Japanese culture would, in my opinion take the art of making a simple object into a piece of beauty, this would run into all the elements of their existence.
So when the likes of William Morris was proclaiming everything around you should be of functionality and of beauty. (He was rich enough to say that)
The Japanese had been doing this for a long time.
The chained country of Japan or SAKOKU were the orders of the edicts of 1633-1639, in that it was laid down that no foreigner could enter the country, or no Japanese could leave. This remained in effect until 1853 when Black Ships of Commodore Mathew Perry forcibly opened Japan.
In 1864 the Americans were preoccupied with killing themselves in the American Civil War and trade was relinquished to Great Britain who by this time controlled 90% of Japanese trade with the western world.
When the Japanese trade borders were forcibly opened in the1860's after what we now know as gunboat diplomacy on the part of the western powers.
In 1865 nine foreign warships into Osake Harbour and demande that the Baufu pay, by the end of 1866, for the Choshu attackson their warships in the Shimonoseki Straights.
This was only one incident of many that kept the tension on the Japanese. The west wanted their goods ideas and history and they would not stop until they had it.
It now made it easy to trade and the explosion of art in Great Britain was to be influenced forever by the mastery of design, and the customs that the Japanese had become to take over them, as their existence.
So how did this object of such innocuous piece become to be there at the back of an antique shop, languishing lonely and forgotten and described as a Chinese basket, luckily for me.
I couldn't leave it behind.
It needed me, or someone who could see the skill and craftsmanship by which it was made.
And recognise the intrinsic value contained within, what after all is a vessel that carried not only flowers, but tradition.
But, more than all that, it has an essence about it, that makes you want to hold it. Like a piece of furniture you want to stroke it.
The bamboo has a patina making it look like it was smoked, and the way the highlights of where it has been touched, for probably a hundred years just shines through.
It was probably made quickly, with a slight of hand. Though that slight would have taken decades to get right.
You do have to be so careful our far eastern friends have also become of forgery, but this is dead right.
Its mine now and its taken me on a little journey that has heightened my understanding a little more of ancient cultures and their influences, and on the British who then showed the world the Arts and Crafts movement.
Christopher Dresser would visit Japan and take design notes collecting samples for Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Despite the writing of Violet de Luc, the French John Ruskin, It was the Japanese who would educate the western world even Van Gough would physically touch a woodblock print, of the Hokasai wave.
The Wave was used to adorn the music for Claude Debussey's LA MER in 1905.
Both artists would have respective disciplines of style over realism and would focus on brilliant colour and energy. One with touch and grace of a brush, the other the keys of a piano.
We owe a lot to the everyday symbolic rituals of a nation that, 150 years ago, and not unlike China, was a secret to the world.
That they turned an everyday object into a glory.
See more baskets here http://www.jcollector.com/Japanese-Baskets-s/2.htm