Sen Bana No Saki (Thousand Blossoms)

Background information

Kazuko Kayasuga Matthews, 1981. 20' x 8'. 400 East Second Street
Beginning in Japan more than a thousand years ago as an emblem for warring aristocratic families, decorative crests (mon or monsho in Japanese) have evolved into a popular form of identification that now embraces families, cities, businesses, community organizations as well as public ceremonies and religious beliefs. Crests have also survived as an art form and an element of design.

The use of crests as both ornament and identification can be seen in the panel at the top of Honda Plaza facing San Pedro Street. The largest crest, located at the center of the entire work, represents the family of the late Bob Honda, the Nisei developer of the building. The artist, Kazuko Matthews, also included one for her own family -- two bamboos and an umbrella -- in the lower part of the smallest of the work's two panels. Others symbolize the Little Tokyo Community Development Advisory Committee, Takei Construction, which designed the building, and Community Redevelopment Agency staff who worked on the Honda Plaza project. Good fortune and a long life are represented by the double crane, and the symbol of Buddhism is depicted by the eight-section wheel to the upper right of the double crane.

The title of this work responds to the flower-like appearance of the crests, while the composition reconciles the aesthetic tastes of the artist, who wanted an abstract design, and the developer, who wanted a mosaic mural celebrating the heroic experiences of Japanese-American pioneers. Matthews proposed four different designs before Honda accepted the concept of the crests. Combining abstraction with figurative patterns, the crest unites an ancient tradition with the symbolism of the blossoming of the Issei pioneers and their descendants in America.

Matthews based her composition on historic crests she researched. After the CRA and FOLTA, which helped finance the installation, approved the design, Matthews fashioned each crest out of clay and then cut it into smaller pieces for firing. The cut lines were carefully made to enhance the design. Before firing, a colored slip was applied to give a matt appearance to the surface. The piece, divided in a variety of patterns, was assembled directly on the wall like a jigsaw puzzle. Matthews selected the site for the work and suggested the frame as a way of highlighting the panels.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, January 1998.

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