From the “Galaxies Of Hope: The Japan Tsunami/Earthquake Memorial Installation"
From the “Galaxies Of Hope: The Japan Tsunami/Earthquake Memorial Installation"

“The Elements Within” exhibit at Mithun — running until June 21 — features a collaborative show of artisanal slab furniture and calligraphic wall hangings.

Calligrapher and choreographer Yoko Murao was invited to include her works
alongside Gudrun Onkels and Eric Holder, makers of fine furniture and woodcrafts at SlabArt. The exhibit’s title alludes to the natural elements of earth, air, fire and water.

Monolithic slabs and cuttings of wood, salvaged and sourced from the Pacific
Northwest, blend harmoniously with Murao’s paper and cloth hangings. In ‘Phoenix,’ Murao uses lula silk chiffon and ink mixed with birch and pine ashes
to conjure the image of the Phoenix. “It’s a classic symbol in Japanese calligraphy…The Phoenix burns itself [and comes to life again] every 500 years. I explored the myth’s metaphor of rebirth and resurrection [in this piece].” The work hangs freely and is displayed from a high vantage point above Mithun’s staircase. The movement of the cloth with the brush’s bold, sweeping strokes was meant to capture the element of wind, says Murao.

Another piece entitled ‘Ama-ashi’ features more delicate lines of blue sumi ink on washi (mulberry paper). Like Phoenix, it hangs freely and unframed. The calligrapher prefers “the mundaneness of not framing pieces. The rough aspect [of the work]” shines through, perhaps better conveyed when not under glass. She views calligraphic pieces “not as a permanent fixture in the home.” This work is representative of what Murao would create for a byobu, used in a tea ceremony, and relates to the element water.

The 66-year-old Murao was born in Kamogawa, Japan and now resides in Seattle. As a first grader, she began private studies with a calligraphy master. In second grade, calligraphy was a required element in secondary Japanese schools, and Murao continued her studies. Throughout antiquity, “only educated people studied and wrote. The calligrapher was a prestigious, educated person,” she says.

However, Murao strives to participate in voicing sentiments of the common people. To commemorate the recent Japanese tsunami, her installation “Galaxy of Hope” (pictured) includes messages from around the world. Following the tanabata tradition in which Japanese children wrote wishes on slips of paper and then attached them to tree branches, the installation features branches from bamboo trees that creates an arbor of colorful and delicate “leaves.” Local students from the Lakeside School and Bainbridge Island schools comprise the senders of these hopeful messages. Visitors are also invited to include their own thoughts in this interactive piece.

Mithun is located in Pier 56 on Alaskan Way. For more information, visit or To send a message for the ‘Galaxy of Hope’ installation, contact Yoko Murao at [email protected].

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