George Tsutakawa, 1910 – 1997 (Seattle), Rocks and Waves, 1987, oil on board, 22.5”h x 54”w. Private Collection. Photo by John Pai

George Tsutakawa (1910-1997), a Seattle native, has created pieces of all mediums and styles throughout his life, drawing on the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The exhibit at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is a collection of his works since 1950. During WWII, Tsutakawa was drafted and served four years as a Japanese language instructor for a military intelligence school. After the war, he taught art and design at the University of Washington from which he, himself, graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture; however, sculptures make up only a fraction of his talent showcased in this exhibit.  

As you go upstairs and walk into the exhibit, you’re welcomed by a calming water fixture by Tsutakawa that sets the scene for the sculptures and paintings inside. What is interesting as you look to your right and your left at the entrance is the variety of abstract art mixed with more concrete works. He has paintings of artichokes and shrimp to your left and then pristinely crafted sculptures to your right and then beautiful abstract paintings mixed in between.  

Tsutakawa’s work is unique in that each piece, whether a majestic fountain holding the most important aspect of life or a painting of some artichokes, leaves you with an entirely different impression as the one before. After being captivated by his architectural creativity with his benches and tables, you look at one of his sumi-e (black ink painting) and marvel at his diversity of his craftwork.  

Although only a few could be featured in the exhibit, Tsutakawa has designed and built seventy-five fountains around the United States, including commissions in Japan and Canada. As per the panels within the exhibition, his fountains’ majestic image creates the illusion that each one is “shaped by water itself.” Water served a powerful presence and influence in Tsutakawa’s work, emphasizing how humanity is connected to water and the beauty in that cycle—much like how water flows through his sculpture, almost as though carved by the flow of our lifeline.  

George Tsutakawa: Language of Nature is on display July 1 – October 9, 2022. 

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