Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Learning ikenobo in an unusual way

It's an odd relationship for a teacher and a student of an art form that requires a focus on visual effects. But it's not odd for our time and place.

I had been a member of Ikebana International Chapter #41 in New Mexico for a while before I decided on a style of ikebana I wanted to study in depth. Hey, when I started out, I didn't know anything about any styles. The members who led the meetings and performed arranging demonstrations came from several different style backgrounds, most often ichiyo.  But after I read about the history of ikebana and also visited the U.S. headquarters of ikenobo in Japantown in San Francisco, I made a decision. I wanted to study ikenobo.

My choice was based on the fact that it is the most ancient of the styles, and I felt challenged by hearing that studying it would be difficult, especially learning the most complicated form, rikka. But when I first saw an actual rikka arrangement, not just in a photo, I knew I had to learn eventually how to create one myself.

First I needed to find a teacher. So I wrote to the headquarters office in San Francisco and asked for a referral to a certified ikenobo teacher. Mr. Kenneth Endo wrote back and told me that there was no certified ikenobo teacher in New Mexico but gave me the names of chapter presidents in Colorado and Arizona to get in touch with. I did so, and that was how I found my teacher, Dan Dell.

I suggested to him that he could make assignments, and I could send him photos of my arrangements for his corrections and comments. For nearly a year now, we have done all our communications by email, photography, Photoshop, and phone calls until we have an opportunity to meet in person.

The photos to the right show how this works.The assignment is to learn how to create shoka shimputai, a more modern version of the traditional design known as shoka. My arrangement is shown at the top. (I normally use background paper to photograph, but my homemade roller for the paper is not working, so I simply photographed against a white wall.) Dan's editing of my arrangement is shown at the bottom. He is telling me in his comments and in the edited photo that my flowers need leaves (important in ikenobo). He also added some more Scotch broom to the top left of the arrangement because the purple flowers seemed to be hiding the Scotch broom, so it required more emphasis. He also erased some of the purple flowers.

He provides emailed comments, comments on the edited photo itself, and also explanations by phone when he is trying to introduce something new or complicated.

This way of teaching and learning ikenobo is unusual, but it works well for us. We have email and digital photography and photo editing available to us. We also live in the Mountain West, where many miles can separate a teacher in Colorado from a student in a rural state like New Mexico. I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn from Dan, even though we have yet to meet in person.