ONCE UPON A TIME… Followers of modern architecture will undoubtedly be familiar with the Bauhaus school of design, with its focus on paring down a building’s elements into spare yet classically elegant forms without superfluous adornments. And in the world of floral design, there is a genre of arrangement known as ikebana, and likewise within it are several influential schools of design. Already known for its unique and minimalist aesthetic, similar to other Japanese art forms, ikebana flower arranging has been practiced for centuries. Coincidentally, both the Bauhaus movement and ikebana’s Sogetsu school were founded in the early 20th century during the interbellum period as the world embraced the arts and emerged from times of paucity and global strife.
Ikebana has existed as a recognized and formal method of floral arrangement since the 16th Century, with origins in the floral arrangements that were brought to temples and places of worship. The earliest forms of Ikebana, which roughly translates as “alive, or arranging” from ike, and “flower” from hana, were quite large in scale to adequately fill large solemn spaces within shrines, but over time, the arrangements’ popularity began to be associated with the smaller derivative arrangements that were made for homes and more intimate spaces. In the centuries that followed its early origins, ikebana has given rise to multiple hundreds of schools that interpret and teach its foundational practices, but none has grown in influence on a global scale like the Sogetsu school, founded in 1927 by its first Iemoto, or headmaster, Sofu Teshigahara. As it approaches its centennial, the Sogetsu Foundation’s Ikebana school is helmed by the fourth Iemoto Akana Teshigahara, who is also the founder’s granddaughter.
Long-time followers of this Japanese art would concur that at perhaps no other time and by no other established school has the design language and visual envelope of ikebana been expanded as it has by fourth Iemoto Akana Teshigahara and her team of Master Instructors. From the Tokyo headquarters of the Sogetsu Foundation, ikebana’s core tenets have been preserved, certainly, but they have also been built upon and stretched by imaginations that are seemingly unbounded by materials or vision. Others may only be familiar with the more traditional ikebana arrangements; sparse and minimal, with the expected odd number of spikes shooting out of an elegant vessel or dish. Tradition holds that there are styles like upright, or slanting, or reflecting, and certain formulaic levels and angles to be considered in the relationship between the elements; the tallest shin, intermediate soe and lower tai, whose heights are proportional to each other, as well as to the size of the vessel from which they emerge. And from those traditional building blocks, Sogetsu’s Iemoto, the Master Arrangers, apprentices and students of this school have graciously departed, as they developed their own evolutionary styles and themes that result in elegant and flowing arrangements that expand in multiple dimensions and are anchored by vessels that are art in themselves.
In mid-May this year, Hawai‘i played host to the 2019 North American Sogetsu Seminar; a gathering of students, practitioners, teachers, and of course, the assistants, Master Arrangers and fourth Iemoto Akana Teshigahara. The week-long event brought attendees and the visiting dignitary teachers to private garden tours, trips to both the Foster Botanic Garden and Lyon Arboretum as well as island-wide hunts for tropical flowers and foliage to use in classes, as well as at the seminar’s highlight: a live on-stage performance
of floral arranging, in Sogetsu style. With the broader Honolulu plant and flower community’s support, a broad cross- section of materials was obtained. The expected tropical flowers and foliage were well represented: ti of all colors and stripes, orange heliconia that stood tall, red ones that lazily loped over and even some that had a fuzzy winter coat adorn- ing their lobes. Monstera leaves in their delicious splendor shared bed space in the back of pickup trucks with broad philodendron leaves, and there were also sturdy palms represented; the slim scimitar arecas, bushier fox- and fishtails and, amazingly, the noble bismarck palm’s massive fan-shaped leaf made a starring appearance, too. The flora that surrounds us certainly didn’t daunt the visiting Sogetsu team, rather, it all served as fresh inspiration to be harmoniously incorporated with other more traditional floral elements for their creations. Orchid spikes from ivory and purple phalaenopsis to sprays of yellow oncidium served as color keys to that accented the arrangements, many of which over- flowed their containers, connected to other containers or climbed skyward with massive spears of bamboo held together like engineered trusswork.
Fourth Iemoto Akana Teshigahara brings her knowledge of centuries of Ikebana tradition, melded with decades of floral innovation and expertise to a new level with her live demonstrations of this art form. To be sure, there’s some idea of what each arrangement is going to be made from, but the final form’s design also meets the artist’s creative side as sticks and stems meet snipping secateurs that lop, then trim each element prior to being placed, and adjusted. As each creation comes to life, fourth Iemoto Teshigahara reminds the audience that the flowers are alive, and that with flowers in hand, everyone has the ability to create an arrangement to share, and that brings the arrangement back to ikebana, full circle; living flower arrangements are created to be shared as we pause and appreciate the intersection of art and life.