Japanese potter infuses her culture in her craft

The Pine River mother of two never considered she’d ever live anywhere other than in Japan; she was born and raised in Akita, Japan. She had majored in fashion in college and had studied to become a master traditional Japanese dancer. She had danced since she was 4.
After her college graduation, she took a job managing a clothing store in the local mall where she kept seeing this intriguing American college student. One day they struck up a conversation.
This was not easy since she and Jason Marcum, a Pequot Lakes High School graduate, spoke very little of one another’s languages at the time. They initially had to carry a dictionary with them on dates.
Jason Marcum was in Akita studying at St. Cloud State University’s sister university for a year.
The couple hit it off and in 1997 she packed her bags for what was supposed to be a three-month trip to Minnesota to meet his parents and get married. She ended up living here for nearly seven years. It took more than two years for her to get her Green Card.
The couple then moved back to Akita in 2003 when their daughter, Misato, now 12, was 3, and their son, Kyosuke, now 9, was just 6 months old. They lived and worked in Japan for about four years and then moved back to Pine River in 2007. Jason owns Grove Homes Inc., group home in Pine River. Their children, who are bilingual, attend Pine River-Backus Elementary School.
After moving to the United States, Midori Marcum was unable to finish her apprenticeship and become a master dancer. Not finishing her apprenticeship is one of her biggest regrets. Dancing brought out her creativity.
When she moved to Pine River, she needed to find another creative outlet. She had always wanted to try her hand at pottery and took a four-day crash-course pottery workshop at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd, a birthday present from her husband. She was immediately drawn to the art. Her grandmother, who raised her while her mother worked, enjoyed pottery so Marcum grew up with an appreciation for the craft.
In Japan it isn’t easy to become a potter; you have to study under a master potter as an apprentice. “It is a much more closed world there,” Marcum explained of becoming a potter in Japan. “There is more freedom here to just pick it up.”
Three years ago she started Midori’s Peace, her own pottery business, and last year she opened her own pottery studio on Highway 371 in Pequot Lakes, where she has her own kiln. She sells her work at her studio and at arts and crafts shows throughout the Brainerd lakes area. Her next shows will be at the Chokecherry Festival in Pequot Lakes Aug. 11, the Hackensack Art and Book Festival Aug. 18 and the Arts off 84 Art Crawl from Pine River to Longville Sept. 1-2.
Marcum said her pottery toad houses are a popular item but so are her coffee mugs and bowls. She tries to infuse her Japanese culture in her pieces while creating functional art.
“I like people to actually use it,” she explained of her pottery. “I don’t want it to sit on a shelf and collect dust.”
She named her studio Midori’s Peace because she said she has to be at peace in order to create her art.
“You have to be at peace to make something beautiful,” she said with a smile.
For the past two years, Marcum also has decorated ice cream cakes at the Dairy Queen in Pequot Lakes. It’s another way for her to use her creativity.
She also enjoys oil painting and would like to work in leather craft someday.

Science meets art: Japanese artist turns preserved animals into masterpieces

Those preserved animals you dissected in science class are now also artwork that prices up to $20,000 yen or $250. Iori Tomita, a 28 year old Japanese artist, transforms dead animal carcasses into colorful art through a long and tedious scientific process that can take him months, even a year.
Designboom reports that Tomita removes the skins of animals preserved in formaldehyde then soaks the creatures in a mixture of blue stain, ethyl alcohol, and glacial acetic acid. He then breaks down the protein and muscles through the enzyme trypsin to give them a ghostly transparent look. The bones are then soaked in potassium hydroxide and dye and preserved as stained masterpieces in glycerin.
Tomita first learned his trade as a fisherman and has cultivated a niche where science meets art and skeletons meet artistic immortalization.
 “People may look at my specimens as an academic material, a piece of art, or even an entrance to philosophy,” Tomita said on his website. “There is no limitation to how you interpret their meaning. I hope you will find my work as a ‘lens’ to project a new image, a new world that you’ve never seen before.”
Tomita’s art is apart of a long line of strange and unusual art including a cat that was transformed into a helicopter. Tomita’s art is not sold outside of Japan yet but has caught on with 20 to 30 year old Japanese women. Tomita plans to branch out to “art centers like Paris, London, and New York,” according to the Huffington Post.

Atomic Lollipop brings Japan's youth culture to Toronto

This past weekend saw the second annual iteration of Atomic Lollipop, an ambitious event somewhat loosely based on Japanese youth culture that's presented by newmindspace and a few co-conspirators.

The turnout appeared to be better and perhaps a little bit older on average than last year. There was definitely a much higher ratio of cosplayers to ravers although there are boundaries being crossed between these two groups these days with plenty of partial costumes being worn by the dance crowd--think partial furry gear like full tails and ears along with the more fashionable furry boots and lots of beads.

There were events for pretty much any inclination, with surprisingly large turnout for crafts workshops, which made sense once you realised just how much cosplay was going on. There were also plenty of vendors on-hand selling posters and other decor--figurines, manga and comics, makeup and accessories, candy, and caffeinated "Atomic Lollipops." There were even live snakes and other reptiles on display for people to touch and feel.

Out in the "playground"--for those willing to brave the heat and glare of the sun--there were deejays pumping out tunes from the big colourful Otakubaloo stage and some fun fair activities to take part in including a mechanical bull, bouncy castle, bouncy jousting, a big ferris wheel, and even cotton candy. For those who prefered to stay in the dark there was a games room (done up like a giant rec room) with all sorts of electronic and board games.
From what I could see this was a big success and will continue to grow in importance as an altternative to the more mainstream and established cons battling it out in the convention centre.
Find more photos here:

Speaking stones - Suiseki

Hobby Suiseki is the art of viewing stone. It can be as beautiful as music or poetry, says M. Ponnuswami as he shows his collection to K. Jeshi
In the book “The Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation” , authors Covello and Yoshimuro describe how during the reign of the Japanese Empress Regent Suiko (AD 592-628), Chinese emissaries presented the Empress with a landscape stone. The Chinese, during their travels to Korea and Japan, are credited to have introduced the art of stone appreciation or Suiseki (Sui meaning water and seki meaning stone). A stone worthy of enjoyment, very similar to a painting, songs or poems. “A viewing stone invites you to introspect,” says M. Ponnuswami.


A person, who admires and appreciates bonsai (a life member of Bonsai Club International, he is recognised as an international consultant by the World Bonsai Friendship Federation, U.S.), he also collects unique stones. “Suiseki was introduced as a complementary art to Bonsai. Now, it’s recognised as a separate art. Even as a small boy I was fascinated by the unique shapes and figures ofgonthu (gum) you find on the trunks of trees,” says Ponnuswami, who is Advisor (Soya) of Sakthi Sugars Limited.
His soon-to-be published coffee table book “Suiseki- The art of Stone Viewing” features images of 200 stones from his collection, all hand picked from streams, deserts, river beds, rocky mountains, sea shores and crater sites. The stones are usually displayed on carved wooden bases or on trays of sand. Ponnuswami’s collection of more than 500 stones have come from places as far as Jaipur, Udaipur and from the banks of the Yamuna, and the Cauvery. He also has a collection from the mountainous sites in Erode, Coimbatore, Karur, and Vavipalayam, a crater site near Palladam. Some of his semi-precious and crystal stones have come from quarries in Kangeyam.
Awareness in Suiseki is picking up in India, he says. The Bonsai clubs in Mysore and Bangalore give demos on how to collect stones. In 1998, Ponnuswami travelled all the way to China to show his collection. “I had to travel business class, because the stones alone weighed around 20 kgs! It’s an expensive hobby,” he jokes.

Magical shapes
The stones that lie on river beds and ocean shores are eroded into interesting shapes with holes and hollows. The surface of these stones suggest great age and evoke the grandeur of nature. You find rhythm and harmony in the patterns on these stones, he says. Pointing to a ‘Colorado Rock, intact with a multitude of layers, Ponnuswami explains, “It takes thousands of years for a single layer to form. So, imagine how old the stone is. It is possible to determine the age of stones from the marks on them.” The process of imagination is akin to meditation. When you start looking at it deeply the stone begins to reflect an image, he says. Some times the rocks represent mountains and natural wonders of the world; and at other times they may evoke ancient people, animals, and mythical creatures. He calls a green and white marble stone from Rajasthan a ‘Scenic Mountain’, with the white miniature lines on it representing waterfalls. “I came up with the names after a lot of contemplation,” he says.
While a rugged stone depicts ‘two friends in deep conversation’, a shiny yellow stone looks like a shoe. Most stones from his collection fall somewhere between fully explicit and totally abstract. Some are subtle, quiet, elegant and sedate while others are uncertain, vague and often puzzling.
He has a pre-sunset collection made up of beautiful stones in flaming yellows and oranges. He got them from Rajasthan. “You should have an eye for the stone, spot its unique structure, and formation, and appreciate its beauty, in order to be a collector,” he says. Some stones throw up interesting shapes when viewed from different angles. The shiny black stone that stares out of the cover of his book is shaped like an otter. There are also formations that look like the sphinx, a penguin, a loon bird of the U.S., and even bulls!

A ‘saint’ rock in green and white is meditative. There is a stunning cheetah (a sea coral) that he found at Rameswaram. Another semi-precious yellow stone was picked up at Vavipalayam. An ‘Island stone’ is reminiscent of a chunk of cake. ‘Mountain full of streams’ is artistic and depicts the vastness of a mountain range. There is even a stone that looks like an old lady with wrinkled lines.
Suiseki is open to interpretation. A bright purple semi-precious stone looks like a flower in bloom to me, but Ponnuswami explains how to him it looks more like a mother and baby. Another stone in hues of pastel pink, violet and white represents the face of an eternal beauty (Elizabeth Taylor?). Turn the same stone around and it looks like a person with a haystack on his back. Ponnuswami believes every stone is priceless and awakens your soul. He says, “that is the beauty of Suiseki.”