Japanese floral arranging art features practical and spiritual aspects

Whether hailing from East or West, people around the world don't hesitate to meditate on the beauty and spiritual power of flowers.

Ikebana, Japanese floral arranging with its emphasis on shape, line and form, has had an aesthetic secular appeal in the West.

It's probably because of its simplicity and airy spacing of colorful blossoms, tiny ferns, palm fronds and dried twigs in vases or other containers.

But Ikebana also has roots in Buddhism, a religion of the Far East. 

And that aspect may be harder to grasp or appreciate in a workshop.

Artist Tamiko Laincz, a native of Japan, demonstrated that recently while creating floral arrangements for senior citizens at an art class workshop at the Heritage of Green Hills, a retirement community in Cumru Township.

In a lecture and demonstration, it wasn't easy to convey both the practical and spiritual aspects of the floral art, but Laincz managed well either by studious intent or unself-conscious default.

Her handiwork elicited admiring comments from the seniors who witnessed her designing three distinct arrangements: one straight or upright, a second slanted or curvy and the third low and horizontal.

When asked to pick a favorite arrangement, the more than dozen observers gravitated to different ones depending on whether they preferred large, colorful flowers; simple leaves and smaller flowers; or a more naturalistic look of plants and dried branches, twisting in nature, appearing to bend in a breeze and then forever frozen as if captured in a photographer's snapshot.

For Laincz, 51, of Wynnewood, Montgomery County, there were practical artistic challenges in forcing stems to stand erect in needle bases or massaging leaves without breaking them, so they would more easily flow in certain directions.

She was sometimes forced to prop up her artistic vision with green tape or wire hidden underneath low-lying leaves to achieve the natural look for which she was striving.

All the while, she explained how the art of Ikebana in Japan is about 500 years old and was connected to Buddhism with monks using flowers to decorate altars.

"Flowers have always been associated with spiritual enlightenment: the Buddha on the lotus, for instance," Laincz said. "But they also served as beautiful offerings."

Later in history, Laincz said, it became common for the Japanese to designate a sacred alcove in the home where a vase of flowers and sometimes incense and candles were prominently displayed.

"Simple Ikebana (which means life flower or giving life to flowers) has certain rules, but is based on one simple vertical line, up and down," Laincz said. "And you always look at the arrangement from the front, not the back. While there are pretty flowers to see, eyes also are drawn to stems and leaves.

"There are not so many flowers filling all the space as is often the case in the Western style of arranging. Three, five or seven flowers maybe, with plenty of air between."

Laincz said water fills the bottom of containers, which also can be decorated with marbles or pebbles.

Over time, more freestyle forms of Ikebana developed such as horizontal and slanted, she said, and that led to associating the floral arranging more broadly with a meditative exercise, requiring concentration and silence, uniting body, mind and soul in a creative endeavor.

And that was Laincz's challenge, explaining Ikebana to others while actually doing it and experiencing its most personal requirements for individual creativity.

What was required was to carefully study each leaf, twig and flower, to take the measure of their shapes and angles before carefully placing any of them in an arrangement.

But Laincz seemed to achieve that goal when undertaking her second arrangement, the slanted design, where all her movements indicated she was doing what she felt. She was immersed in an artistic, meditative moment.

How could one tell?

The room was quiet. Laincz stopped lecturing. The minutes seemed to stretch.

Those who required talk looked away or whispered among themselves.

And Laincz, suddenly self-conscious behind a floral delight, looked up, broke her concentration and politely apologized for a spiritual silence.

Contact Bruce R. Posten: 610-371-5059 or bposten@readingeagle.com.

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