January 2020 INTOUCH Magazine

Page 31

C O M M U N I T Y | VO I C E

Touched by the Brush WORDS JUNKO THOMAS ILLUSTRATION TANIA VICEDO

O

n November 14 last year, Shoko Ohta passed away at the age of 89. An accomplished sumi-e artist, she taught Japanese ink painting for nearly 70 years. She inspired hundreds of students to nurture a passion for sumi-e over the decades she taught at the Club. I am one of those lucky pupils. When I first enrolled in her class in the 1980s, the Japanese economy was booming and expat families were pouring into Tokyo. There was always a long line of women waiting to register for the Women’s Group class each semester, all of them anxious to learn about Japanese culture through painting. Ohta-sensei offered much more than lessons in brushstrokes. She communicated so much about Japanese society, history and customs in the way she ran the class. Polite, softly spoken and kind, she was always dressed in a kimono (I don’t think I ever saw her wear anything else) and never without

a smile. The atmosphere in her class was always tranquil. It was a place where you could quietly concentrate on a painting without distraction. Born in Kobe in 1930, Ohta-sensei was a third-generation fine art painter and first exhibited her works at the Club in 1966. When introducing newcomers to sumi-e, she used a textbook written by her aunt, who once taught at the Club herself. Once students were familiar with the brushstrokes, they were asked to choose a classic Japanese painting to copy, a traditional method of practice in sumi-e. In the old days, young apprentices would spend at least 10 years imitating the works of great artists. This approach was meant to instill humility, discipline and a deeper understanding of the art form. My grandfather was a painter himself and studied under Kajita Hanko, a well-known woodblock print artist and illustrator with his own school in Tokyo.

At the beginning of every year, Ohta-sensei and her daughter, Suiko, who also teaches at the Club, organized an exhibition of New Year kakizome calligraphy by students. This rewarding event allowed students to see one another’s work and progress over the previous months. Taking in so many pieces inevitably provided inspiration for a new painting. Another highlight of the annual exhibition was the unveiling of a special decorative obi sash that set off the kimono of mother and daughter. The obi always featured the artwork of either Ohta-sensei or Suiko. Ohta-sensei will be deeply missed. To me, she and Suiko were always symbols of elegance and refinement and fine ambassadors of Japanese culture. I feel so privileged to have known Ohta-sensei. Each Tuesday class will continue to be a treasured part of my week. Junko Thomas is a Club Member.

JANUARY | 29


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