1981-2021 | Ryuji Mitani Exhibition Recap

wooden soldier brooches by Ryuji Mitani

This was such a special exhibition for us. It was our first public one in almost two years since the pandemic hit. Made even more memorable because it was a celebration of when Ryuji Mitani started his workshop, Persona Studio. In effect, a four-decade retrospective. Things were done a bit differently for that reason. Although Mitani-san could not attend due to travel restrictions, it was nice to have some pieces he uses daily shipped from overseas and on display. Some really were a tangible representation of the life Mitani-san embodies because you could feel the marks of their use, see the patina, and even smell the lingering aroma in items like his personal coffee canister and scoops.

Nalata Nalata recessed shelves

We had archival works on display to showcase how the urushi lacquers wear beautifully with time. Also, their significance in the timeline of Mitani-san’s career alongside anecdotes from his latest book. He signed a limited number of first edition copies with the date and precious sketches of trees for the opening. If you were not able to get a copy in person, they have been made available online. We also created a translated digital version of the timeline here.

Stevenson Aung at Nalata Nalata
Plum Blossom Dishes by Ryuji Mitani
White urushi lacquered wooden bowls
Original Christmas Wooden Brooches by Ryuji Mitani

Some works were originals that Mitani-san made in the early 80s, like the Christmas-inspired wooden brooches. Maybe because the holidays are around the corner, but the childlike glee came out in many towards these, and many remarked on how they reminded them of European holiday markets.

Large Usuzumi Wooden Bowl Hand Carved by Ryuji Mitani
Noir Lacquered Ice Cream Cup by Ryuji Mitani
Stacked mountain cherry wooden bread plates by Ryuji Mitani
Corner display at Nalata Nalata of 1981-2021 Ryuji Mitani Exhibition
Beech Wood Natural ice Cream Cup by Ryuji Mitani

It was also exciting to introduce the third-generation ice cream cup after releasing the white and noir versions in our first two exhibitions with Mitani-san. This non-lacquered version is lightly coated with mineral oil to bring out the natural beech wood grain.

Large carved noir bowl by Mitani displayed on a table
Dani Sujin Lee exploring Picnic Set by Ryuji Mitani
Usuzumi brushtrokes on large trays by Ryuji Mitani
Wooden picnic set for four by Ryuji Mitani

The picnic set was simply a masterpiece. A set for four consisting of hand-crafted usuzumi plates and white urushi lacquered cups in tiered noir containers that can also double as round serving bowls! The social interactions we had during quarantine times were spent in plein air enjoying food and drinks with friends, so we commissioned the picnic set to recall that time and the excitement felt at the sight of a picnic basket.

Ryuji Mitani Wooden Music Box
Hakuboku Serving Bowls by Ryuji Mitani
Angelique Chmielewski arranging orange flowers in Dani Sujin's vases

Every exhibition, we add seasonal florals from the flower district and select vases fit for the occasion. This year our team member Dani Sujin helped add the perfect touch with her hand-built moon vases that matched the textural qualities of Mitani-san’s works. It brought us all joy to juxtapose the pieces of a budding talent alongside a master. We are so lucky to work with her and be inspired by her perspective as a ceramicist.

Angelique Chmielewski arranging orange flowers in Dani Sujin's vases in reflection of glass windows
Dani Sujin Moon Vase beside white wooden bowls by Ryuji Mitani
Ryuji Mitani Coffee Canister and Scoop beside wooden Ice Cream Cup
White wooden funnels by Ryuji Mitani
Wooden soup spoons displayed in a neat row at Nalata Nalata

As ’80s kids, it’s interesting to think that Mitani-san has continued to make some pieces, like the wooden cutlery for the duration of our entire lifespans. The whole process is individually done in a workshop by hand when production is rarely done like this nowadays.

View of Nalata Nalata gallery in New York
Carved cherry wooden bowls by Ryuji Mitani in a row
Stevenson Aung walking past old Matsumoto Craft Fair Poster in a blur

Some visitors had strong emotional reactions to works that found their genesis in their birth year. For me, it was the poster from one of the first Matsumoto Craft Fairs that Mitani-san started with his friends. The graphic sensibility and slogan “For a Life Crafts Balance” are charming for the early 80s. It hung prominently in our gallery, not simply as a poster but as a symbol of the blended craft and lifestyle movement (Seikatsu Kogei) that Mitani-san pioneered. It brought on a flood of appreciation for the community he has fostered for decades in Japan and that we feel incredibly fortunate to help continue in North America.

Abstract ceramic and metal sculpture of girl and tree by. Ryuji Mitani
Small wooden model of 10cm shop and gallery by Ryuji Mitani
Rene Tiotuyco browsing to wooden tableware by Ryuji Mitani at Nalata Nalata
Ari Spool and Roberto Chabebe at Ryuji Mitani exhibition

The exhibition reception was carried out very differently this time around. Due to its popularity, Mitani-san’s evening openings are usually very crowded. In lieu, we had a daytime preview to space out entry to grant everyone the opportunity to leisurely explore the collection throughout the day and into the night. The only element missing was the inspiring speech Mitani-san gives in person. Instead, he sent a few opening remarks that we published online for all to read.

Jake Matluck holding small square usuzumi plate at Nalata Nalata
Close up of Jake Matluck holding Usuzumi square wooden plate
Margaret Murray and Stevenson Aung admiring Ryuji Mitani works
Angelique Chmielewski at Nalata Nalata flipping through Ryuji Mitani guestbook
Small square linen covered guestbook for Ryuji Mitani

With the help of guests who attended the exhibition, we filled a small linen guestbook with messages and well wishes. The book was sent to Mitani-san so he could have a small piece of New York in Matsumoto.

Hitomi Ishigaki and Ryotatsu Tanaka of Studio Newwork and Angelique Chmielewski and Stevenson Aung at Nalata Nalata at night.

Thank you to everyone who attended throughout the two week exhibition and to those who followed along, or helped put together the show. Thank you especially to Ryuji Mitani for providing us with forty years of woodworks to enrich our lives. It was incredible to finally have an opportunity for a celebratory occasion to bring people from all over the world together to engage with the works and bring them to life. We cannot wait for the next one.

Written by Angélique Chmielewski

Angélique Chmielewski

November 10, 2021

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