Infusing the colors of Shikoku into designs

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fujiwo Ishimoto, right, chats with Haruka Sugiyama at The Museum of Art, Ehime, with Matsuyama Castle in the background.

MATSUYAMA — After many years as a textile designer at Marimekko, the world-famous Finnish design house, Fujiwo Ishimoto, 81, is now working to preserve the local culture of his native Ehime Prefecture with the help of The Museum of Art, Ehime, in Matsuyama.

Marimekko, founded in 1951, manufactures woven fabrics and other textile products that are popular in Japan.

The museum has so far held two exhibitions featuring Fujimoto’s craftwork. It has also been steadily building up its collection to honor and continue the area’s legacy of producing outstanding talent in designing.

Ishimoto and Haruka Sugiyama, a curator of the museum who was in charge of Ishimoto’s exhibition held in 2018, recently sat down with The Yomiuri Shimbun to discuss the rich nature of the region as the source of his inspiration. The following is excerpted from the interview.

Photo by GABOMI.
Work displayed at the “Fujiwo Ishimoto From Marimekko Flowers to Ceramic Fruits” exhibition held at the museum in 2018

The Yomiuri Shimbun: Mr. Ishimoto, you returned from Finland two years ago. Before that, there were solo exhibitions of your work in 2013 and 2018 at The Museum of Art, Ehime.

Fujiwo Ishimoto: There is an institution in Tokyo that has been enthusiastically introducing Finnish design. So first, an exhibition was held in Tokyo in 2012. Then it made its way to Ehime.

Haruka Sugiyama: Local people, mainly residents in his hometown of Tobe, which borders Matsuyama, took the lead in making the exhibition a success. They eagerly said, “We want it start in Ehime [next time],” and the exhibition was held again in 2018 before touring Kyoto and Tokyo. It attracted much attention. There had been few designers from this area who caused such excitement.

Yomiuri: What in particular resonated with the people of Ehime Prefecture?

Sugiyama: Mr. Ishimoto stood out as a textile designer for Marimekko and earned high praise for his “fusing Japanese design and Scandinavian design.” In later years, he also took up ceramics as an artisan for Arabia, one of the top Scandinavian ceramics manufacturers.

I suppose people here admire Mr. Ishimoto for his work that has long supported Finnish design, which has global appeal, and that they feel his work came out of what is special about this area.

Yomiuri: What does your hometown mean in terms of your creativity?

Ishimoto: It is one important source of inspiration. Tobe was once a thriving town for ceramic production, manufacturing ceramics, and exported products throughout Asia before World War II.

In the ground around the house where I was born and raised, I would always be finding pottery shards. I think such an experience and environment made me take an interest in art.

Photo by GABOMI.
Work displayed at the “Fujiwo Ishimoto From Marimekko Flowers to Ceramic Fruits” exhibition held at the museum in 2018

I grew up in the rich natural environment of Shikoku. When I was a child, I would climb the bayberry tree in our yard and pick the red berries to eat. The colors and images of the flowers and berries that I saw would later became the motifs for my fabrics and ceramics.

Yomiuri: Ehime Prefecture has long been producing excellent leaders in design.

Sugiyama: Hisui Sugiura (1876-1965), who is regarded as a pioneer in modern Japanese design; printmaker Umetaro Azechi (1902-1999), who was also active as an illustrator; Hiroshi Manabe (1932-2000), who is well-known for his illustrations in science fiction novels by Shinichi Hoshi — many of Japan’s leading artists. Their works are an important pillar of the collection in our museum, and we often gets requests from other museums to loan them out.

Ishimoto: When I went to Tokyo to take the entrance examination for the Tokyo Fine Arts School [now Tokyo University of the Arts], I visited Mr. Sugiura’s home, as he was a great artist from my hometown area. He lived in a magnificent house in central Tokyo. Thinking about it now, I feel I have a very curious bond with him.

Yomiuri: You maintained a desire to create after returning to Japan.

Ishimoto: I get inspired by the various landscapes and things I see in my hometown. I now devote myself to making ceramics.

Sugiyama: The museum can only be grateful that Mr. Ishimoto will continue the legacies of Hisui Sugiura and the others. We will continue to introduce works by him and these artists.

Fujiwo Ishimoto

Born in 1941 in Ehime Prefecture. A graduate of what is now the Tokyo University of the Arts’ Faculty of Fine Arts, he moved to Finland in 1970. In 1974, he became a textile designer for Marimekko. In 1989, he began working as a ceramic artist for the Arabia brand. In 2011, he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, by the Japanese government.

Haruka Sugiyama

Born in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1979. She graduated from Kyoto University’s Faculty of Letters, and then completed the university’s Graduate School of Letters program. She has worked as a curator at The Museum of Art, Ehime, since 2004.

Photo by GABOMI.
Work displayed at the “Fujiwo Ishimoto From Marimekko Flowers to Ceramic Fruits” exhibition held at the museum in 2018

Museum for seeing, creating, learning

The Museum of Art, Ehime, which will mark its 25th anniversary next year, was opened as a place where visitors can have fun seeing, creating and learning about art through creative participatory activities.

The museum has held exhibitions from its collections of works by such Ehime Prefecture artists as Hisui Sugiura, Umetaro Azechi, and Hiroshi Manabe, as well as those of foreign artists such as Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne. It also introduces a wide range of excellent works by Japanese and overseas artists through various special exhibitions.

In addition, the museum assists creative activities such as printmaking, woodworking, photography and more at its Kenmin Atelier (studio for prefectural residents) and actively offers workshops and other educational programs.

The museum is in an attractive setting, symbolized by three towering camphor trees in the courtyard, and a lobby commanding a direct view of Matsuyama Castle. We will continue making efforts to appeal to more people.

—Kimihiro Takechi, director of The Museum of Art, Ehime

The Museum of Art, Ehime