Nicole DeLeon (Los Angeles, CA) DeLeon has a personal passion for the art and design of Japan, and as principal designer for Alexander Henry Fabrics, she has incorporated many elements of Japanese designs into her textile patterns. As a collector of kokeshi, she was drawn to their diversity as a vehicle to create patterns with Japanese cultural appeal. Her kokeshi fabric has been made into clothing and accessories that have increased awareness and interest in kokeshi worldwide.
Alexandra Gjurasic (Albuquerque, NM) Rather than exploiting the similarities of mass-produced objects, Gjurasic emphasizes the variety and richness in multitude through her kokeshi inspired paintings and collages. Gjurasic’s mother grew up in Japan playing with, collecting, and coveting kokeshi dolls. For the artist, the dolls became symbols of her own inner world where fertility, conception, pregnancy, birth and transitioning into motherhood were all themes within her work.
Sachiho Hino Lee (Los Angeles, CA) As a freelance designer for the clothing and accessory line Spicy Brown, Lee created a signature line of kokeshi designs for t-shirts and bags. Her choice of kokeshi as characters within her designs marries her cultural background with her experience as a designer for Sanrio. Her graphic treatment approach to kokeshi is multi-cultural and has created a global appeal for kokeshi.
Margaret Kasahara (Colorado Springs, CO) A nisei born in New York City and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Kasahara has been using kokeshi in her work since 2002. To the artist, kokeshi represent self-portraiture or serve as a stand-in for Japanese or Asian women in general. Her paintings are explorations of identity, where memory, autobiographical experiences and observations combine to create personal abstract narratives.
Emi Motokawa (Los Angeles, CA) In the spirit of kokeshi artisans of the past, Motokawa designs and mass-produces her own line of original kokeshi. She calls her creations “Krokeshi” (a play on crocheted kokeshi), which possess the tactile appeal of soft stuffed toys and belie their Japanese forebears turned out of hard, unyielding wood. Her natural artistic instincts and superb technique led her to push the boundaries of scale in her work, to great effect.
Joji Okazaki (Los Angeles, CA) Okazaki, originally from Kanagawa, Japan, has worked as an artist and designer in the U.S. since 1993, and is the maker of Lounge Family art toys. Okazaki, a former magazine designer and illustrator, conceived of his Swing Heads characters when he noticed a lack of kokeshi in modern American and Japanese homes. In his recent work he has created characters using lathe-turned wood (echoing kokeshi manufacture of old), but his painting and use of color is pure 21st century art toy genre.
David and Kazumi Kobayashi Svenson (Wrightwood, CA) Although David Svenson is best known for his work in glass and neon, his roots are deep in the tradition of wood sculpture. His father is a renowned Claremont woodcarver, and since 1969, David has taught woodcarving techniques in the Tlingit tradition. He has always had an interest in the classic form of kokeshi dolls, but made his first kokeshi out of glass, using turning techniques that echo the lathe work of traditional kokeshi artisans. Kazumi Kobayashi Svenson is from Sendai, Japan, and shares David’s love of kokeshi. Kazumi, a neon artist and teacher, has been using lampwork techniques to produce colorful kokeshi jewelry. In addition to their careers as artists, the Svensons are also collectors of traditional kokeshi.
Phoebe Washer (Petaluma, CA) The youngest of the eleven artists, Washer began creating her own brand of contemporary kokeshi, combining both her painting style with objects that she grew up admiring in a family friend’s Japanese art collection. Her life and career tragically ended at age 20, but not before she took large strides in developing a personal artistic exploration of kokeshi. At the time of her death, she had been mentoring a young child in kokeshi-making; that child has continued to make kokeshi on her own and recently had her own show at a gallery in Northern California – a sign that the continuum of kokeshi-making, as of life, proceeds unabated.
James Watts (San Diego, CA) A self-taught artist raised in National City, CA, his family was the only Japanese household in a Hispanic neighborhood where the Japanese Christian Church provided the only source of Japanese culture. Watts creates paintings and sculptures that emphasize the retelling of stories and myths from around the world. His kokeshi series started in 1995 as an homage to his Japanese mother; his first kokeshi grouping represented his immediate family of brothers and sisters. For this exhibition he has created kokeshi representing his children. The figures are a mixture of images and color that represent influences of multiple cultures on his family.
Kathy Yoshihara (Pasadena, CA) A mixed media artist, with a background in graphic design, Yoshihara studied painting, sculpture, graphic arts at the University of California, Los Angeles. In a singular twist of fate, a large purchase of gourds inspired her to incorporate them into her ceramic work. To the artist, the gourds suggested heads; the results were an ongoing series of kokeshi... an organic outgrowth of Yoshihara’s own cultural heritage.