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Life's Universal Truths Etched in Glass

By: Julia M. Foster

Date Posted: 2000-12-29

“Your heart decides your happiness” or “Truth is within” and “From here to now” are philosophical sayings etched on glass, found in the Sho gallery, just around the corner from bustling Kokesai Street in Naha City. Here its owner Hiroyuki Asato shows his originally designed glassware. An artist and designer in his own right, Asato-san creates poems on glass, unique supplement to Okinawan glass-blowing industry. His unusual, brilliantly colored pieces include glassware, pitchers, plates and bookends. His concepts, as well as requests for original pieces, are sent to the skilled people who continue the generation-acquired art of glassblowing in Okinawa.

‘All my life I have been interested in design and art,” said Asato-san, who began drawing when he was only a child. Apparently art and creating art runs in the extended family heritage.

The famous woodblock artist, Hiroshi Gima, is the uncle of Asato-san’s wife. Gima’s original prints, brilliantly colored or black and white, are also shown in the gallery. I first became aware of the Gima prints at the Renaissance Hotel gallery. He ranks high in such beautiful woodblock prints, truly Okinawan art, as does Bokunen, Okinawan woodblock print artist, who calls himself modestly a “fisherman”. However, the works of Gima included such subtle scenes of people in their every day tasks. There are three women carrying baskets on their heads, or a family scene with a woman preparing to feed her infant. Another print, whimsical and humorous, is of a fisherman catching a fish much larger than he is.

Within a country rich in arts and devoted to its own culture, painting, bingata, or glassblowing, the craft of glassblowing is traditional. Asato-san states he finds inspiration for his designs, which are sent to the producers of glass, in every day things. For one large piece, he remembered the deep blue of a friend’s shirt. Another style reminds one of a misty, overcast day in Okinawa, kumoru.....The glassware is softly tempered., as seen through misty skies. It is seductive, yet plain, ornamental yet functional. This art has changed in more recent years. After the war, it was dependent upon scrounging materials.

“Materials for glassblowing were scarce years ago”, according to Asato-san. “Glassblowers had to find any kind of ware, from green bottles to some things thrown away,” he recalled. Skilled craftsmen continue .to heat, blow and twist and color the fabulous ware, which is screened for imperfections. At the Cultural Center in Naha, one can see works in progress, how the iron is added for green color, and cobalt blue made with powder. Glassblowing is an art more than 2,000 years old. And the Ryukyu glassblowing art using the hollow iron blowpipe which is dipped into molten glass, is very special. As the pipe is lifted to his mouth, a workman can twirl, reheat and shape his form. It looks like a cook working with hot taffy. But of course, the decoration or etching is quite intricate.

Asato-san believes art should be functional. He creates the design for a beautiful pitcher, and the finished product is a pitcher. “I like functional art,” he states, stressing the fact that such pieces should be useful. He visited Sweden, Denmark and Finland, influenced greatly by the simplicity of their Scandinavian art.

For more than 18 years, Hiroyuki Asato, outstanding Okinawan artist, has continued his designs. He is the only artist who has the right to use statements of poetry from Mitsuo Aida, writer and poet. It’s easy to understand a true philosopher, an unusual artist who etches some compelling universal proverbs of life into glass.

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