For the second time this year (recall the review I did on the Portland Art Museum's exhibit "Samurai") we have had the luck to get wind of rare collections in cities we were visiting. Just last week the Detroit Institute of Arts museum was the latest stop where the "Samurai: Beyond the Sword" blew away all expectations.
Meant to illustrate the everyday life of a Samurai, the exhibit was encompassing without being redundant and boring. Compared to the armor centered focus in Portland, BTS offered a few pieces of everything from armor, to weapons, to tea cups, and wood blocks. Security was obnoxiously overbearing so I was only able to sneak a few shots of the lethally stunning blades from three to five hundred years ago, but as you can see they were amazing. Razor sharp even after being dormant for generations, yet the craftsmanship is better than most you will find even today.
A number of pieces could be talked about but the one item my mind keeps floating back to is an amazingly well kept quiver with half a dozen arrows. The shafts were straighter than any lathe could mill. The arrow heads of various size carried an aire of death about them even through glass as if I could feel how heavy they were both in weight and intent. Feathers lined the shaft just forward of the notch. Seemingly perfect in their upright attention.
I personally love these types of exhibits. A connection to a past that we are quickly losing. A legacy where one may not agree with the tendencies of war, but no one can question the virtues of the men and women of the Samurai. I walk away with a greater appreciation of all craftsmen and artisans. Armor is functional. Swords, axes, knives are functional tools. People like Jeff Crowner are modern day bladesmiths who make functional art and should be celebrated as such. I am reminded of all the "small" people who make every day livable in our country, and I am reminded that it is ok to pay a few more bucks for something made but someone local. Why? Because they matter more than a factory does in China.
If you get the chance to visit before June 1st you certainly will not be disappointed, and the quality of the naginata and katana blades is worth the $16 entry fee.
Click here for more info on Samurai: Beyond the Sword.