Release | Akiko Miyanaga
“Otaru Art Base” gathers artworks from the same period to the historical architectures
“Otaru Art Base”, the art space consists by multiple historic buildings which picture prosperity of Otaru, will open in summer this year! Before the grand opening, I will introduce Former Takahashi Warehouse “Stained Glass Museum” and Former Arata Trading Company “Art Nouveau Glass Museum” which is already open now! Let’s go to a time travel to the period when Otaru was called “Wall Street in North”.
The new art space will be born in front of Otaru CanalEver since 1872, when the stone wharf was built in Ironai Village, Otaru has flourished as the gateway to Hokkaido from the sea. Until early Showa Era, there were many banks, shipping companies, and merchants set up their business in Otaru, which became the center of economy and created the basis of development of Hokkaido.
▲Former Takahashi Warehouse “Stained Glass Museum” (left) and Former Arata Trading Company “Art Nouveau Glass Museum” (right). There is Otaru Canal across the street. It was right before “Otaru Yukiakari No Michi” when I took this picture, so there was a snow figure in front of the art space!
Otaru Art Base made the three buildings; “Former Arata Trading Company”, “Former Takahashi Warehouse”, and “Former Mitsui Bank Otaru Branch” which were all built from 19th Century to early 20th Century, to an art space. Akio Nitori, the chief executive officer of Nitori Holdings Co., Ltd., built the art space to nurture a sense of appreciation and richness within the heart of visitors by exhibiting art pieces from the same era.
▲Otaru Art Base’s plan. (Photo provided by Otaru Art Base)
First of all, I went to Former Takahashi Warehouse “Stained Glass Museum”, which is designated as a Historical Landmark by Otaru City in 1994. Yoko Watanabe showed me around the museum.
▲Yoko Watanabe is the specialist in the museum. I could see some stained glass from the entrance already!
Stained glasses which lived the same era as the historical landmark makes a special art environmentThe Former Takahashi Warehouse, a two-story timber-framed stone structure, was originally built in 1923 as a soybeans storehouse by Naoharu Takahashi, a politician who was also engaged in business. Naoharu Takahashi exported azuki beans to Europe and controlled the market price inside and outside Japan. Thus, his nickname was “Azuki Shogun” and was a rich merchant who was one of the top 10 in Japan at that time.
The wooden-built former warehouse for soybeans is transformed to a magnificent art space with 140 pieces of stained glass which decorated English church in the same era (the end of 19th Century to early 20th Century).
▲The wall was full of stained glasses.
The reason why English art pieces match well with this building may be its queen post truss structure, which is a way of architecture to use two supporting posts symmetrically.
▲If you look up the ceiling of Stained Glass Museum, you will notice the queen post truss structure.
Have you ever looked at a stained glass art piece closely?The pictures in stained glass are miniatures of English history from the brilliant era under Queen Victoria to Edward VII, and the World War I. Art pieces were put everywhere on the wall and visitors can see it closely as 30 to 40 centimeters. Therefore, you can notice the detailed texture and lines, too.
▲The bird drew in “Someone who seeds”. You can take a look at detailed lines such as birds’ wings.
There is no place like here where visitors can come to such close distances to stained glass as an art piece. As Watanabe is looking, you can enjoy the stained glasses in a close distance.
▲“Jesus on the cross”, created by the famous stained glass studio from England “Charles Eamer Kempe Studios”. This was a huge studio with some hundred artists at its peak.
What are valuable art pieces other than stained glasses?And the valuable pieces in this museum are exhibitions of rough sketches. Stained glasses are usually thought to be designed to fit walls of churches, so it is drawn to be in a good balance when people look up. Which means, heads of people in the stained glass are large, and they have sloping shoulders. You can look the art pieces from the second floor so you can check how drawings in the glasses look from the same eye position as people on the art pieces. This is another point to check.
▲Many sketches and documents burn during the World War II, so this sketch which left in good condition is very valuable. There might be stained glasses made from this sketch in a church somewhere.
There are also exhibitions of lithographs. The technology of color photography was not established at this time, so people left colored lithographs to preserve. It was mainly used to fix broken stained glasses.
▲The museum exhibits a sketch before coloring and lithograph with color and detailed descriptions.
Stained glasses depict people’s thoughts and social conditions at that timeThere were two unique panels which were different from other stained glasses. “Soldiers protected by Saint Oswald” and “Soldiers protected by Richard I” were made in early 20th Century. These pieces are said to be contributed to a church from the families of soldiers who were going to the war, wishing for luck at battlefields. Stained glasses depict people’s thoughts and social conditions at that time.
▲There are camels drawn in the corner of the panel on the right so it can be guessed those soldiers were going to the Middle East.
It is sure that visitors feel time passing slowly and will be relaxed in this space with magnificent lights.
Feel the past from art pieces and buildingsNext, I went to the Former Arata Trading Company “Art Nouveau Glass Museum”. The two-story building was built in 1935 as the main office of the Arata Trading Company. It was designated as a Historical Landmark by Otaru City in 1994. The plaster used for the interior walls and window frames still hold their original form, which means visitors can feel the past from the building together with art pieces.
▲The lighting which welcomed us in the stairs floor was a piece by René Lalique.
In late 19th Century, when Otaru was flourished as the port of trade, Eiffel Tower was built in France, and new art movement Art Nouveau was a huge boom in Europe. In the Art Nouveau Glass Museum, they exhibit about 100 flower base and lighting equipment made by the artists of the era, such as; Émile Gallé, Daum Frères, René Lalique, Argy-Rousseau, and Amalric Walter.
I found a cozy space on the upstairs.
▲The ball shaped lighting is from Gallé studio, too.
The space in front exhibits furniture such as chairs and shelves, and in back exhibits, lamps and flower bases but the lightings to light those pieces are also Art Nouveau art pieces. The room exhibits art pieces very nicely and cleverly.
In Europe during late 19th Century, Japanese arts which crossed the ocean was praised. “Japonism” became a social movement in different fields such as art, technical art, and architecture. Such art pieces are exhibited in this museum, too.
▲The chest (author unknown) has Japanese-like illustrations on the body which look like it was inspired by Basho Matsuo’s poem.
And there was the world of lamps, which gathers the beautiful lights.
▲The beautiful “Light Fair”.
In 1879, when industrialization was developing throughout the world, Thomas Edison succeeded in making light bulb practical. In 1990, 21 years after that, Exposition Universelle was held in Paris. The pavilion which got the greatest attention of the visitors was “Electric Palace” organized by France. Electricity was provided to every home, and it is said that lighting equipment became extremely popular. In this museum, they exhibit table lamps created by Art Nouveau artists. Japan was Meiji Era at that time. It might be interesting to look at exhibitions and think about the past.
There were also flower base and trays. There are beautiful and unique Art Nouveau pieces using motifs of flower, plants, and animals. Also, there were pieces by René Lalique, who lived both eras of Art Nouveau and Art Déco.
▲Sculpture-like flower base by René Lalique.
Bring back what touched your heart!After enjoying beautiful art pieces, stop by the museum shop!
You can enjoy shopping such as Stained Glass Museum official guide book, postcards, and file holders. Why don’t you bring something that touched your heart?
▲There are also art pieces made by artists living in Otaru sold at this museum shop.
Otaru Art Base schedules its grand opening in this summer. The third building Former Mitsui Bank Otaru Branch is preparing for the opening, too.
Photo / Otaru Art Base
Text, photo / Hokkaido Likers photo-writer Akiko Miyanaga
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