At 6:30 one morning last week a short, gnomelike figure dressed in a
cream-colored coat, grey flannels and sneakers darted through the
dew-drenched shrubbery of Paris' Bois de Boulogne. He paused to stare
reflectively at a lush hydrangea bush, then hurried on to pick up a
dead limb, a handful of dead leaves and a piece of old oak bark. To
startled park gardeners an official explained: "That gentleman is a
famous Japanese flower arranger, Monsieur Sofu."
By afternoon the results of visiting Flower Arranger Sofu's harvest were
ready for display in Paris' Bagatelle chateau. Withered leaves on a
dead branch suspended from the ceiling had become a mobile titled Dance
of the Dying Leaves; tiger lilies, hydrangeas and irises blended into a
scarlet-and-gold Japanese Landscape; a moss-covered oak branch was part
of a tableau, On the Edge of the Lake.
Picasso of Flowers. Such works have made Sofu Teshigahara, 54, "the
Picasso of flowers" in his native Japan. Sofu has broken all the rules
of the centuries-old flower-arranging art known as ikebana. His
innovations leave Japanese critics torn between a fear that ikebana is
getting its death blow and admiration for a technique which, commented
a leading Japanese art critic, "boggles the eyes and stuns the senses."
The son of a famous flower arranger known professionally as Wafu (Gentle
Breeze), young Teshigahara was arranging flowers at four, at 14 often
replaced his father in classes, as a teen-ager plowed through the
Chinese classics. But at 26, Teshigahara, who had chosen as his ikebana
name Sofu (Cool Green Breeze), decided to strike out on his own. What
Sofu did was as shocking to the classicists as pounding out madrigals
to a boogie-woogie beat. The central canon of ikebana for centuries has
been Ten-Chi-Jin (Heaven-Earth-Man), where heaven is symbolized by the
tall central flower, man by a medium branch placed at the side, and
earth by the shortest branch, placed before the heaven branch. From
this came the rikka (standing) and the nage-ire (thrown in) styles.
Young Sofu began by calling his new approach the Grass Moon School,
often dispensed with such traditional props as water vases and bamboo
tubes, using instead a tiny flower or bud stuck in an empty lipstick
container, the cap off a toothpaste tube or an empty perfume bottle.
Sofu even went so far as to dye flowers, incorporate red bird feathers,
use dried grass, withered leaves and dead flowers. A current popular
Sofu arrangement: a dead lotus pod with a purple delphinium.
For 6,000 Wives. Sofu's revolution was just beginning to win converts
when World War II put an end to such civilized luxuries as flower
exhibitions. Sofu kept on practicing his art in private; then the B-29s
which knocked out Tokyo demolished the Grass Moon School building.
Sofu's postwar comeback owed much to Mrs. Douglas MacArthur, who, Sofu
says, "had a good basic understanding of the nature of Japanese flower
arrangement." Some 6,000 U.S. occupation-force wives took up Sofu's
style; about 400 of them earned the Grass Moon certificate, are
qualified to teach the art in Hawaii and the U.S.
Today Sofu's books on flower arranging sell as fast as they come off the
presses. A Sofu exhibit at Tokyo's Takashimaya department store earlier
this year sold 35,000 admission tickets in advance. With some
half-million followers in Japan making up Japan's second largest flower
arranging school,* Sofu now thinks he can afford to ignore the
criticism of traditionalists who grumble that "Sofu has taken the soul
out of ikebana." In reply Sofu simply quotes his own Grass Moon motto:
"Always look forward to a fresh and vivid world and do not become
buried in retrospection."
*Largest: the Ikenobo (Priest's Pond) school, founded in 1525
A.D., with 4,000,000 followers.
Monday, Jul. 11, 1955 By HP-Time.com