2024/1/13: Opening: Shumei Hall Gallery exhibiting “Elegance and Emotion: The Unique Dolls of Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi,” Jan. 13 – May 5

Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi “Kokoro (Heart)” detail, 2016.

“Elegance and Emotion: The Unique Dolls of Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi”
Saturday January 13 to Sunday May 5, 2024
Exhibition Opening Reception: Saturday, January 13, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
Curated and organized by Meher McArthur

The Shumei Hall Gallery, 2430 East Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107  info@shumeiarts.org (626) 584-8841

PASADENA, CA – The Shumei Hall Gallery will open the New Year with the first solo exhibition of the extraordinary work of Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi, an artist who is still sculpting and painting her unique and exquisite dolls at the age of 91 years old.

Though she is a third-generation doll maker from Tokyo, she has adapted her family’s doll-making technique over the years, so she is the only artist making dolls using this method today. A total of fourteen of her dolls will be on display as well as the tools she uses to create them and information and photographs illustrating her unique technique.

Koyanagi was born in 1932 into the Muraoka doll-making family in Tokyo. Her mother was a second-generation doll-maker, and her father came from a family that specialized in making glass eyes for dolls. One of eight children, she learned how to make dolls as a child using a technique that was passed down to her and her siblings, and she has been using this technique, with her own modifications, to make dolls for over 70 years.

As a young artist, she began to develop her own style that was more akin to sculpture than traditional doll-making, creating tall, slender figures with a graceful profile and an economy of gesture and detail. Many of her figures wear black, which differs from the traditional colorful dolls and reflects Koyanagi’s own personal style and aesthetic.

Koyanagi moved with her husband to Ontario, Canada in 1966 and while raising a family, she continued her craft, eventually exhibiting her work in solo and group exhibitions in Tokyo, Canada, the United States and Mexico. She now lives in Los Angeles and, at age 91, continues to create her beautiful dolls.

Koyanagi’s dolls are very different from most traditional Japanese dolls, but they are just as exquisite to behold, take many days to complete, and employ a unique technique that will soon be lost to the world.

To make her slender dolls, she creates a core of wire and sets the position of the figure and then molds a rough unfinished form using a mixture of paste, rice paper and finely ground paulownia wood shavings.

After the work has dried and hardened, she delicately carves and sands the doll to produce its final form. She then applies several layers of white pigment called gofun, made from powdered seashells, as a surface finish. At the end of a two-month process, the doll is finally painted with a blend of seashell powder and watercolor pigments.

Koyanagi learned this basic technique from her family but modified it while living for over 50 years in Canada so that the dolls would survive well in an environment that has dramatic fluctuations in temperature and humidity.

No other doll maker creates dolls using this technique. Though the tall, slender forms of Koyanagi-s dolls convey an elegance and a stillness, their faces and sometimes even the gentle tilt of their heads suggests at strong emotions and deep philosophical concepts beneath the surface.

The exhibition, Elegance and Emotion: The Unique Dolls of Kimiko Muraoka Koyanagi, was curated by Japanese art historian Meher McArthur and was made possible by generous funding from The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles.

Says McArthur, “I am delighted to be showing Koyanagi-san’s beautiful works of sculpture here in the Los Angeles area for the first time. She has been making these dolls for over 70 years with her special unique style. They are traditional and contemporary at the same time. Her artistry and energy are truly inspiring!”

It will open to the public on at the Shumei Hall Gallery on Saturday January 13, 2024, with an Opening Reception from 2pm to 4pm. The exhibition will continue until Sunday May 5, 2024.

The Shumei Hall Gallery is operated by the Shumei Arts Council. The Shumei Arts Council, Inc. was created in early 1998 to enrich the cultural life of the Pasadena and Los Angeles communities and to foster a deeper appreciation of the arts.

The Shumei Arts Council is committed to bringing concerts of the highest quality, as well as unique exhibitions and lectures to Shumei Hall, Pasadena, so that everyone can explore and experience highly skilled artistic expression. Its mission is based on the belief that art can enlighten the hearts and minds, and that through this transformation our community will flourish.

The Shumei Hall Gallery is located at 2430 East Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday, 9:30am to 5:30pm. To visit, please contact: info@shumeiarts.org or call (626) 584-8841.