Selections from the Mrs. Leslie Fenton Netsuke Collection and 2012 Artist in Residence, Pam Murakami
February 25th – March 21, 2013
An exhibition combining historical netsuke (miniature carvings) with new works by noted ceramicist Pam Murakami done in response to the complex mythology depicted in the netsuke is now on display at the Hartnell College Gallery through March 21st, 2013.
This exhibition is drawn from the Mrs. Leslie Fenton Netsuke Collection, a gift to Hartnell College in 1985. A netsuke is a small toggle that secures an inro or container to the sash of a traditional Japanese man’s kimono, Netsuke are often elaborately and beautifully carved in a wide variety of shapes and subjects both human and animal, natural and supernatural.
Born in Salinas, Marcella Zabala (1903-1987) married Charles S. Howard in 1930. Together they dazzled the world of horse racing with their legendary horse, Seabiscuit. After the death of Howard, Marcella married Leslie Fenton, an actor and noted movie producer who was instrumental in assembling this collection. Although they lived in Santa Barbara, Mrs. Fenton never forgot her connection with Salinas and offered to lend part of this collection for an exhibition at Hartnell Gallery in 1979. A second exhibition followed the next year, both sponsored by the Japanese American Citizens League. The enthusiastic response of the community was a deciding factor in Mrs. Fenton’s decision to ultimately make this the permanent home of her netsuke collection of two hundred and twenty five works. The fact that she was the great granddaughter of William Hartnell was also an important consideration.
Pam Murakami, originally from Hawaii and raised in a Japanese-American household there, recalls hearing many folktales tales in her childhood. This year the Hartnell Gallery has embarked on a pilot artist-in-residency program to explore the collections held by the Gallery. As the first of what is hoped to be an ongoing series of residencies, Ms. Murakami selected to investigate selections from the Mrs. Leslie Fenton Netsuke Collection that depict yokai, or supernatural subjects. She has combined her research of these stories with her distinctive ceramic style to make a series of pieces that respond to the netsuke and the stories they depict. She has shared her discoveries with students in her classes here at Hartnell and several of them have produced works exploring these tales of ghosts and creatures that appear in our world in various and curious forms.