Cultural Conversation: Boca Museum Art School Explores Flowers, Creativity Through ‘Ikebana’

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By: Dale King Contributing Writer
The Japanese art of imaginative flower arranging known as “ikebana” dates back more than 700 years when it was traditionally practiced by men as a temple art.
In just the past century, the craft has undergone a transformation to encourage more creativity, and to be more inclusive of women and domestic life.
The Sogetsu style of ikebana will soon be taught at the Boca Raton Museum Art School on Palmetto Park Road.
The institute held a reception last month to open a new exhibition featuring examples of the Sogetsu School. The display of inventively designed pieces, on public view from Dec. 8-12, set the stage for a series of beginner and advanced Sogetsu ikebana instruction classes that begin this month.
“I first learned the art form in middle school,” said Chieko Mihori, the Boca Raton Museum Art School’s Ikebana teacher. “My mother was preparing me to have a nice marriage.”
As it turned out, mother knew best. During the Dec. 8 reception, Chieko Mihori told the crowd with a coy smile that she ended up marrying the first student she ever taught. She and her husband, James, were both present at the event.
The reception included a special touch. Deputy Consul General Takahiro Ogihiro and Consul Hiroshi Zaima from the Japanese consulate in Miami both attended to view arrangements by Ms. Mihori as well as works by members of the Florida Branch of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana and advanced students.
“Sogetsu ikebana is much more than Japanese flower arranging,” she said. “It is a modern form of an ancient art of sculpture with living materials. Students learn the traditional principles and aesthetic disciplines, combined with creative energies to capture, express and enhance natural beauty.”
“Ikebana is more than just the flowers,” Mihori said. “My thoughts, my spirit go into the ikebana.”
The artistic craft involves more than just arranging flowers. “Ikebana often emphasizes other areas of the plant, such as its stems and leaves, focusing on shape, line, harmony and balance.”
Once known for having many rules, ikebana changed during the 1920s. It was then that Sofu Teshigahara, known as the “Picasso of Flowers,” founded the Sogetsu School, promoting creativity and free style. It was in this style that Mihori learned, and has in turn been teaching for more than 50 years, she noted.
In 2013, the Emperor of Japan honored her for her cultural contributions by bestowing on her the high honor of the imperial medal, “The Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays.” In April of 2017, Mihori will travel to Tokyo to receive the Sogetsu Overseas Grand Prize at the 90th anniversary celebration of Sogetsu ikebana.
Mihori is also a founding board member of the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach.
The teacher spoke humbly of her trade. But Susan Russell of Cooper City, one of her students, said Mihori is an excellent instructor. “She is phenomenal. They don’t get any better than her. When they made her, they broke the mold.”
“Not everyone who’s an artist is a phenomenal teacher,” Russell added. “She has it both ways. She can move one leaf and the whole arrangement changes.
“New students begin by learning the basic tenets of Ikebana before progressing to free style forms, and all students work with fresh flowers and materials.” Mihori’s personal favorites are Phalaenopsis orchids and sunflowers, but she stresses that students should explore their own preferences. “There is so much freedom to emphasize individuality and creativity in ikebana. It is really about the person.”
Sogetsu ikebana beginner and advanced classes will be held on Tuesdays and Fridays from 1-3:30 p.m. beginning Jan. 2 and also in February, March and April. Details are available at www.bocamuseum.org/artschool.
Founded by artists, the Boca Raton Museum of Art was established in 1950 as the Art Guild of Boca Raton. The organization grew to encompass an art school, guild, store and museum with permanent collections of contemporary art, photography, non-western art, glass and sculpture, as well as special exhibitions.