Kathy Greensides, collections assistant, has come up with a selection of Japanese netsuke. The word is pronounced net-skeh (or something like it) and they are small carved ‘toggles’ used to attach a bag or container to the (male) wearer’s obi or sash. The bag or container would be the Japanese version of the sporran, the traditional male garments not being equipped with pockets.
The first netsuke date from the 17th century and evolved from being purely practical to becoming quite decorative. Kathy says she has seen a lot of them on Antiques Roadshow, many made of ivory. Of those chosen by Kathy, two are made of wood, four of ivory, and all sculpted elaborately. “I was going through the ethnology collection and I came across them. As I said, just because I’d been watching Antiques Roadshow … they’re really valuable and quite intricately carved. Some of them were worth thousands of pounds, especially if they’ve got a signature on them. I just thought they were really beautiful objects, and the detail … I’m a very detailed person; I like doing cross stitch and very tiny work so when I saw this I thought … it’s my kind of thing.”
The two hardwood specimens are preserved beautifully and have a patina, which speaks of many years of use. Their carved faces shine, giving them a ‘mask’ look. Of course, they do not always depict faces but can be of many different designs, as illustrated by the ivory versions.
The age and provenance of these particular specimens is unknown, but one of the ivory pieces bears writing, possibly the signature of the artist. All we know is that the museum has them, they were probably made in Japan … and that is about it. Perhaps a Midweek reader can shed more light on these netsuke?
Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in January 2011, and reproduced wit permission of the publishers.