Transitional Kokeshi Doll | Isao Sasaki | 20th/Century

The art and tradition of Kokeshi dolls dates back to the early 1800’s, in the Tohoku area of Japan, with Sendai being the heart of the region. The original use of these small wooden dolls is thought to be spiritual in nature but popular opinion holds that Kokeshi were originally made by farmers for their children, and later by woodworkers, known as kijiya, who made and sold the decorated dolls as souvenirs at Onsens.

Transitional Kokeshi represent a slight departure in style from the more traditional kokeshi, but retain many of the same facial and hair treatments. The only similarities of doll making between the traditional, which have, strict family standards, creative styles, which display bright colors, and modern designs, and also are not restricted in shape or style, is that all three are made from wood with the assistance of a lathe, and have no arms, legs or feet. Quite a variety of different woods are used to make kokeshi dolls, including dogwood, cherry, camellia, paulownia and maple. Perhaps because such hardy woods are used to make kokeshi dolls, one can sense a hidden strength behind their quiet smiles.

Among all the dolls produced, there is a doll which is identified with Sendai, Tohoku’s largest city, and while they are not officially assigned to the group of typical traditional dolls, they not only pre-date the Sosaku styles but are similarly shaped as the traditional, and thus are usually mentioned in conjunction with them, but always as a “Sendai doll”. What separates them the most from the traditional dolls however, is the fact that they feature designs that are carved into the wood, and sometimes through the painted colors into the body, exposing the natural wood underneath. This particular doll though is not considered a “Sendai doll” because the artist does not come from this area but his designs are based on this regional style.

This Transitional Kokeshi shows the signs of aging, which does not distract from its value or appreciation of style. The decoration on the body of the doll is in a circular-style painting (in this case black) is known as Rokuru moyo, which is done as the doll is turned on the lathe. This doll is signed on the bottom by Isao Sasaki, (born in 1960). Dimensions: 7-0”h.

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