Vintage Sosaku Kokeshi

Vintage Sosaku Kokeshi Set Entitled: Kurōbāgāru no Mittsu-ri no Shimai, (Clover Girls) by Watanabe, Masao

Watanabe, Masao


Age:Early 1950s

Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 5-1/2”h; 5-0”h; 3-0”h

These three rare dolls represent sisters and are quite unusual with exaggerated, egg-like shape heads. Each body has clover drawings suggestive of the natural flora seen throughout the countryside. The heads have a wisp of bangs on each with simple downturned eyes and red noses. The top of the heads are green representing the fields of clover and the bodies are detailed in red, yellow, and green, with a small clover in the center of each body. The largest doll has a clear lacquer finish and the other two have a candle wax finish. Two of the dolls are signed and have red stamps on the bottom. The smallest has a tiny stamp representing the artist's studio.

This Tanka, (Long Poem) was associated with the creation of this short series of dolls:

It’s all I have to bring today
this, and my heart beside
this, and my heart, and all the fields                                                                                   and all the meadows wide
be sure you count — should I forget                                                                                 someone the sum could tell
this, and my heart, and all the Bees which in the Clover dwell.

Condition: Very Good, original condition, with no fading or loss of color and consistent with age and standards of collectible Folk Art. There are finish/textural differences between dolls.

Artisan | Woodworker: Watanabe, Masao | 1917-2007


Masao Watanabe | 1917-2007 (89) 

Born in Fukushima, Watanabe-san studied under Traditional Yajirou Master Sato, Tatsuo of Miyagi Prefecture. After relocation to America, Masao Watanabe, (Nisei male), was incarcerated Incarcerated at the Puyallup Assembly Center, Washington, and transferred to the Minidoka internment camp, Idaho during World War II. While still in camp, he made the decision to volunteer for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and served in Europe. A founding member of the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC) in Seattle. Arguably, the most popular and prolific of the 20th/c Sosaku Kokeshi artists, he began his craft in the early 1950s. A multiple award winner in Kokeshi competitions around the world, his works are permanently exhibited at the Nuremberg Toy Museum in Germany. His most famous Kokeshi themes are that of ‘innocence’ (Mushin), and his doll entitled: Chigo Zakura (Cherry Blossom Child). A multiple-award winner, his works are permanently exhibited at the Nuremberg Toy Museum in Germany.

The Beatles in Japan holding Vintage Sosaku Kokeshi Dolls

Collector's note – descriptive qualities, standard characteristics & ornamentation styles:

Of all the Kokeshi produced by Masao Watanabe, his doll entitled, Mushin, (Innocence), is most representative of this artist’s work. The emphasis is on the color of the natural wood and texture, and the form of this piece is the most recognizable of all of his dolls. The representation of clothing, complemented by the natural graining of the wood, and the painting of the sash, is common for this particular series. The natural wood implies the kimono or yukata with It’s smooth curves brought about through the use of the lathe. Some painted and raised forms resemble Shibori, a type of tie-dyeing which give texture to the garment. He also prominently features the rose and camellia as a central motif. His most famous piece above, is entitled, ‘Chigo Zakura’, (Cherry Blossom Child), which won the Prime Minister’s Award, and was presented to the Beatles in 1965, after their appearance in Japan with Sir Joseph Lockwood, Chairman of EMI Record Distributors, England.

Artist's Signature:

Watanabe Masao Kokeshi Artist signature