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Inaugural Recipients of The Next Generation Bamboo Art Prizes Announced

June 11, 2024

Congratulations to the inaugural recipients of The Next Generation Bamboo Art Prizes:

Nakatomi Hajime, Coffland Grand Prize Winner

Kondo Masayo, Excellence in Tradition Prize Winner

Watanabe Chiaki, Excellence in Sculpture Prize Winner

The three prize winners were honored at an official award ceremony on May 11 at the Beppu City Traditional Bamboo Crafts Center in Beppu, Japan by co-organizers Robert T. Coffland and Margo Thoma, along with competition supporters and prominent collectors. A judging panel of three bamboo art experts blindly selected the prize winners from seven finalists who displayed their work at the Bamboo Craft Center on May 10. This year’s judges included Monika Bincsik, the Diane and Arthur Abbey Curator for Japanese Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Melissa Rinne, a senior specialist at the Kyoto National Museum; and Yuki Morishima, the Associate Curator of Japanese Art at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The winners of the Coffland Grand Prize, Excellence in Tradition Prize, and Excellence in Sculpture Prize will have their works displayed at an American museum and receive a monetary prize to support their future bamboo art endeavors.

The Next Generation Bamboo Art Prizes, organized by Robert T. Coffland and Margo Thoma, aim to support and spread awareness of Japanese bamboo artists and their creative journeys. “By organizing this competition, we hope to increase awareness of Japanese bamboo art on both sides of the Pacific, gather together those who are passionate about the art form, provide monetary support for young and mid-career artists, and become ongoing supporters of the future,” said Robert T. Coffland. The contest will be a biennial event that will allow for the continued support of new and rising bamboo artists.

The Coffland Grand Prize winner, Nakatomi Hajime, exhibited three works with the mission of expressing the bamboo plant’s mystique. “With its amazing speed of growth and evergreen nature, bamboo has long been used in Japanese Shinto rituals as a sacred plant to ward off evil spirits. To bring out the charm of bamboo, I use a paradoxical technique, which is not often used in traditional bamboo crafts, in my work,” he said. “At first glance, geometric shapes give an inorganic impression that they do not look natural, but if you look closely, you can sense the natural fluctuation of the bamboo … The combination of the static nature of the weave and the dynamic nature of the form in the work also adds to the mystique.”


Coffland Grand Prize winner Nakatomi Hajime with his presented works.
Photograph by Kubo Takashi. Courtesy of The Next Generation Bamboo Art Prizes.


Nakatomi also expressed his gratitude to the bamboo artists before him, saying, “Japanese bamboo crafts are highly appreciated in the world art market thanks to past bamboo artists who have struggled in the face of unrewarding circumstances. As a member of the younger generation, I have benefited a lot from this. I feel hopeful for the future that in an ever-increasingly fast-paced world, we can still have a presence in bamboo art. From now on, I will train younger generations and work hard to open up new possibilities for bamboo.” 

Crafting bamboo baskets has been ingrained in Japanese culture for thousands of years. However, the tea ceremony’s emergence in the 15th century spurred a proliferation of skilled bamboo artists who created tea articles and intricate flower-arranging vessels. By the mid-19th century, this craftsmanship evolved further, giving rise to ambitious, artist-signed baskets and establishing a distinct Japanese aesthetic. The 20th century witnessed a surge of innovation in both bamboo basketry and sculpture, with artists exploring radical new concepts. Present-day bamboo artists continue to build upon and refine traditional techniques, recognizing the significance of an artist’s creative vision alongside their technical expertise – whether it is expressed through a sculptural form or a functional vessel.

“Bamboo is an incredibly expressive and demanding medium,” said Margo Thoma, contest coorganizer.“It takes an artist many years to acquire basic skills and techniques of harvesting, processing, splitting, dyeing, weaving, bending, and knotting bamboo. Mastery is a lifelong process, and we want the Next Generation Bamboo Art Prizes to sustain a new generation of artists.”

To see more photos of from the awards ceremony and read more information on The Next Generation Bamboo Art Prizes, please visit their website.


Contest sponsors Margo Thoma, Carl Thoma, Marilynn Thoma, and Robert T. Coffland.
Photograph by Kubo Takashi. Courtesy of The Next Generation Bamboo Art Prizes.

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