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General Interest

A netsuke is a form of small sculpture which developed in Japan over a period of more than three hundred years. Netsuke served both functional and aesthetic purposes. The kimono, the traditional form of Japanese dress, had no pockets. Women would tuck small personal items into their sleeves, but men suspended their tobacco pouches, pipes, purses or writing implements, on a silk cord, from their obi (sash). These hanging objects are called sagemono. To stop the cord from slipping through the obi, a small toggle was attached. This toggle is called a netsuke. (The most popular pronunciation is net-ski, while the actual Japanese is closer to netskeh). A sliding bead (ojime) was strung on the cord between the netsuke and the sagemono to tighten or loosen the opening of the sagemono. The entire ensemble was then worn, at the waist, and functioned as a sort of removable hip pocket. All three objects, the netsuke, the ojime and the different types of sagemono were often beautifully decorated with elaborate carving, lacquer work, or inlays of rare and exotic materials, including: wood, ivory, precious metals, shell, coral and semi-precious stones. All three items developed into highly coveted and collectible art forms but it is the netsuke that has by far, most captivated the collector.

   Today, contemporary netsuke of the finest quality are still being carved, as highly respected, original works of art. While not intended to be worn they adhere to all the standards of a true netsuke. There are several dozen highly successful netsuke artists, many of whom have been apprentices to great carvers of the past, who are currently creating modern masterpieces. Another fascinating aspect of these contemporary netsuke is that they reflect the time and place in which artists live. In the early part of this century, dealers encouraged netsuke carvers to emulate antique netsuke both in style and subject matter. These had a charm of their own.

   Now, contemporary netsuke artists are exploring new techniques, new subject matter and new materials. This vibrant approach to netsuke has captured the interest of both old and new collectors throughout the world. Also, netsuke carving is no longer confined to the Japanese. There are talented, enthusiastic carvers, excited by worldwide collector interest, museum exhibits, collector organizations and a wealth of books on the subject, who are creating netsuke in many parts of the world. Some use traditional Japanese themes, others explore themes indigenous to their own areas. There are now talented and respected netsuke carvers in Japan, England, the United States, Canada, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and Germany. Interest in collecting netsuke and in creating them is enjoying a strong renaissance. There are active collectors groups to expand knowledge of netsuke and advance the art form. This is an exciting time for both the established and the new collector to be involved with netsuke.

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