Photo: Courtesy of the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia
For nearly 70 years, the Shofuso House has served as a symbol of connection between Japan and America. The 17th-century-style building was designed by Tokyo-based architect Junzo Yoshimura and assembled in Nagoya in 1953. It was then taken apart and shipped to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it was installed in the sculpture garden in 1954. Finally, in 1958, the Shofuso House was moved to its current site, a garden in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park that was designed by Kyoto-based landscape architect Tansai Sano and features a waterfall and cherry trees.
Connecting the Dots
Starting September 2, a new exhibition illustrates just how deeply the intersection between east and west in modern design resonates through this historic building. Shofuso and Modernism connects the dots between Yoshimura and three other creators he met in the 1930s: the Japanese American wood worker George Nakashima, Czech-American architect Antonin Raymond, and French-Swiss designer Noémi Pernessin Raymond. Yoshimura and Nakashima, both then in their 20s, worked for the Raymonds, who opened an architecture firm in Tokyo after coming from America to help Frank Lloyd Wright with the landmark Imperial Hotel.
“It’s an interesting international collaboration,” says Yuka Yokoyama, the associate director of exhibitions and programs for the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia. “The Raymonds learned from the Japanese, whereas Yoshimura and Nakashima kind of had their eyes opened to what’s good about Japanese culture from the foreign perspective.”
The bonds between these four artists had implications for the history of design on both sides of the Pacific. Yoshimura became a prize-winning architect in Japan, and he credited Antonin Raymond as an advisor on the MoMA installation of the Shofuso House. More poignantly, after going back to the U.S., during World War II the Raymonds helped get Nakashima and his family released from an internment camp, bringing them to New Hope, Pennsylvania, where Nakashima would go on to become a revolutionary furniture designer.
The new exhibit celebrates its subjects by installing furniture by Nakashima and drawings and textiles by the Raymonds inside the Shofuso House. Additionally, images of the Raymond and Nakashima homes in New Hope will be projected on the house’s tatami floor. The intermingling of these elements highlights how these designers are, in Yokoyama’s words, “always together in their work.”