TRAVERSE CITY — Ikebana, or the art of Japanese flower arranging, has for centuries been interwoven with the Japanese tea ceremony and the distinctive pottery used for the intricately choreographed ritual.
That relationship will be explored by Brent Heerspink and Julie Porter of Heerspink and Porter Pottery in the Upper Peninsula, who will bring their expertise to a May 1 event at the Crooked Tree Arts Center.
"The Japanese have raised this to an incredible art form," Heerspink said.
Heerspink and Porter create stoneware using local clay and ash-based glazes. Their work has been shown at art fairs around the country and is in collections in Europe, China and Japan, as well as the United States.
"We have been inspired by, not just Japanese pottery, but pottery from China, Korea and all Asian ceramics," Porter said. "We are also influenced by western pottery, both European and early American traditional pottery."
The event is hosted by the 165th Ikebana International Club, which was chartered in 1972 in Traverse City. A lecture by Heerspink and Porter at 10:30 a.m. is followed by lunch and a pottery demonstration by the couple at 12:30 p.m. The cost is $30 in advance and $35 at the door.
Pottery used in the tea ceremony includes a tea bowl or 'chawan,' with every ancient tea master preferring his own style.
"We're not making pieces for a tea ceremony, but we make pieces that some people would find appropriate to use in a tea ceremony," Porter said.
The Japanese tea ceremony is held in a simple structure often located in a garden. The tea house creates a quiet, peaceful environment that is evocative of nature, Heerspink said.
"The whole concept is this is a moment of peace in a busy world," Heerspink said. "The tea house itself represents a peasant's hut in the grass."
In the tea house is an alcove, a 'tokonoma,' in which may be displayed a hanging scroll and a small flower arrangement.
Andrea Kramer is president of the local ikebana chapter. While she does not consider herself artistic, she says the Asian culture has always spoken to her. Kramer believes that everyone is a part of a greater whole that exists in the universe.
"Doing ikebana is a way for us to connect with that energy," Kramer said. "When a person does ikebana one is reaching into the soul and using the breath and the heart to issue forth that design with those flowers."
Ikebana dates back to the sixth century, when Japan's Zen Buddhist priests used it as a form of meditation. Floral offerings to honor the Buddha and the souls of the dead evolved into creations made of three harmonious flower stems that symbolized the unity between spirit, man and earth.
The Samurai later used ikebana to reach a state of concentration before going into battle. The connection with nature was said to purify the heart and mind.
Ikebana did not open up to women until 1831. More than 100 years later Ikebana International was founded by Ellen Gordon Allen, who was stationed in Japan with her husband, Gen. Frank Allen, after World War II. Allen's goal was to promote cultural understanding through the art.
While there are rules that must be followed in the ancient art, it also allows each person to express their own uniqueness, Kramer said, which is one of the reasons it appeals to her.
"It's truly a melding of a person with nature," she said.
Kramer is hoping the Crooked Tree event will inspire more people to join the club.
While at Crooked Tree people can also view a juried clay exhibit, "Bodies of ..." that opens on Saturday and runs through the third week in July. The exhibit features artists from all over the Great Lakes region, including many from the Traverse area and many of whom will be at the exhibit's opening from 2-4 p.m. Saturday.