Archive for Thursday, January 10, 1991


January 10, 1991


It's not often you get a chance to have a Zen experience in the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art.

But that's just what visitors to the museum can witness Sunday, when the staff dedicates a 15th century Japanese wooden Buddha, a recent major acquisition.

"Obviously, when you take an art object like this, remove it from a temple and put it in an art museum, you're ripping it out of its context," said Patricia Fister, the museum's curator of Oriental art and an assistant professor of art history at KU. "We'd like to give people a chance to see how it was used and a glimpse of Japanese culture."

The dedication, scheduled for 2 p.m., will also include a slide presentation by Fister and chanting by members of the Lawrence Zen Center. The sculpture was obtained with a gift from former KU Chancellor W. Clarke Wescoe and his wife, Barbara Benton Wescoe, of Minneapolis.

FOR FISTER, bringing in the people of the Zen Center made perfect sense.

"The Amida Buddha was very important to us as an acquisition," Fister said. "We wanted to do something for the installation to make it special. So I called up the Zen Center, and they thought the idea sounded great."

The Amida Buddha represents the spirit of the West Quadrant of the universe according to one form of Buddhism practiced in Japan, called Pure Land Buddhism, Fister said. The statue itself was made from carved pieces of wood that were assembled, laquered and decorated with gold and silver leaf. It stands 32 inches high and and sits on a 10-inch base. It follows the Kei School tradition of the master sculptor Kaikei, who originated the style in Japan in the 13th century, according to background information supplied by the museum.

When Fister found it last summer in a home in Kyoto, Japan, it was in great shape.

"ART OF this kind is so often beat up," Fister said. "Sometimes they're missing arms or feet, or pieces have been replaced. The condition of this statue is very high, it even retains some of the gold on the garments, and as far as we can see all the parts are original."

To bring the statue to Lawrence, the museum and Fister had to deal with the Japanese government as well as the owner.

"Japan has an export law that says they will allow exports when they have something comparable," Fister said. "You can't just walk away with art. (The dealer) sent a photo to a national panel that decides what can leave, and the panel approved it."

THE ACQUISITION of the Buddha will enhance the teaching of Asian art at KU, Fister said.

"For years, we've thought we needed a Buddha because it would be important for the collection and for teaching," she said. "It's already a fine example of a rare item in demand, even in Japan."

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