Akio Takamori (1950-2017)

The final project in Akio’s beginner class 17 summers ago:  Make a vessel for your favorite flower. Take this dull, gray, weighty, messy material, and build a specific container for a specific something -- something delicate, bright, and ephemeral.  

So what flower to choose? Flowers are difficult in their unapologetic...full of lifeness-- they’re just a closed bud, a real mystery as to when and how they’ll open.  Then commit to the most vivid form, size and colors -- their sexuality front and center, vibrantly shameless.

And flowers are mischievous.  Just when you begin to get comfortable around them, they drop their first petal. Just when you start to really appreciate their beauty, they wilt and shrivel.

It takes a certain kind of courage to embrace flowers.

So I chose wildflowers because….they actually didn’t seem happy in a container; they didn’t look quite right in a vase. They were unpredictable, didn’t last long.  They looked like they belonged in an expansive field, a field so large you couldn't see where it ended.

And it was after that class that I wanted to be an artist. I mean, if you had a teacher like Akio at the beginning, who wouldn’t fall in love with making?

Season after season, Akio was a recurring presence, and over time, the Takamori family became gently intertwined in every twist of my artmaking, life musings, and love. And there were always flowers on the table with meals at their home. A giant branch of cherry blossoms, a bouquet of hydrangeas, bulbous peonies….they would signal the season and what had caught his eye outside or at a market.

When I sat down with them, I always aspired to that day when I would be civilized enough and possess the aesthetic grace to have fresh flowers at the table. I’m still hoping one day that’s possible.

Over many years, a wisteria has grown around and intertwined with the metal bannister by the front steps of Akio and Vicky's home. Its ropey vines have twisted and bent the metal; it's a marvelous hybrid, vine and metal inextricably part of and yet continuously changing the other. The first time I visited, I had to pause a moment to see where the persistence of the plant had detached parts of the metal rods, and where the metal had embedded itself deep within the branches. Each year that it bloomed, you could smell the sweetest fragrance before you even came up the driveway, and then you’d see these brilliant cascades of heavy violet drops that you just wanted to cup in your hands and inhale.

Then as the days grew shorter and the evenings colder, the petals would drop. The shiny gray steps would be covered with hundreds of white dots that sometimes blew away with the wind, sometimes got soggy as the rain fell. I loved that Akio and Vicky would let the petals cover the steps, let them do as they were going to do, let them brown as they were stepped on. They would simply say, “Watch the steps” each time as I left, and so I would.  I’d pay a little closer attention and slow it down; I’d be a bit more mindful, and a little more aware, brushing past the vine to head out into the night.

Susie Lee