Kumiko (組子 - also 組子細工, kumiko saiku) is the name given to both the crafting technique and the objects created using such technique. It is a traditional craft from Japan where one creates decorative objects by fitting together minute pieces of wood without the use of nails or any other metallic objects.
Kumiko begins with the right wood choice (often conifers). The wood is cut, shaped, smoothed and sanded. The craftsman will carefully sharpen the angles, proceeding to fit each piece individually into a simple structure using a hammer or short wood slats. Smaller pieces are added to weave them together and create several different shapes and visual effects. Sometimes multiple layers are used to create even more complex figures.
The patterns found in kumiko objects are mostly symbolic, representing nature (flowers, grass, sunshine, seasons) as well as abstract concepts (harmony, life cycles, balance).
The patterns and size of the kumiko determine how long the manufacturing process will take. Many daily-use objects can be made in a few hours or days. The most complex ones can require months.
In some cases the planning process can take longer than production. The object will be drawn on paper with extreme precision. The artist will define each of its hundreds of pieces before starting to manufacture the piece.
Despite the decrease in number of skilled artisans in recent years, the unique feel and warmth of finely crafted kumiko objects is increasingly popular among people of all ages and nationalities. Also thanks to their versatility, a kumiko lampshade such as this will fit perfectly in traditional Japanese rooms or a modern Western home.
It is believed that kumiko, in the form that we know today, was developed during the Edo Period (1603-1868). However, decorations using the kumiko technique were found in the Hōryū-ji Temple in Nara (built between 588 and 607 A.D.), which also lodges beautiful kanagu decorations. This dates kumiko's origins back to the 6th and 7th century.
Kumiko was used in the past to create ornaments for the iconic Japanese sliding doors, called shōji, or the fixed panels above them, called ranma.
Thanks to the strictly ornamental purposes of kumiko, any kumiko-like decorative object made in Japan without the use of nails is considered authentic. That can include anything from a coaster to a decorative panel, from wall decorations to boxes.
Not everyone agrees on what patterns may be included in an object to categorize it as kumiko. Doubts arise, for example, when artisans include detailed, elaborately carved pieces of wood to in the shapes of animals, flowers, and other figures.
Some manufacturers use computers to cut and shape the wood which allows for faster production of high-selling products. The process also creates perfectly identical pieces, taking the uniqueness out of the object. For this reason, more traditional customers desire that the object be made by hand accompanied by human-assisted machines. In fact, many believe that this brings out the true spirit of kumiko.
Although most kumiko objects feature art that is two-dimensional using straight lines, multiple layers or curved pieces of wood are sometimes used in order to expand the suggestiveness of an object.
Did you know?
• Besides pattern complexity and object size, there are a few elements that determine the price of a kumiko object:- Larger manufacturers use partially or totally artificial materials that resemble wood, not dissimilar from what is used to make low-cost desks you could buy at home centres or IKEA. This virtually eliminates the risk of warping, however the drawback is that it is not an authentic kumiko.• Kumiko is also a female Japanese name.
- Straight, mature trees with higher temperatures produce a stronger object that will last longer with lower chances of warping and cracking. The age of the tree and the time necessary to select the best parts of the tree cause higher costs. Unfortunately, in many cases it is not easy to recognize the difference between high and low quality so there is a chance that a buyer will end up purchasing an object made with wood of lower quality which can quickly change in color and shape.
- Glue made using formaldehyde (containing formalin) are cheaper than natural glue, leading to lower costs and lower prices. The problem? Toxic!