Monday, October 17, 2011

Inros & Arrowmont

I just got back from a week-long course at Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The school itself is in a lovely, woodsy setting, with a dozen or so buildings. Some buildings hold workshop space, some are for housing, many have gallery sections, and all have individual architecture, which adds to the ambiance. For more info on the school and it's various artist programs visit I found out about the school by chance when doing a Google search for Japanese inro box workshops. So glad I did!

Inro are small rounded portable cases worn on the girdle of Japanese clothing. Originally designed for men to carry medications, they have evolved into items used by men or women as small purses or pockets in which to carry important items. I've always been fascinated by inro, which are often made of wood or ivory or other materials which have been carved, painted, or otherwise decorated. Polymer seemed to me like a perfect medium for inros, but I did not have experience in constructing hollow, 3-dimensional objects. Hence the search for a class.

I'm glad I found Arrowmont. Our instructor, Seth Savarick, has had extensive experience making inros. Check out the gallery of his work here: The class was excellent, and I did indeed learn how to construct inro - a skill I know I'll use in other ways, too.
Typically, inros have cords, beads and sometimes tassels for decoration. I got so focused on making the inro boxes that the week flew by and I didn't put a cord on any of them. Hopefully, in a little while, I'll get one or two done and show you what they look like. In the meantime, here are some of the inros I created last week.

These first inro are hollow lidded forms. The lids and bottoms have been sanded and buffed while the body of these pieces has been silk-screened. One of the special features of inro is the inside - there is usually a "surprise" in the inner core. For example, in the gold-on-black inro, the inside is silk-screened in reverse so is black-on-gold.

The next photo shows 2 samples of what is known as a flanged inro. In this form, the top and bottom fit very snugly and there is a piece of the inner core that extends from the bottom of the box into the upper section. These are rather tricky to make since, after carefully creating 4 layers in separate steps, and coating different sections of some of the layers with different substances, they must be cut in half - but only half-way through. I've opened one of the inro so you can see the flanged section sticking above the bottom. This is the portion that, when inserted into the top piece, holds the inro together. I found the cutting the most difficult part of the process and need much more practice to feel competent with the blade.

Of course, I was drawn to experiment. I decided I wanted to try a round form. However, none of the materials we had lent themselves to such a shape. So, I went to the wood studio, to see if they had any wooden dowels in an appropriate size. Well - they didn't.
So the instructor grabbed a chunk of wood from their scrap bin, mounted it on his lathe, and whipped me up a perfectly sized and formed dowel. Amazing! It's one of the advantages of working or learning at a place like Arrowmont - with artists and craftspeople from a variety of mediums, you have an excellent chance of finding someone who can help you realize a concept. Here's my round box - not an inro, but I'm quite pleased with it.

One more piece before I go. I think this is
my favorite of all the pieces I did during the week. Not an inro, really, but a little vase-shaped box with decorated lid. Yes - the leaves and flowers are all attached to the lid, so are lifted off when the box is opened. What fun!

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