The Showa period of Japan’s history is one of mounting tension and dramatic change, as well as artistic birth. It began with economic crises in the late 1920s and evolved to ultra-nationalistic philosophies that culminated in invasions of China and Manchuria in the 1930s. At Japan’s 1945 surrender to Allied Forces during World War II, it seemed like the end of an age for many of its citizens. However, the Showa reign was not quite finished yet; it lasted until 1989 and marked a significant, controversial change in Japan as a world power and a center of culture.
Emperor Hirohito, the longest reigning emperor in Japanese history, transformed from a God of his people to a passionate marine biologist, and Japan went from being a country plagued by homelessness and destructive patriotism to a country with the second largest economy in the world. Also during this time period, John and Etta Hesselink arrived in Japan. Between 1953 and 1973 they not only served as church missionaries but began nurturing a love for Japanese art. “Enlightened Harmony: 20th Century Japanese Art from the Hesselink Collection” displays some of the pottery, clothing and prints that the Hesselinks accumulated during their 20- year service and trips afterward.
Featured in the collection are artists such as Hoshi Joichi, Yokoishi Gagyu XIII and Haku Maki, who expertly expressed the culture and time of midShowa Japan through their various mediums. The temporary collection is small and intimate, featuring artifacts ranging from cement block prints to silk kimonos. “I thought it was a really beautiful tribute to more recent Japanese art and culture,” says Hope student Kimberly Breyfogle (‘21). “The inclusion of a variety of art types and styles gives the exhibit depth.” This exhibit is situated in the left wing of the Kruizenga Art Museum and will depart on March 30. Hope is no stranger to the Hesselinks and their unique art collection. The Hesselinks moved to Holland in 1973, where John Hesselink took on the role of President of Western Theological Seminary. Two of their children are Hope graduates, and John Hesselink is a cousin to Richard Kruizenga.
Pieces from their collection can be seen across campus. The later half of the Showa period is where the majority of this art originates from. This was the era of American occupation in the Japanese islands, and money was spent less on military and more on advancement. This part of Japanese history is known to many as “Japan’s Golden Age” or the “Showa Renaissance.” Modern people are now appreciating the art, fashion and culture developed during this time of progressive technological and economic growth.
This period is unique in that it lasted most of the 20th century and was able to capture a whole way of life, from the chaos caused by the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings to the pride of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to the death of Emperor Hirohito in 1989. Japan possesses a oneof-a-kind history in the Showa reign, and it is perfectly captured in this era’s art. “Enlightened Harmony: 20th Century Japanese Art from the Hesselink Collection” will only be on Hope’s campus for two months and is well worth the visit, even in the freezing weather.
Be sure to also stop by the Kruizenga’s other exhibition, titled “Once Were Nomads,” which is open until May.