The Traditional Haiga section has been a defining feature of Haigaonline since our inception. Here we feature invited haiku that have been turned into haiga by our team of resident staff artisans. Mary Rodning paints the haiga; Hiromi Inoue translates the haiku into Japanese; Shisen does the calligraphy and our resident musician Choshi, composes bamboo flute accompaniment. Finally, Jasminka assembles the parts and puts on the finishing touches.
A lovely set of traditional haiga are in preparation and will be ready for your viewing in the next issue; meanwhile, we'd like to take the opportunity to let you get to know our resident staff a little better. In this issue, the spotlight is on our resident sumi-e artist, Mary Rodning.
OUR RESIDENT ARTIST: MARY B. RODNING
Since 2003, our resident artist has been Mary B. Rodning of Mobile, AL. If you've ever dropped in to our 'About Haigaonline' pages, you'll know the charming little poem and painting that Mary uses in her biography:
A trail has
been left in my heart
by painting with wet soot
on mulberry pulp through
two years in Japan
two months in China
which will follow me
my entire life,
which is not one
of an Asian
recluse. . .
A biology major during college in Minnesota and New York, Mary was introduced to sumi-e during a two-year stint of living in Japan from 1979 to 1981, when she and studied brush painting with a Japanese instructor, Hiede Haakenson. She returned to the United States and began to look for a way to not only to practice her art but also to share it through teaching and in 1985, was again in Asia--this time China--as one of the first group of North American artists to study landscape painting at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art. (Also in the group was Susan Frame, who later became Jeanne Emrich's first resident painter here at Haigaonline and subsequently a contributor to Reeds--I'm compiling this short piece both from notes that Mary has sent me, and from an essay, "Passing the Brush," Haigaonline 2003) that Susan wrote to introduce Mary as her successor).
Back in Mobile, Mary found Marguerite Hardesty, an American artist who had lived in Japan during the post-World War II era. They learned about the Sumi-e Society of America, which had been founded in 1963 by Professor Motoi Oi of Queens College, NY to promote ink brush painting in the United States and, in Professor Oi's words, "provide a means through which the fresh, new spirit of American culture could be viewed in Sumi-e." Marguerite called a meeting of the people to whom she and Mary had introduced sumi-e, and the Shibui Chapter of the Sumi-e Society was organized in 1985. Based in Mobile, the chapter serves the Gulf Coast, Pensacola, FL, and Pascagoula, Biloxi, MS.
As if raising three children and managing the small farm on which they lived was not enough, much time was spent organizing and nurturing the new chapter, serving three times as its president as well as serving as historian on the Society's national board. It has meant time away from painting but has given her a much deeper understanding of this unique organization. In the early post-World War II impetus for cross-cultural exchange between America and Japan may have been effected through military connections, but now Mary find that interest comes from Japanese, Chinese and Korean visitors who are in Mobile through connections to industry, educational careers or commerce.
This year, Dr. Richard Wood of the University of South Alabama University Library, gave the Shibui chapter an exhibition in the library's art galleries. Included was a section devoted to Charles and Mary's haiga. The response was warm and Mary realized that her time had been well spent, following Professor Oi's dream of bringing Eastern and Western cultures together.
Other arts organizations with which Mary works include the Cathedral Square Gallery, the Watercolor and Graphic Arts Society and the Mobile Art Association, as well as Art of Ink in America, founded by Dr. Sun Suk Kim to organize international exhibitions of contemporary calligraphy.
Undoubtedly, though, Mary's most important work has been working with students. She has been teaching in Mobile since 1981. This has given her a chance to spend time with thousands of local children and parents from local schools in the Mobile Art Museum with the museum's collection as well as in school classrooms, where she demonstrates calligraphy and painting as part of a curriculum unit on Asia. Through trips back to China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea, Mary has renewed and energized her connection with Asian art, seeking to understand and build bridges to cultures beyond the American.