Lotus Moon and Nandina Staff: The Art of Ōtagaki Rengetsu and Nakahara Nantenbō

March 31, 2023 - June 11, 2023


Lotus Moon and Nandina Staff presents and contrasts the work of two major Japanese artists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, taking its title from translations of their names. Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875) was a Buddhist nun who became very well known as an important poet focusing on the traditional waka verse form, rendering her poems in elegant but strong calligraphy on paper and on ceramics that she often formed herself; Nakahara Nantenbō (1839-1925) was an influential and strict Zen Master famous for his energetically and expressively brushed calligraphy and paintings. Both sometimes paired calligraphy with images. The presentation of works by these two very prolific artists will not only introduce them to a broader audience but will also offer an introduction to the variety of style and effect possible within calligraphy, that central feature of Japanese artistic culture.

The exhibition includes around 50 works, the majority selected from a major recent gift from Ray Kass ’67 (’69 MFA) and Jerrie Pike, supplemented by works already in the Ackland and significant loans from an important private collection. The initial concept and early support for the exhibition came from the late Stephen Addiss, professor at the University of Richmond and a leading scholar of Japanese art, whose untimely death in April 2022 prevented him from developing the project or seeing it through to completion.

The exhibition has been made possible by the Ackland’s Ruth and Sherman Lee Fund for Asian Art.

Lotus Moon and Nandina Staff will be accompanied by extensive public programming, including a one-day symposium on April 15, at which prominent scholars from Japan and the USA will consider the two artists from multiple perspectives, including Japanese Buddhism, the materiality and functions of the work, the role of literature, and the aesthetics of calligraphy. Speakers include Paul Berry (independent scholar, Kyoto, Japan), Patricia Graham (University of Kansas, Center for East Asian Studies), Ray Kass (artist and collector, Christiansburg, VA), Melissa McCormick (Harvard University), and Morgan Pitelka (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Exhibition-Related Public Programs

Friday, April 14, 2023 | 6-9 p.m.2nd Friday ArtWalk

Saturday, April 15, 2023 | 9-4 p.m.
One-Day Symposium
Rengetsu and Nantenbō: Calligraphy and Context
Free. RSVP required at ackland.org

Saturday, April 15, 2023 | 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.Poetry at the Arboretum

Listen to the radio commercial here:

Image Credit:

Left to right: Ōtagaki Rengetsu, Japanese, 1791-1875, Waka Poem: “The Blood…” (detail), early 1860s, hanging scroll; ink, color, and tarnished silver flakes on textured paper, mounted, overall: 55 × 12 1/4 in. (139.7 × 31.1 cm), Gift of Ray Kass ’67 (’69 MFA) and Jerrie Pike in honor of Burl Ives, 2022.18.13; Nakahara Nantenbō, Japanese, 1839-1925, Staff, with Inscription: “Speak – Nantenbo! …” (detail), 1920, hanging scroll; ink on paper, mounted, overall: 81 1/8 × 19 11/16 in. (206.1 × 50 cm), Gift of Ray Kass ’67 (’69 MFA) and Jerrie Pike in honor of Mountain Lake Symposium and Workshop, 2022.18.22

Your Response

  1. sounds interesting and was mentioned on an asia week NYC zoom seminar this evening. is there a catalog available to purchase for this exhibit? i may not make it to the exhibit, but i’d be interested to acquire the catalog. regards, roger duncan.

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