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Art & Life with Rob Sidner, Executive Director and CEO of Mingei International Museum

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rob Sidner.

Rob, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
Mingei International was 40 years old on May 5, having begun in a 6,000 square-foot space at University Towne Centre, a 20-year free leasehold generously given by Ernest Hahn and University Towne Centre Associates. The Museum moved to Balboa Park in August 1996 with the gift of a 50-year lease by the City of San Diego in the just-then-historically-reconstructed House of Charm, a space six times the size of the Museum’s original one. The Founder was Martha Longenecker, then head of the Pottery Program at San Diego State University. She had been inspired by the person and writings of Dr. Soetsu Yanagi, a Japanese scholar who throughout his adult life from the 1920s on had eloquently encouraged the revival or renewal of traditional crafts in Japan – pottery, weaving, dyeing, metal-smithing and wood-joinery, among others. He felt it essential for the health of society that hand-made objects of daily use would continue as a balance to increasing industrialization in Japan, as in Europe and the United States of America. Following multiple extended visits in Japan and becoming acquainted with Dr. Yanagi’s colleagues and friends – potters Shoji Hamada, Kanjiro Kawai, Bernard Leach, Tatsuzo Simaoka, and stencil-dyeing artist Keisuke Serizawa and painter Shiko Munakata, Martha had incorporated Mingei International as a non-profit, public foundation in 1974 and had been bringing mingei craftsmen to San Diego to lecture and demonstrate Japanese traditional crafts. When the Museum was established, its name indicated clearly that it was the arts of daily life from the entire world – not just Japan or Asia – that would be celebrated here.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
Handmade objects of daily use are the focus of the Museum’s collecting, exhibitions and programming – vessels and containers of all kinds (pots, baskets, boxes, etc.), utensils and tools, apparel and adornment, ceremonial and ritual objects, even dolls and toys. Until Dr. Yanagi coined the word mingei (literally “everybody’s art”) just about 100 years ago, such functional objects were rarely thought of as beautiful or art. He encouraged people to look at the world with fresh eyes and to discover beauty in the unexpected. Mingei International continues to draw attention to the beauty in ordinary, often inexpensive, even common objects, what he described as “made by the many for the many, rather than by the few for the few.” The Museum hopes to accomplish a number of things: continue to break down value distinctions between so-called fine art and folk arts and craft and between expensive and inexpensive materials; inspire people to be in touch with and give expression to their own innate creativity; continue a lively conversation about what we surround ourselves with and use in our own daily lives, our own clothes, utensils, tools and the atmospheres of our own homes.

We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
Dr. Yanagi was concerned about the fragmentation of society that increasing industrialization and specialization seem to bring with it. Creative activity that involves a person’s head, heart and hands he felt would becoming increasingly important as a balancing force in the world and for individuals. Art museums help to connect us all to the creative, unifying impulses of our natures so continue to be of great importance and have great relevance. It is apparent that many people, also, are looking to museums to be gathering spaces and places for social enjoyment and engagement.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
Mingei International Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. We are located in Balboa Park, 1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101.

Current exhibitions: ISRAEL – 70 Years of Craft & Design, VOLUMINOUS ART – Treasures from San Diego’s University Libraries, STUDENT CRAFT – Form and Function (opens May 19), WILLIAM L. HAWKINS – An Imaginative Geography (opens June 9), DOLL & TOY GALLERY 

Contact Info:

  • Address: 1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
  • Website: mingei.org
  • Phone: 6192390003
  • Email: info@mingei.org
  • Instagram: @mingeimuseum
  • Facebook: facebook.com/MingeiMuseum
  • Twitter: @mingeimuseum

Image Credit:
All images property of Mingei International Museum

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