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Published: Friday, March 24, 2006 The art of ikebana
Less is usually more with ancient Japanese craft
By Sarah Jackson
For the Enterprise
When Megumi Schacher arranges flowers, she looks like a dancer.
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For the Enterprise/ELIZABETH ARMSTRONG
Schacher demonstrates the techniques of Ikebana during a flower
arranging class in her home. The final touch, white chrysanthemums, are
added to an Ikebana inspired arrangement.
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For the Enterprise/ELIZABETH ARMSTRONG
Each addition to the floral arrangement must be cut under water.
Ikebana with Megumi Schacher
• Lynnwood Recreation Center: Wednesdays and Thursdays. Visit recconnect.ci.lynnwood. wa.us or call 425-771-4030 to register.
• Van Valey House in Everett: July 1, 425-257-8300.
• Japanese Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum: Four-week summer classes, 206-684-4725.
• Nippon Business Institute: Everett Community College classes with Mayumi Nishiyama Smith, 425-388-9380 or email@example.com.
Schacher also teaches private classes at her home. See www.
ikebanabymegumi.com or call 425-744-9751 for details. Most beginner
classes are $25 and include materials.
Precise and petite, she bends left and right, reaching gracefully to
manipulate twigs and blooms, leaning to push a stubborn branch down,
then tilting her head to check her work.
A graceful floral arrangement, which was designed during a class at
Megumi Schacher's home, uses quince and stock. Students Doris Beck and
Mary Hervol of Lynnwood sit on the sidelines at the dining table in
Schacher's home in Brier.
They are captivated by Schacher's elegance as she places leafless stems
of hot pink camellia into a mass of naked, snow-white branches of the
Chinese paper bush tree.
"Oh," Hervol sighs, breathlessly as Schacher puts a final stem into place. "Isn't that lovely? It's beautiful."
Yes, it helps that Schacher has experience in Japanese classical dance.
But this is her true love -- ikebana -- the art of Japanese flower
arrangement, a hobby that is steadily spreading in Snohomish County and
Beck and Hervol, who are taking weekly classes with Schacher, enjoy the
art's simplicity as well as the romance of Japanese culture, made
tangible in the green tea and sweet bean cakes Schacher serves during
"It has more meaning to us," Hervol said. "This isn't just pretty flowers in a vase."
Ikebana, Hervol has learned, is nothing like the typical
"clutch-and-drop" floral design so common in the Western world in which
arrangements often rely on a large volume and variety of blooms
organized symmetrically in a bouquet.
Ikebana, in fact, is decidedly asymmetrical and often minimalist.
Open spaces and dramatic lines, often crisscrossing, help create
one-of-a-kind arrangements that highlight the magnificence of nature
well beyond the beauty of colorful blossoms grouped together.
Living twigs from flowering trees, leaves, grasses, seed pods and buds
-- all elements you can find in most Puget Sound gardens -- can all mix
with flowers in the art of ikebana, just not typically all in one
"Ikebana is not adding. It's more minus," Schacher said, using hand
pruners to pare down an angular branch. "Less is more. You create a
Schacher, who also teaches classes at Swanson's Nursery and the
Lynnwood Recreation Center, has been practicing in the Sogetsu School
of ikebana for more than 10 years.
Sogetsu is one of many official ikebana schools born from Japanese
masters who have passed their interpretation of the ancient art onto
their children or students, who go on to become masters and teachers
Each school has a special emphasis or style. Sogetsu, founded in 1927
by Sofu Teshigahara, encourages freedom of expression. Today Sogetsu
has active branches all over the world, including three in the
Ikenobo and Ohara are two other predominant schools worldwide and
locally. There are many more, however. According to Ikebana
International, more than 2,000 schools of ikebana are registered with
the Japanese Ministry of Education.
Through the ages, ikebana has evolved from humble spiritual practice to
high art in the homes of royalty and back again to ordinary citizens.
Today in Japan, though many of the leading ikebana artists are men,
young women especially are encouraged to learn the tradition as part of
their upbringing, much like ballet for young American girls, said
Mayumi Nishiyama Smith, director of the Nippon Business Institute at
Everett Community College.
Ikebana, Smith said, stands in stark contrast to the pace of the frantic modern world.
"It gives you an opportunity to slow down and calm your mind and get
tranquility and peace of mind and as well as appreciate the beauty,"
Smith said. "It is the same as the tea ceremony. When you make a flower
arrangement you cannot rush."
Beck appreciates the simplicity of showcasing only a few floral elements in ikebana.
She and Hervol have each created a variety of basic arrangements so far.
"You can make something gorgeous and simple and elegant," Hervol said. "You don't need $27 worth of flowers."
Though ikebana is growing in popularity, Schacher and her husband,
Jack, hope to see the hobby elevated within the visual arts community
beyond a mere gardening fad.
It's no different than sculpture or painting, especially among accomplished creators, Jack Schacher said.
"In Japan, it's treated as an art form and it's respected," he said,
adding that a growing number of young Japanese American teachers are
sharing the art outside of the local Japanese community. "It has the
potential to explode once people find out about it. You can see it's
just something waiting to happen."
In ikebana, it is possible to take an element of the natural world --
perhaps something fairly ordinary, such as a blooming quince branch --
and make it extraordinary through creative placement.
Nobuko Relnick of Woodinville, who offered ikebana demonstrations at
the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle last month, said the
art presents nature in another dimension created by the artist.
"When you see a beautiful flower outside, of course, you can bring it
in and put it in bud vase and admire it as it is," said Relnick, who
also teaches in the Sogetsu School of ikebana. "But when we bring it in
for ikebana, people should say it's beautiful, but it's also very
Though some students can work their way through the Sogetsu School's
four major textbooks in two to three years, experience and practice are
essential to acquire "the eye" for ikebana design.
"When you look at the one flower, (you must ask) which leaf has to go
away and which leaf has to stay?" Smith said. "You have to make these
choices. If it's too many, it will be too cluttered. Some
(arrangements) are really abundant, but they still are intentionally
Ikebana is a surprisingly precise art, said Barbara West of Edmonds, who is also a student and admirer of Schacher.
"She can show you how just moving something just a tiny bit makes a big
difference," said West, who has studied the craft for the past year
with weekly lessons.
West, who has exhibited some of her work publicly, thrives on the artistic sense she is gaining.
"I'm not a painter, and I don't do pottery and ceramics, and here you
can actually do your own creation and that's the draw," she said. "It's
a very peaceful feeling to do it."
Sarah Jackson is a writer for The Herald newspaper in Everett.
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