Stop in the Museum’s upstairs Scheller Gallery to meet some quirky Japanese characters on display in the exhibition Eclectic Collecting: Curiosities from the Vault.

Historically, men’s kimono did not have pockets to carry small belongings, so wearers hung an inro (container) from their sashes. To prevent the inro from slipping, a carved figurine called a netsuke would function as a counterweight, holding the container in place (inro below netsuke, shown here).

Though practical, netsukes were also fashionable ornaments with distinct designs and shapes. Subjects ranged from mythical tales to ordinary people and often included humorous scenes, such as a man being attacked by an octopus.

With the growing influence of western fashion in Japan during the late 1800s, the use of netsukes began to decline. However, their small size and uniqueness made them popular with foreign collectors, who became a new target market for netsuke-carvers.

The netsukes on display in Eclectic Collecting were carved in the 1800s out of ivory. They came into the Museum’s collection in two gifts, from Mr. and Mrs. Herman Finkelstein in 1967, and from Sadie Stauffer in 1998.

Throughout April 2022, visitors to the Museum can vote on their favorite netsuke, with the results being announced in AAM’s Weekly Happenings eblast in early May. Happy viewing and voting!