Modern Icons: Isamu Noguchi's Akari Light Sculptures
Hand crafted following Japanese traditions, these timeless sculptural light fixtures play with weightlessness and shape
Houzz Contributor. Hi There! I currently live in a 1920s cottage in Atlanta that I'll describe as "collected." I got into design via Landscape Architecture, which I studied at the University of Virginia. I've been writing about design online for quite a few years over at Hatch: The Design Public Blog.
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Isamu Noguchi was a Japanese American sculptor who used a variety of materials and drew inspiration from a range of works around the world. Trips to Japan influenced the way he looked at lighting, particularly a trip to Gifu, where he admired lanterns made of mulberry bark paper (washi paper) and bamboo that fishermen used at night. By the time he designed his Akari Light Sculptures line in 1951, his body of work already included illuminated large-scale sculptures and stage sets for Martha Graham. In this series of lights he played with shape, Japanese traditions, illumination and the concept of weightlessness. Architects and interior designers continue to appreciate his thoughtful work; here's a look at some of these sculptural fixtures in homes today.
The lamps are still hand crafted using the original traditions Noguchi employed. According to noguchi.org, bamboo ribbing is stretched across wooden molded forms. Washi paper is cut into wide or narrow strips, depending upon the lamp, then glued onto both sides of the framework. Once the glue has dried and the shape is set, the internal form is disassembled and removed. The outcome is a resilient paper form that can be packed flat for shipping.
The Ozeki Company in Japan has been crafting Noguchi's Akari lamps since 1951. It still uses the same methods Noguchi admired in Gifu, including making the washi paper from the inner bark of the mulberry tree.
Part of the Japanese aesthetic is simplicity. On the BB1-30XN Table Lamp, a boxy paper shade balances atop a slim stem with a rock-like round base.
Floor Lamp Model UF4-L10 is one of the largest Noguchi lamps, and again, weightlessness comes into play; a tall stack of rectangular boxes perches atop four very slender legs.
Another iconic floor lamp is Model UF5/33NW, which adds an organic twist to spaces from midcentury modern to transitional.
This lamp is a great way to address a corner; it enlivens the corner with its height, eye-catching shape and beautiful glow.
The 1N Table Lamp is versatile enough to perch just about anywhere. Here it brings sculpture and light to a radiator shelf. At around $105, it's a relatively affordable way to own a functional hand-crafted masterpiece.
In addition to floor and table lamps, Noguchi also looked overhead to ceiling lights. This large hanging lantern (Ceiling Lamp Model L3) stands up to the scale of a high ceiling.
This is the 15A Pendant Lamp. Note the way the photographer composed this shot with the pendant framed by the vaulted ceiling behind it.
This shot lets us get a close look at the intricate ribbing of the lamp's structure.
This is just a sampling of dozens and dozens of Noguchi's Akari Light Sculptures; if you like what you see, I highly suggest browsing the entire collection. There are many imitations out there, so know that each genuine Akari model has a stamped red sun and half moon with "Japan" written under the symbol on the shade, and next to the symbol is the Noguchi signature.
Ideabook published on Nov. 20, 2012.
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