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Selected articles from my journalism career, with topics ranging from heavy metal to cold cases to samurai armor.

Currier familiar with Japanese art collector, knew exhibit would be high quality

The Granite State, it must be said, isn’t exactly a nexus of Japanese culture. The last time such a large group of Japanese items were present in New Hampshire may well have been 1905, when Japan’s envoys arrived with their luggage to negotiate the Treaty of Portsmouth and put an end to the Russo-Japanese War.

Understandably, art from this part of the world is not the Currier Museum of Art’s typical focus.

“The Currier’s collection is Western art. We do not have a collection of Asian art at all,” curator Dr. Kurt Sundstrom said.

There are also no collectors of Japanese art in New Hampshire, he said, which means the museum has no local resources to help mount an exhibition.

When International Arts and Artists, the nonprofit arts service handling “Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor,” contacted the Currier about the availability of this exhibit orchestrated by the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, Sundstrom and the rest of the staff knew it was an offer they wanted to pursue.

It helped that Willard “Bill” Clark, the founder of the Clark Center, and the Currier’s director, Susan Strickler, have known each other for more than 25 years.

“There’s a very small community of dedicated collectors,” Sundstrom said, explaining that everyone in the museum industry knows who are the top collectors of every type of art.

Because of that familiarity with Clark’s work and the caliber of his collection and his connections, the staff knew “Lethal Beauty” would be a high-quality exhibit worth hosting.

“Our educational mission is really to bring the best of the world here,” Sundstrom said.

For some New Hampshire residents, it may be their only opportunity to view samurai armor and weaponry up close.

“Many people in this state never leave New England,” Sundstrom said, noting that the Currier is the only major arts center in New Hampshire.

“This is almost virgin territory,” Clark said. “There is not access for the local people to this kind of very exotic art.”

Bringing Japanese art to those who otherwise might not experience it is part of the essence of the Clark Center. Clark’s collection was originally kept in his home in Hanford, Calif., but the number of pieces he had and the number of people who wanted to see them eventually exceeded the space he had available.

The center was established in 1995, and a proper gallery was constructed near the Clarks’ home to accommodate the burgeoning collection.

Now an unexpected patch of Japanese tranquility in the midst of the agriculturally oriented San Joaquin Valley, the compound is basically located in the West Coast equivalent of small-town New Hampshire.

After closing at the Currier on May 5, “Lethal Beauty” is traveling to only five other locations, including the Birmingham Museum of Arts in Alabama and the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, N.Y. These two museums are similar to the Currier in that they also serve populations that do not have regular access to Japanese art.

And with the broad appeal of an exhibit of samurai armor and weapons, the Currier hopes all kinds of people – especially those who might not normally visit a museum – will come to see it.

There’s one such individual whose visit Sundstrom is happily anticipating.

“It’s the first time my son, who’s 10, has actually said, ‘I want to come to the museum,’ ” Sundstrom said.

“Lethal Beauty” seems to have piqued the interest of New Hampshire residents even before it opened to the public. About 300 people attended the opening Jan. 31, and the exhibit saw a steady stream of visitors during the Currier’s members-only first look.

As Sundstrom predicted, people are drawn to “Lethal Beauty” for different reasons.

Tre Nabstedt, of Concord, is the son of a fencing instructor and has visited a number of armory exhibits. Coming to see “Lethal Beauty” was therefore a natural step for him.

Though he really liked the pieces on display at the Currier and considered the exhibit aptly named, there was more to the experience for Nabstedt than mere swords and helmets.

“The warriors’ lifestyle is really fascinating, I think, beyond just their weapons and armor,” he said.

For Connie Lanseigne-Case, of Pelham, the exhibit is a continuation of a journey she made many years ago.

“Back in ’61, I had the good fortune of visiting Japan. I’ve always appreciated the arts and culture of Japan,” she said.

Lanseigne-Case described how during her stay, various artists, including a ceramicist and a woodblock printer, took the time to explain their work to her.

“From that time on, Japan had a special place in my appreciation of other countries,” she said.

The generous artists Lanseigne-Case encountered likely had a similar philosophy to Clark’s.

“If there’s something that really excites you, you want to try to excite other people,” he said. “It’s a ripple effect.”

For Clark, sharing his love of Japanese art and culture with others is one of two great pleasures in his life.

The other, he said, is when his wife prepares him a pitcher of martinis and a tray of snacks and he takes them into the gallery at night. He turns on Bach’s Brandenburg concertos and spends the evening enjoying the art.

“I just move the martinis and my chair from place to place and think, ‘I’m the luckiest guy in the world,’ ” Clark said, “and I am.”

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Feb. 17, 2013 in The Telegraph, Nashua, NH.

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