Bamboo Basket Chair in “Isamu Noguchi,” Mitsukoshi Department Store, August 18, 1950 – August 27, 1950. ©The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Isamu Noguchi.

The first Bamboo Basket Chair was a collaborative effort by Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi in Japan in 1950.  They made only one Bamboo Basket Chair then at the Kenmochi studios in Tokyo. It turned out to be a complicated design and far too involved for mass manufacturing purposes. This first chair has not been found nor are there any related drawings. Nevertheless, as early as 2006 when I was planning the exhibition, Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi at The Noguchi Museum for 2008, I decided I wanted to recreate the Bamboo Basket Chair for this exhibition.

Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi sitting in Bamboo Basket Chair. Japan, c.1950. ©The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Michio Noguchi.

With Larry List, a model maker extraordinaire, and Douglas DeNicola, head of merchandising for the museum, we decided to attempt the recreation using only the high resolution black and white photographs that were available in the museum’s archives. Calibrations were made based on enlarging the images and approximating body sizes of the known seated persons in the photographs. We also located traditional bamboo and rattan weavers in Japan as well as consultants for the chair’s iron frame. The information gathered, along with the collective knowledge of employees from the first Kenmochi Design firm, supported the arduous process of building the Bamboo Basket Chair.

Bamboo Basket Chair in “Isamu Noguchi,” Mitsukoshi Department Store, August 18, 1950 – August 27, 1950. ©The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artist Rights Society (ARS). Photo by Isamu Noguchi

In the end, however, the chair was too expensive to mass-produce, and its impression and reality of fragility made it more an objet d’art rather than a comfortable, functional piece of furniture. These were probably the same characteristics and problems Noguchi and Kenmochi recognized in 1950. Nevertheless, the chair’s craftsmanship, intricate beauty, complicated weaving and engineering illustrate that functional design does not come easily, but it is always worth the attempt. Since the Bamboo Basket Chair could not be mass produced, the museum decided in 2007 to make an edition of fifty. Number ten from the edition was gifted to me by the Isamu Noguchi Museum for my thirty years of service to Noguchi’s legacy.

Bonnie Rychlak, Former Chief Curator of The Noguchi Museum