HOKUTO, Yamanashi Prefecture--Hatsue Iimuro is a Japanese trailblazer in the popular art form known as "Sailor's Valentine," in which artists make colorful geometric patterns out of a variety of seashells.
In the most prestigious contest for Sailor's Valentines, held in the United States in March, Iimuro won the top prize in a category. She was competing in the event for the first time.
Iimuro, 48, who lives in Kai, Yamanashi Prefecture, said she plans to open a workshop in Hokuto, also in Yamanashi Prefecture, in June to spread the art form.
“I am going to show (the attractiveness of) shells from Yamanashi, an inland prefecture which has no connection to shells,” she said with a smile.
The art form, which originated in Europe, was spread to the U.S. East Coast by sailors during the “Great Navigation Era” from the 15th to the 17th centuries.
Iimuro had never seen a Sailor's Valentine in Japan when she moved to Boston in 2005 when her husband, a company employee, was transferred there. The next year, she happened to see a Sailor's Valentine at a shop there.
She was attracted to the art form, and signed up for a class to learn how to make them. She discovered that the painstaking work that goes into the geometric patterns was similar to that in making patchwork, which she had been previously engaged in.
She improved her skill in making Sailor's Valentines. Then, some people began to buy her works.
Iimuro returned to Japan in 2009. From 2010, she held an annual event to introduce the shell art to children at the resort facility Risonare Yatsugatake in Hokuto.
Her artworks attracted the attention of Yasuyuki Tsugura, 50, who is operating a gallery in the facility. He suggested that Iimuro ask his acquaintances, including lacquer and wood craftsmen, to create frames for her patterns. She did so.
Using the frames they created, she made three works and submitted them to three categories of the 75th Sanibel Shell Show, held on Sanibel island in Florida, in March.
At the event site, Iimuro visited the rooms for the three categories.
First, she went to the original category room, to which she had submitted her work, titled “Japan Rises Again,” which was based on the recovery efforts in areas damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Though she had the most confidence in this particular artwork among her three entries, it failed to win a prize.
Next, she visited the avant-garde category. Then, she found the blue ribbon, the top prize, was awarded to her work.
She recalled that, before she started to visit the three rooms, her name was called at a party held after the screenings. She thought that her name was being mentioned because she was a visitor to the event from Japan.
After seeing the blue ribbon, however, she realized that her name was called because she had won the top prize. Later, when she went to the traditional category room, she found that she also had won the red ribbon, the runner-up prize.
Because of her accomplishment, she will participate in another prestigious shell art contest, to be held in Philadelphia, Pa., in October.
In autumn 2011, Iimuro established the Japan Sailor's Valentine Association (Japan-SVA). In May, the Yamanashi Mecenat Kyokai (Yamanashi Mecenat Association) decided to provide a grant to the Japan-SVA.
Iimuro, who is holding a shell art class in Tokyo, also plans to open a new workshop in the Kobuchisawacho district in Hokuto to hold a similar class.
Recalling an event she held for children, she said, “Children’s ideas are fresh and stimulating. They are influencing my work.”
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