On Wabi-Sabi

afternoon project : Silver Dollar Eucalyptus Wreath

One of my Dad's maxims is that painting the exterior of your apartment leads to robberies. He told me this when I moved into my studio and we repainted every other possible surface - the trim, the ceiling, and the cabinets. (I know, he is the best.) The exact words were "paint that door and everyone who walks by will think a little rich girl lives inside". So, it remains peeling and sun bleached.  

I thought of the way this door looks when I read about the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. Architect Tadao Ando describes  it as "finding the beauty in imperfection".  Wabi-Sabi "celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet ... in the process of returning to the dust from which we came"

A word I come back to again and again when describing my life here in Portland is "simplicity" (the simple luxuries of a wooden dish rack or blackberry cobbler) and this is the connotation of the word "wabi". Tadao Ando uses the phrases "humble by choice" and "content with very little" to describe wabi.

Sabi is understood as "the bloom of time", and is found in things that age gracefully. This idea balances the wabi for me; it doesn't need complete renunciation. One can love things, for their function and for a long time. It's the opposite of shallow materialism, which is fueled by consumption and disposable culture. To me, sabi is represented in vintage dishes. Objects that bring joy to my life because of what they do.  Because they're beautiful. Because they're well made, and when I hit them on the edge of the sink, the plate doesn't shatter and get thrown away but bares a small, smooth chip that makes it more beautiful. 

I occurred to me that Wabi-Sabi is why I find the door over my cement stoop so satisfying. It is as Tadao Anho describes : "underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It's a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree".

The door is a fragmentary glimpse into the simple, fulfilled life I've learned to live behind it. 

(photo) on film with Nikon FM. early morning, out of focus. The wreath is made with silver-dollar eucalyptus with skills I learned from Amy Merrick's class. (article) What is Wabi-Sabi?  by architect Tadao Ando


  1. sam, simply stunning. love this all.

  2. your thoughts are meditative. we need to spend time together very soon.


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