Visit Us at
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
by Martin Barnes Lorber
The Morikami complex is a remarkable and actually unique marriage if Culture and Nature. Of all of the American museums which hold Japanese art in their collections, the Morikami is the only one in this country that specializes in the day-by-day forms and history of Japanese life, customs and festivals. The Museum’s mission statement makes their purpose for the public clear, “…to engage a diverse audience by presenting Japanese cultural experiences that educate and inspire.” This mission has been accomplished with cultural inspiration, flourish and outreach.
Like much of south Florida in the early years of the twentieth century, Palm Beach County was a land of agriculture. Orange and other groves predominated here and even the present-day neighborhood of El Cid in West Palm Beach was a pineapple plantation while the area surrounding the present Palm Beach International Airport was filled with orange groves.
The site of today’s Morikami Museum and Gardens started as a pineapple plantation in 1903 by the New York University-educated Japanese, Jo Sakai (1874-1923), and about fifteen other Japanese. Its purpose was to introduce new crops and methods to improve Florida’s agricultural economy. It was called Yamato, the ancient name for Japan, but failed in its mission by the early 1920s, but the site remained in Japanese hands and is now the remarkable Morikami Museum and Gardens.
Since opening in 1977, the Morikami has been the center in Florida for Japanese art and native Japanese culture. The Museum is replete with rotating exhibitions, tea ceremonies performed monthly in the Seishin-an tea house and educational outreach programs with local schools and organizations. Japanese traditional festivals are celebrated for the public several times a year and the Morikami, like no other museum in America, beautifully accomplishes their mission to introduce the daily, living culture of Japan to Florida residents and visitors alike.
As an example of the human nature of its exhibitions, the current one is Out of the Blue: Japanese Indigo Textiles, on view until January 21st. It is drawn primarily from the Morikami Museum Collections and features a range of indigo-dyed costume and textiles, including kimono, samurai jackets, festival robes, firemen’s coats, futon covers, and wrapping cloths.
The museum building itself contains three exhibition galleries, a 225-seat theater, an authentic tea house with viewing gallery, a research library, classrooms, a museum store, the Cornell Cafe and lakeside terraces for a panoramic view while dining. It is called the Yamato-kan, named for the ancient, sacred Japan; it opened in 1993 and is styled after a Japanese aristocratic villa. The Museum and Gardens are surrounded by their own two hundred-acre park with nature trails, pine forests and picnic areas.
Sharing center stage with the. Museum are the Gardens, designed by Hochi Kurisu. It is almost as if the gardens are a part of the Museum building itself and flow out from it. There are a number of different gardens in styles dating from the eighth century to the twentieth so that a stroll through these gardens is less of a walk than a flow.
Nestled within these gardens is a spectacular collection of bonsai, the Japanese version of the Chinese art of tree miniaturization, penjing. There are numerous examples in several traditional styles and include such trees as Chinese juniper, Chinese elm, Fujian tea, Black olive and others. This really is a time to pause, because here one can begin to understand the concept of the miniaturization of Nature for its cosmic meanings, all whilst standing in the middle of Nature, created by the hand of man, but without making it known.
Morikami Museum and Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Road, off Jog Road, Delray Beach. Morikami.org. 561/495-0233
Martin Barnes Lorber Asian art consultant, author, correspondent for the Asian Art Newspaper (London), former Advisor to the Collections at the Morikami and organizer and curator of the 2014 summer exhibition at the Morikami, Japanese Swords and Armor from Florida Private Collections.