Japanese Ivory Tusk Vases

Carved Ivory tusks decorated with birds   

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

These two vases are made from sections of elephant ivory tusk and feature painted designs of trees and birds, inlaid with mother of pearl, with finely worked metal stands and rims.  They are typical of the Meiji period (from 1880-1910) and are luxury items which would appeal to Western collectors and connoisseurs (people who have a great deal of knowledge about something).

Discussion Ideas:

  • It is now illegal to take elephant tusks to make decorative objects. Why do you think people used to do this?
  • What are your views about hunting animals?
  • Do you know of any other animals that have ivory tusks?
  • Why do you think we need to protect the environment?
  • What other things are fished for or hunted these days that lead to potentially damaging our environment?

Activiy Ideas:

  • Make a decorated vessel of similar shape and form but with upcycling other materials
  • Decorate the vessel to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the use of Ivory tusks?
  • Research into the work of Grayson Perry and discover how he decorates the surface of his ceramic ware.
  • Think about how the link with Grayson Perry's work could support your ideas?
  • Use these tusk vases as a stimulus to encourage the use of upcycled materials and alternative mediums and raise awareness about meanings and ideas in artworks.
  • Watch contemporary 3D craftsman talk about their work and functional forms.
  • Find out how other artists use different materials like Barbara Hepworth using stone, Marc Quinn using blood and Johnny White using metal.

Curriculum Links

Science, KS1/KS2 Materials and Their Properties
Science, KS1/KS2 Life Processes and Living Things

Look at this Google map to see how far Japan is from Britain

Document icon Learning article provided by: North Lincolnshire Museum | 
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