“Seeing the Universe in a Single Flower” at a Japanese Ikebana Exhibition Inspired by the Pabst Mansion


The Pabst Mansion has partnered with the Milwaukee Chapter of Ikebana International to combine the beauty of the historic mansion and the ancient art of Japanese flower arranging for an original cultural exhibit from April 29 through May 1.

Over twenty ikebana displays were positioned throughout the Pabst house for the event. They explored the symbolic qualities of floral elements while embracing the aesthetic and design of the historic mansion.

“In many rooms, and documented in the historic photos we have, they are decorated with floral designs and filled with fresh flowers. Ikebana just came to mind,” said Jocelyn Slocum, Curator of Collections and Head of Communications for the Pabst Mansion. “It’s just such a beautiful house. I thought it would be amazing to do a show where artists create displays inspired by spaces. The rooms, the wall coverings, the paintings, the woodwork, the whole atmosphere was created by the Pabst family. Ikebana itself is such a symbolic art form, so I thought this place lent itself very well to that expression.

The exhibit interpreted the past, present and spiritual flow between these moments in time with the collection of meditative flower arrangements. Visitors were invited to reflect not only on the house and the family that once inhabited it, but also on their own connections to the larger space around them.

“Tynecastel Tapestry wall treatment and complementary stained glass as inspiration for material texture and colors.” – Lynn Laufenberg, Junior Master at Ichiyo School of Ikebana (Tokyo, Japan)

After the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami devastation in Japan in 2011, Kawase Toshiro – one of the most influential practitioners of the art of plant arrangement – gained a global following by posting images of his works in line.

A master of ikebana, the art of “making flowers come alive”, Kawase has been quoted as saying that the epitome of ikebana was to see that “the whole universe is contained in a single flower”.

Japan’s Shinto culture believes that kami – often taken to mean “gods”, but more accurately referring to “sacred powers” or spirits – are the basis of everything. Like Hinduism, Shintoism believes that kami reside in all forms of nature. So even flowers are seen as an extension of God.

“The use of deer shelters was inspired by the beautiful wood carving on the wall. Materials gathered from an imaginary nature walk, known as “Found Ikebana”, were used to invoke the room’s sophisticated vibe. – Lynda Curl, Ichiyo School of Ikebana (Tokyo, Japan)

Ikebana developed during the Muromachi period (1333-1568) and is believed to have its roots in Buddhist flower offerings, a custom that dates back to the 6th century when Chinese Buddhist monks brought the tradition to Japan.

The distinct Japanese art form has slowly developed over the centuries. Many schools with varying techniques and nuanced philosophies have since evolved, but each remains true to the fundamental edict that ikebana conveys the connection between humanity and nature, and the existence of these dualities.

“Vibrant cherry woodwork, oil paintings in gilt frames, and intricate ceiling decor influenced the colors and movement of these arrangements. By enhancing this room with the pair of screens, I want the room to look as lively as it would have when Mrs. Pabst used it as her personal space. – Laurie Wareham, Master Sensei at Ichiyo School of Ikebana (Tokyo, Japan)

Ikebana seeks to emphasize the harmony between different elements, such as seasonal plants and flowers, dried branches, stones and even moss, arranged with meticulous care in a ceramic, glass, wood, bamboo or metal container.

Highly symbolic in its essence, ikebana requires special attention to harmony. He considers not only the types of flowers selected, but their colors and shapes combined to create a living sculpture.

“I used a large yellow glass bowl with curved edges to tie in the yellows of the room. Picking up the brightness of the space, I incorporated forsythia branches and yellow roses. The addition of pink roses represents the flowers that little Elsbeth is holding in her portrait above the fireplace – Carolyn Jackson, Instructor at Ichiyo School of Ikebana (Tokyo, Japan)

The special exhibition at the Pabst Mansion is based on the concept of time and place. As a result, Milwaukee’s Golden Age, American and European design elements, the art that adorns the walls, and the Pabst family itself are reflected in the ikebana arrangements.

“This ‘floating freestyle’ arrangement is made up of two distinct sections: the upper section depicts the pantry staff busy preparing guests, while the lower section shows the immaculate presentation seen when served at the dining table .” – Cindy Hum, Junior Associate Master at Ichiyo School of Ikebana (Tokyo, Japan)

Inspirations can be seen in the Butler’s Pantry, Mrs. Pabst’s Parlor, Grand Staircase, 3rd Floor Lobby, Mrs. Pabst’s Parlor, Music Room, Captain’s Office and on all three floors of the house, including the bathrooms.

“During the pandemic, I was watching the show ‘Japanology’ on NHK, which is like Japanese PBS. There was an episode about ikebana, and I fell in love with it,” Slocum said. really appreciate what these creative floral artists can do. And I thought the Pabst Mansion was the perfect space to inspire new floral sculptures for this ancient art form.

Often when people refer to the Pabst Mansion, they think of it as a static house museum with a few holiday-themed exhibits. But “Floral Reflections: Ikebana at the Pabst Mansion” is one of many specialist tours held throughout the year, all designed as new ways to interpret the house and its founding family. Along with the post-pandemic return of the beer garden in late May, other popular tours will also resume.

Slocum said much of Pabst’s original artwork was rendered in recent years. They had previously been scattered in other private collections for nearly 70 years, from the time the Pabst family left the house until it was restored as a museum.

The Pabst Mansion was built between June 1890 and July 1892 at a cost of just over $250,000. Today, it remains one of the few prominent residences to survive from the days when Wisconsin Avenue was known as Grand Avenue.


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