Solving a Smithsonian Samurai Mystery: The ‘Living Dolls’ of Japan, Lost and Found

Solving a Smithsonian Samurai Mystery: The ‘Living Dolls’ of Japan, Lost and Found

Monday,  April 26  9:00 PM EDT

@ONLINE, admission free, registration required

Free, Online. Registration required. Talk in English with Japanese subtitles.

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was a global spectacle unlike anything the world had ever seen. To showcase its history and culture at the Fair, Japan sent a myriad of arts, crafts, and other treasures. Among these were eight ikiningyō (生人形) or ‘living dolls’ – lifelike mannequins that depict a unique Japanese aesthetic – including an intriguing samurai diorama set piece. The Smithsonian purchased these mannequins upon the Fair’s completion and later exhibited them intermittently at the US National Museum. After being removed from display, however, these enigmatic mannequins disappeared and were presumed lost for decades. In this talk, I trace my recent rediscovery of these artifacts, and explore their place in the artistic and cultural milieu of late 19th century Japan and America.

Bio: Dr. Robert Pontsioen is a research fellow in the Asian Cultural History Program at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. He is an author of books and scholarly articles about contemporary craft practice and the role of museums in preserving and promoting cultural heritage, and has carried out ethnographic and museum collections research in Japan, Korea, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, and the USA.

Dr. Robert Pontsioen was a Japan Foundation Fellow in 2016-2017. Read more about his experience here >