Rare Satsuma Collection Is The Summer Exhibit At The Frank House

KrisAnn Sullivan
Frank House director, 308.865.8284 OR sullivankw@unk.edu

UNK- For the first time, nearly 30 pieces in a rare Satsuma button collection will be on exhibit at the Frank House, located on the University of Nebraska at Kearney West Campus.

“The pieces are exquisite,” said KrisAnn Sullivan, Frank House director. “It’s a very fine collection.”

“The Satsuma button was a well-known Japanese traditional artifact,” Sullivan said. “The Satsuma Clan produced these to earn foreign money for the war against the Japanese government at the end of the Edo period. Today, Shiho Kawasaki is the only person still decorating Satsuma buttons, and she produces only 20-30 buttons a month.”

The collection of buttons from the 1800’s was a bequest from Zenaide Downey, a UNK graduate, to the Frank House. The buttons feature a variety of subjects, including dragons and portraits. One button is of men’s faces with various expressions.

Downey described the pieces in a letter written from Saginaw, Mich., in July of 1985 to then curator Marian Johnson: “There is Satsuma which I found in a very small ‘hole in the wall’ on First Avenue in Seattle. I took them to a jeweler who made them into pins–they are very, very old. Made by the Japanese by putting the coloring on very fine needles and placing in the pores of the pottery.”

Satsuma ware is made of fired clay, and is thus classified in the ceramics category. The Satsuma buttons are characterized by an ivory or straw-colored glaze with fine crackle lines extending over the exposed surfaces. Several firings in a kiln were required to complete each button.

First, the button was fired to establish the shape. A second firing of 48 hours was needed to produce the glaze. The button was then painted and returned to the kiln for slow heating. In some cases, a separate firing was done for each color. A final firing was needed for the raised gold encrustation found on some older buttons.

The Frank House exhibit was put together under Sullivan’s direction by Nozomi Fujino and Rummi Mizuno, UNK students from Japan.

“The two researched and hung the Satsuma show,” Sullivan said. “They are also making a brochure about the Satsuma Collection.”

The exhibit may be viewed between 1-5 p.m. Tuesdays – Sundays, now through Aug. 29 at the historic mansion, which is located on the University of Nebraska at Kearney West Campus. The Frank House will be closed on July Fourth.