Ikebana showcases nature’s beauty

TAKING BEAUTY FROM NATURE — An ikebana arrangement by Thanh Nguyen.
photo by Thanh Nguyen

Ikebana can help one see nature with a different perspective, particularly as practitioners bring beauty into their homes, said Thanh Nguyen, president of the Ikebana Teachers Federation. 

Ikebana can teach people “how to take the beauty from nature and apply it to your normal life,” she told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a phone interview. The Ikebana Teachers Federation, which has about 50 members, began in 1973 “to create a platform for ikebana teachers to meet and to share knowledge and to reach out to the community to present this art form,” Nguyen said. The organization has “retained the philosophy of helping teachers to spread the art of ikebana to the world,” she said.

Nguyen, who has been teaching ikebana for more than two decades, said “every ikebana organization is striving to build its membership.” 

Ikebana International’s chapter in Japan, a separate organization from the Teachers Federation, has a global movement with all of their chapters trying to recruit younger members, she said. 

Ikebana teachers have gone to public schools and held workshops for children, Nguyen said. She has also conducted workshops for middle school and high school students, to try to help grow the art. 

Ikebana, as an art form, has evolved with time, Nguyen said. She noted that freestyle ikebana has become a trend among practitioners in the United States. With freestyle, “you develop your aesthetic according to your personality.” She added that freestyle ikebana is “limitless to the potential of how you can create something new, beautiful, different and exciting.”

Louise Owling, an Ikebana Teachers Federation member who has also taught the art for more than two decades, echoed Nguyen’s sentiments about freestyle ikebana. She sees people enjoying ikebana’s different styles with “less structure than Ikenobo Ikebana likes to get to.” She believes the trend is “a way towards being free.” Owling belongs to Ikenobo Ikebana, the largest ikebana school.

Ikebana has taught practitioners “how to respect nature and how to see nature in different ways…,” Nguyen said.

During the pandemic, the Ikebana International San Francisco chapter held monthly Zoom programs starting in September 2020, which continue today, Nguyen said. Owling helped arrange several of the programs, including this past January’s “We’re Back Home Again” event. 

Nguyen said the chapter’s first Zoom program had about 1,800 virtual attendees. Other programs had 7,000 people watching from Italy, Pakistan, Japan, France and India, among other locations around the world.

Owling said harmony is the essence of her school of ikebana. During the pandemic, “harmony taught me … how to adjust to the changes of being at home and how to work with my environment,” she said.

Nguyen has also had to adjust to the ebbs and flows of students’ interest in the art. 

When she was teaching at San Francisco City College, her classes were always full, and often had a waiting list. Now, living in Southern California, she teaches at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, Calif., where she has struggled to get students to sign up for her ikebana classes, but she won’t give up, she said. She believes that once people know about ikebana, “they will love it.”

Once someone starts it, ikebana is a lifetime pursuit, Nguyen said. She still has students from when she first started teaching, and she continues taking ikebana classes herself. 

“Once you appreciate the art, you tend to stay and it’s a lifelong journey,” Nguyen added. 

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