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History of Fixation: From Sand and Straws to Kenzans by Ilse Beunen

Moribana Style Flower arrangement with red shallow vase

In ikebana's early days, simplicity was key. Practitioners aimed to accentuate each flower's intrinsic beauty and used rudimentary tools like sand and straws to secure these branches and flowers in their arrangements.

A true transformation in ikebana came with the advent of the Moribana style, a development attributed to Ohara Unshin, the visionary founder of the Ohara school. Moribana, meaning "piled-up flowers," introduced a new dimension to the world of ikebana. Arrangements were now crafted within shallow containers, demanding precision in placing stems and branches at predetermined angles and lengths.

Flower arrangement with black logn rectangular vase
Ohara's motivation for pioneering this style in the early 20th century was to integrate imported Western flowers into the traditional Japanese art form.  

This innovation revolutionized ikebana, allowing for the artistic arrangement of non-native botanicals. The positioning of flowers and branches at precise angles became a hallmark of the Moribana style.

Some Ikebana scholars assert that the kenzan, in essence, became the enabler of this revolutionary approach.

The word "kenzan" (剣山) is a fusion of two Japanese characters, meaning "sword mountain." This nomenclature paints a vivid picture of the tool—an assemblage of sharp needles, resembling the blades of swords, projecting from a weighted base.

The kenzan catalyzed expanding the horizons of ikebana. It provided artists with newfound flexibility in working with various plant materials and encouraged artistic experimentation.

Yellow Flower Ikebana arrangement in ciruclar shallow vase

In the world of ikebana, the choice of a kenzan is crucial. The quality of this tool can significantly impact the final result of an arrangement. Here are some criteria to keep in mind when buying a kenzan.

  1. Weight:A well-crafted kenzan should possess adequate weight to stabilize an arrangement. This stability prevents delicate compositions from toppling over.
  2. Density of Pins:The density of pins on a kenzan is pivotal. A higher pin count allows for more precise control and steadiness in securing diverse plant materials.
  3. Sturdiness of Pins:Pins should be robust enough to accommodate both delicate flowers and robust branches, ensuring they neither bend nor break.
  4. Versatility:A quality kenzan can accommodate various plant materials, from the finest stems to thicker branches. This versatility is crucial for crafting diverse Ikebana compositions.

 To Cover or to Hide: A Philosophical Dilemma

In ikebana, an important principle asserts that how an arrangement is fixed should remain concealed from view. The observer's view should be directed toward the design rather than fixated on the mechanics of the arrangement.

In numerous ikebana lessons, teachers, including myself, often emphasize the need to cover the kenzan. However, this practice sometimes results in an overabundance of plant material accumulating at the base of the arrangement, forming a conspicuous mound, doing precisely the opposite of what is intended.

 Yellow Flower arrangement in Shallow Green vase

Occasionally, kenzans are even concealed beneath stones or other decorative elements. Yet, a more nuanced approach exists—one that aligns with the minimalist essence of ikebana. It involves not covering but instead hiding the kenzan from plain sight.

In this subtle technique, the plant materials are strategically placed to obscure the kenzan while maintaining balance and proportion in the arrangement. Black kenzans help to conceal the fixation methods, especially when placed in a black Moribana container, thereby leaving more artistic freedom. 

In ikebana, the kenzan plays a silent yet pivotal role—bridging nature's beauty with the artist's vision.   

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