Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Art of Friendship--Numazu and Kalamazoo

You can fly from Detroit Metro to almost any major airport in the world in a single day, although sitting for 14 or 15 hours on a direct flight can make it feel like a very long day. Nowadays, it usually takes much more time to plan a trip overseas than to actually make the journey.

Our son Lee’s recent Japanese adventure took a lot longer to develop than most. Its genesis was a casual conversation four years ago between his mother, Sandy, and a fellow shopper in a Kalamazoo store. As proud parents often do, Sandy found an opportunity to mention that her son was a stained glass artist who produces beautiful creations.

Unknown to Sandy, the lady she chatted with was connected to the Kalamazoo-Numazu Sister City Committee. Committee members make a cultural exchange trip to Japan in odd-numbered years to stay with Numazu citizens and serve as hosts to sister city friends in even-numbered years.

Lee putting finishing touches on the gift from Kalamazoo to Numazu
Committee planners soon contacted Lee about the possibility of getting an original stained glass piece from him. Two years later, several representatives visited Lee’s studio near Plainwell. They needed something special to mark the 50th anniversary of the sister city association. They requested and approved a preliminary drawing. A few months ago, Lee was commissioned to create the work of art that would be carried to Numazu as the official gift from the City of Kalamazoo to recognize the long-time friendship.

Lee’s creation features two symbolic birds—a Japanese Crane and a Cardinal representing the U.S.—holding a banner proclaiming “Understanding, Friendship, Kalamazoo-Numazu 1963-2013.” The biggest part of his compensation was an all-expense-paid trip to Japan as part of the 41-person American delegation visiting their sister city. Lee gave a brief speech at an evening banquet where his work was presented to the Mayor of Numazu.  By all accounts, the mayor and the other Japanese friends loved the gift.
A banner at the Numazu City Hall entrance greeted the Kalamazoo delegation

Lee stayed with a Japanese couple in their home for eight days. Much of his time was spent on organized tours with the visiting group of area sites that represented ancient and modern Japanese activities. However, during times reserved for host family-visitor interactions, Lee’s “house father” and “house mother” liked to just stay in their home and talk. Lee said those discussions were highlights of his visit. The fact that his house mother is an English teacher was a big plus.

Lee found he liked traditional Japanese food, which in some cases surprised his hosts. They also were amazed to discover he was proficient with chopsticks. He acquired that skill years ago when his mother and I often took him to Asian restaurants in the U.S. As a little boy, Lee developed an exceptional ability to eat with chopsticks, much more advanced than ours.
Lee went traditional at a cultural fair sponsored by the Japanese committee

Lee had to cut his visit short because of a commitment to display his art at a show in Michigan. His house father provided a final kindness. The trip to the Tokyo area’s Narita Airport by train involved two transfers, a very difficult situation for a tourist who spoke no Japanese. The house father escorted Lee all the way. Although they got lost for a time in one of the world’s busiest airports, the host found the correct departure point. In parting, he offered a final bit of house fatherly advice: “Go home and continue to produce beautiful art.”

Thanks to the house father’s train route navigation talents and his quick thinking in the airport, Lee got on the plane just in time. His art will stay in Numazu, however, on permanent display in the city’s Cultural Center.

Lee’s creations now are owned by discerning people in Japan, Australia, Italy, and Germany as well as many states in the U.S.  If you want to take a look at representative pieces of his work, the easiest way is a quick visit to Enjoy.


PiedType said...

What an honor, and an adventure. Japan is one of the few foreign countries I've long wanted to visit. Love the culture, but not so sure about the food. said...

Amazing, and I will check out the link. I am a great fan of stained glass art and the example you show is grand. Dianne

Dede Amelse said...

I so enjoyed this article, Dick. How proud you and Sandy must be of your son. I did not get down to the Toma-Walk. I'm sure Eli did very well. With a dad like Pete and a grandpa sike, Red, what's not to like about Eli?

Terri McGuire said...

So glad to hear of Lee's further adventures as an artist. His work is amazing and the honors are well-deserved.

Kay said...

Oh wow and WOW! I loved this post, Dick! I'm so glad Lee had such a great time in Japan. I took a look at his gallery of gorgeous stained glass masterpieces and see how talented he is. You do know why we named our daughter Tiffany, right?