Sachiko Akiyama: Through Lines

March 12 - June 12, 2022

Polychrome wooden statues and wall reliefs have been made in cultures around the world for millennia. Sachiko Akiyama breathes new life into this tradition.

Each sculpture possesses a self-contained, contemplative quality. That is not to say, however, that the sculptures lack vitality. Far from it. Both in their narrative content and in their making, each piece pulses with energy. Akiyama’s sculptural mark making includes furled edging, shallow articulations of depth, and an interplay between positive and negative space. Each gesture reveals the hand of the artist and her ability to create work that is at once boldly graphic and surprisingly delicate.

Akiyama’s rendering of the human figure, birds, and animals reflects her Japanese ancestry. Throughout Asia, the crane is a symbol of long life and a connection between the temporal and the spiritual. For Akiyama, a coastal New Englander, the Great Blue Heron fulfills this role. In her wall relief “Four Corners,” a flock of these magnificent creatures flies skyward while one stays on the ground, seemingly in conversation with a mother and child. What are they saying? What are they feeling? 

In “Wild,” a woman and a bear appear to be one creature sharing a midline. The woman is carved and painted, giving her more physicality; the bear is a thinly painted image on a rough wood board. What are we to make of a woman and a bear sharing the same picture plane? The pairing of a human figure with an animal is rich with interpretive possibilities. The two can be read as symbols, teachers, muses, and companions. They may speak of love, remembrance, or condolence. They may serve as touchstones, totems, or talismans.

“Gathering” is a portrait of connection. Two figures in contemporary dress sit quietly, each in his and her own chair, united by a long skein of red cord dotted with knots, spilling from each lap into a pool on the floor. What is the relationship between the figures? What is the symbolism of the red cord? What do the knots represent? The sculpture is magical in its juxtaposition of stasis and movement, time and timelessness, the physical and the spiritual.

— Mara Williams, Curator Emerita

I combine figurative and natural forms to create sculptures that exert quiet physical and psychological presences. I am interested in using tactile, assertive forms to describe the psyche—not a specific emotion or thought, but rather a state of concentration and introspection. Since my experience of this interior mental space is my point of reference, it makes sense to use myself or my family members as subject matter. I hope that the viewer can identify with my sculptures, that the personal becomes universal. 

Over time, I have been developing a lexicon of symbols and poses that draw from a wide range of art, literature, and cultures, including my own Japanese American heritage. The allegorical and dreamlike imagery in my work is also derived from a blend of personal experiences, family history, and dreams. My artistic influences include modern and contemporary sculptors such as Brancusi and Anne Chu, Egyptian funerary sculptures, and medieval Christian woodcarvings. While my work references the extensive tradition of figurative religious sculpture, I am exploring similar existential themes from a secular viewpoint shaped by my experiences in the contemporary world. 

I recognize that the nature of our interior lives is mysterious and unknowable. As a response, I combine symbols and gestures in a way that allows for multiple meanings while still retaining a sense of inexplicability. I am especially drawn to symbols from nature, like weather patterns and mountain formation, because these are shaped by unseen forces and by a combination of rules and circumstances outside the reach of human control. I also frequently use metaphors for journeys and the potential for change, such as the flight and migration of birds. 

My juxtaposition of symbols is becoming increasingly surreal and unexpected, such as the split portrait of myself combined with a grizzly bear. Straddling representation and abstraction underscores my interest in creating something that isn’t merely illustrative but rather bridges the ordinary and the fantastic. Being freed from realism and from executing a specific idea allows me to be playful with imagery and to develop sculptures in response to the process, the nature of the materials, and formal issues.  

Woodcarving is my primary sculpting process, and it pairs well with the personal and psychological nature of my sculptures. The organic material exudes a natural warmth. The visible chisel marks that I leave on the completed sculptures evoke the slow passage of time, which I associate with the meditative state of mind.

— Sachiko Akiyama

This exhibit is supported in part by



April 7, Thursday, 7 p.m. — Artist Talk: Sachiko Akiyama
April 30, Saturday, 2 p.m. — Workshop: Mask Making
May 14, Saturday, 5 p.m. — Celebration of Spring Exhibits


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