Shintani’s Ancestor Chimes featured in Seattle Weekly

“Working lighter on the land means being fragile and vulnerable. For that reason, my favorite work here hangs almost unnoticed from fir branches near a picnic area facing the bay. Judy Shintani‘s gently ringing Ancestor Chimes are partly narrative, with text on oyster shell….”, writes Brian Miller

It’s great to get some press and I’m especially pleased that a photo from my Ancestor Chimes and positive feedback on the installation is in the Seattle Weekly. Carkeek Park has been a challenging venue for many of the artists and my heart goes out to them. Please read the review of the Rootbound Heaven and Earth Exhibition below:


Many steps and helpers to create Ancestor Chimes land art

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Photos by MalPina Chan and Judy Shintani

I’m always interested in the back story of how a piece is developed and created, so I’m going to talk about the process of making my Ancestor Chimes installation.


The theme of the Center of Contemporary Seattle exhibition: Rootbound, Heaven and Earth, drew me in since a lot of my work is about family history, stories, and culture. Because my father’s family settled in the Puget Sound area and raised oysters, I thought that my work could tie into this show nicely. I created and photographed a prototype and hung them in a tree near my studio. I uploaded the photo and a write-up of my idea for the submission. It was accepted and I had a few weeks to get the piece completed and installed in Carkeek Park in Seattle.

My artist statement
My father’s family settled here in America and raised oysters in the Puget Sound. I honor these family members, some of whom have passed on. On the oyster shells you will find stories about their time here. Some of the ink may fade over time just as memories do. The tree is a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth, so it is holds up my family’s tales. The shells dangle and move and our legacy travels to reach ancestors via the wind. I imagine they are pleased to be remembered in this beautiful place they once inhabited.

Gathering Materials
The Ancestor Chimes is made primarily of oyster shells. This is not a new media for me. I have used them in performances and in assemblages. They represent my father’s family, hope, and nostalgia. They also represent loss and secrets. I see the oyster as a symbol of the deep feminine.

The gathering of the materials I’m using in a piece is done with a lot of intention and caring. I want to be conscious of what is used, how it is used and handled, because this infuses my work with energy.

Photo by A. Meyer

I originally wanted to create the piece using Washington oyster shells. Due to the short creation time, I came up with a different solution. My partner and I drove to Drakes Bay Oyster Farm near Pt Reyes. This was a family road trip destination when I was a child. There they have mountains of oyster shells I could pick from. I looked for flat, clean ones with mostly white surfaces to write on. I had to carefully select shells of the right thickness for drilling.

In the best circumstances I would have liked to have ingested all the oysters to create the piece. I like the process of sharing the delicacy with friends and family – in that way honoring community and the oysters. I symbolically was able to add some shells from oysters that were eaten by my partner and I at the Pt Reyes Station House Cafe. I also gathered friends and family in Seattle at Chinook’s to help me eat some oysters so I had some Washington shells to use my installation. That was a very special intersection of family, old friends, and new friends.

Other materials gathered:
– Brass wire that will hold up best in the weather and over 4 months.
– Bells gifted to me that had been hanging outside on my studio door for years.
– Florist wire covered by rope found at Alena Jean’s Nursery  a few blocks from my studio.
– Matte acrylic medium
-Metallic acrylic paint
– Sharpe metallic paint pen
– Tools: drill, wire cutters, brushes

The Making
I wrote out the stories before hand on paper and then figured out how many shells I needed and how many chimes I would create. It came out to seven strands of chimes and I thought that was an auspicious number.

I assembled about half of the chimes in my Half Moon Bay, California studio. I cleaned, drilled, and wrote family stories on shells and then used a brass wire to connect the chime parts. I used a jewelry method of wire connection, incorporating a way for the shells to swivel and turn with the wind and make it easier for viewers to read the shells.

COCA provided me with studio space at their Georgetown gallery so I could add in the Washington shells from the Chinook gathering.  I went through the process of cleaning, drilling, writing, wiring, and adding a coat of matte acrylic medium to protect the writing.

I did a final couple of hours of wiring in Suze Woolf’s studio. A fellow Rootbound artist, she was also kind enough to provide me lodging while I was in Seattle for three nights.

Scouting Location
Upon arriving in Seattle from California, I went with David Francis the curator for the exhibition, to see the spot he selected for my installation. My placement criteria: near the Sound and a tree to hang the chimes so that they could be seen and read by viewers.

We hiked up the North trail path that bordered the sound and could not find a tree that had low enough or sturdy enough branches for the installation. As we walked back towards the picnic area, David mentioned a spot near the entrance of the trail as a possibility, only thing was that it had a chain link fence with barbed wire. Bingo! Part of my family story was that they had to leave the area due to the Japanese American incarceration. This was the perfect location to support the bittersweet side of the ancestor story.

I was fortunate enough to hook up with fellow JFKU alumni and dear friend Leah Libow who helped me install the Ancestor Chimes. Borrowing a raincoat from Suze’s daughter Boo, we trudged out to the park in the rain wearing boots and hats. This was not just a light rain, there were big drops coming down. I stood on the very top of little stepladder on uneven muddy ground holding up strands of chimes, trying to figure out which branches to hang them on and how high. Some branches we could reach, others we threw the rope wire over the branch. This all took about 2 hours and we were pretty wet, but exhilarated by the conclusion of the installation.

On Display
The Ancestor Chimes are on display in the Land Art Exhibition at Carkeek Park until October 31, 2012. I’m lucky that so many of my Washington friends have gone to see it and also many California friends are vacationing in the area and are checking it out too. Here is the link to find out more and download a map. If you click on the photos on the map you can find out more about each piece. I’m number 8.

I’ve had a lot of support in making this installation happen and I want to thank: COCA Seattle, David Francis, Ray C. Freeman III, Suze Woolf, Ander Meyer, Alena Whiting Barragan, Judith van Praag, Linda Ando, Leah Libow, Janice Ono, Damon Ono, Stacy Ono Avara, MalPina Chan, June Sekiguchi, Melanie Corey-Ferrini.

Pieces of the story


These are pieces of my father’s story. I chose to use oyster shells as the pages to write it. The “book” will be assembled into ancestor chimes with bells and will hang in a tree in Carkeek Park in Seattle. It is part of an group installation called Rootbound Heaven and Earth curated by the Center of Contemporary Art Seattle. My piece will be facing the Puget Sound where my father’s family once raised oysters.

A place for my mom



Priscilla, JJW, and I went to the De Young Art Museum to participate in AAWAA’s art residency collaborative. AAWAA stands for Asian American Women’s Art Association. The theme of their residency was “A Place of Her Own”. They provided materials like boxes and fabric and such for people to come in and work on their own pieces.

Since I just got a nice new big art studio, I decided I want to focus on making a place for my mother. As many of you know, my mother has Alzheimer’s disease and she lives in a fullcare facility in Reno near my brother and his family and my father. My mom shares a room with another patient, and usually she is in her wheelchair out in the public area.

Here is my creation process:

I choose a nice wooden box and line the box sides and bottom with hana (flower) cards. My mother used to play this Japanese card game with some women friends in Lodi. I have fond memories, hearing the voices and laughter of the ladies as they visited. I place a sea urchin shell upon a nest of yarn in the box. The shell reminds me of one that she gave me wrapped in a white napkin when she returned from a trip. It seemed so fragile and beautiful – and that is how she is now. I sprinkle confetti and red string in the box too. I think she needs some fun and always liked bright cheery colors. In the inside of the lid I put a gold flattened cupcake wrapper. Now it looks like a sacred halo. On top of the halo I put a feather. Feathers are messengers from and to God. I think she may have things she may want to say. Lastly I add 2 butterflies. Butterflies for fun, for flitting around, for transformation. I feel a sense of wonder and peace having made this special place for her.

Honoring Amaterasu, the sun goddess

During the Winter Solstice some of us got together to create. I introduced Amaterasu, the Japanese Shinto sun goddess, because her story was ideal for the season.

Amaterasu decided to go into hiding in a cave when her brother began wreaking havoc in her kingdom and she couldn’t do anything to stop him. During her retreat, her land went into darkness, since with her went the light and the warmth. Her subjects began to starve with no sunlight to growth their crops. They devised a plan to coax her out of the cave. They drummed and sang and called for her to come out and see the new goddess. Out of curiosity, Amaterasu, emerged to see herself in a mirror. The first ray of light that came from the cave became known as the dawn. After Amaterasu sat back on her throne, she always kept a bow and arrow in case her brother got out of line again.

To honor Amaterasu and our selves that were in rest in our own winter caves,  six of us decorated mirrors. On our mirrors we wrote one word we wanted to bring light to in 2009. My word was based on a card I drew before I began the process, “ripeness”.



Venus at the hospital

If you were following my Venus saga (I was not sure if this art piece was going to get into the Alta Bates Hospital Gallery due to a nudity restriction), I just wanted to follow up (I’m sure you were waiting to know!) that she was welcomed into the gallery fine. I’ve included some photos of her. It has been interesting to see my pieces in a very different environment and also in fancy display cases. I typically show them on top of other found objects which go with my recycle theme of my work. But I like the contrast of the found objects with the pristine cases. I also made “table cloths” of a beige, satiny material which I think worked well.

Background on Venus, the female form was bought at a garage sale from Catherine Favre, who used her for making belly dancing costumes, and she originally got her from Chip, who probably scavenged her up from who knows where. Most of the shells were collected by my friends Charlene and Joan, who were friends for 68 years. I think the joy and fun they had gathering those shells on vacations, energizes the Venus.

I thought it was kinda funny that this display case was positioned to the the first thing that was seen upon leaving the men’s restroom – what a sight, barnacles on a butt!

This piece, along with 5 others will be on display until July 10 at the Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley.

She will be seen!

My Venus sculpture will be featured in the Intertidal Art Show at Alta Bates Hospital! Hurrah! I was concerned that she may not meet the criteria because of a nudity restriction. I thought it may be iffy and so I am glad she will be displayed.

She really was created in the spirit of celebration and joy. She is connection between the ocean, nature, beauty and the abundance of the feminine. All the shells were gathered over the years by me and friends, so they are included with intention and love.

Click here for some more info on my other pieces in the show.



Hope you may be able to see her in person.


Included in the show are:
Photographs by Jamie McHugh
Photo art by Tara Gill
Collages by Susan Adame
Sculpture by Judy Shintani

May 10 – July 10, 2008
Always open

Artists’ reception Sat. May 10, 5-7 pm

Community Art Gallery
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center
2450 Ashby Ave, Berkeley

Ocean inspired art creates healing environment at Alta Bates Hospital, reception 5/10


I’ve created five new sculpture pieces which will be displayed at a show called


Included in the show are:
Photographs by Jamie McHugh
Photo art by Tara Gill
Collages by Susan Adame
Sculpture by Judy Shintani

May 10 – July 10, 2008
Always open

Artists’ reception Sat. May 10, 5-7 pm

Community Art Gallery
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center
2450 Ashby Ave, Berkeley

This show offered some interesting parameters for me. 1)Fit an ocean theme – which is not too far fetched for me, as you may know if you have seen my work 2) The pieces had to fit in plexiglass cases that are 29 x 29 x 29 inches and on 43 inch pedestals 3) The work could not touch the top or sides of the cases 4) The content of the work could not be political in nature or contain nudity.

I typically do not like too many guidelines in my work. Much of my art just appears – it tends to be very intuitive. But this time, why not go with it, I thought.

I decided to let the parameters guide me. I took advantage of walking down to the beach for my materials. The searching and the gathering was very meditative and actually fun. I wanted very much to touch each piece that I would use in my work. I wanted to select each and every sea shell.

Working with the shells also became a meditative process. Very much like putting together puzzle pieces. What shapes fit? totemsNot only the contours of the shell, but also the thickness had an affect in how the total piece felt in my hands. I created these fetish pieces to represent and create a bond with the Ocean Spirit. They remind me of African and native totems and also milagro wooden crosses. I wish the pieces could be picked up and experienced. The shape and smoothness of the mosaiced driftwood has a very soothing and pleasing feel. They have a very grounded nature about them.

I thought about how each shell has been tossed and turned in the waves of the ocean, day and night. How she has nurtured the fragments for me so they could come together to form a piece of art which I think has a different sort of beauty. Art created from the broken pieces, the skeletons, the pieces of an ocean creature’s outgrown abode.

hanging shells

The hanging piece has a stillness and delicate nature to it. Each hanging strand of shells is made up of nine pieces. The strands are suspended from a wire chair that I salvaged from my friend Chip’s yard. The shells are reminiscent of the way that oysters are hung as they are growing. This is a tip of the hat to my ancestors who were oyster farmers in Washington. I enjoy the shadows cast by the shell strands intermingled with the wire structure. Shadows can be so beautiful – I often look for them in my work. A wonderful surprise happened when I took the piece outside and the wind interacted with it. A wonderful swaying and movement occurred, and with that also came a delightful tinkling of the shells. The motion
reminded me of the rhythm of the waves.

shellbellyLastly, I created a piece that I’m not sure I will get to show. This is because of the nudity issue. I created a beautiful Venus like creature. She is put together with shells I gathered in Half Moon Bay, ones Ander and I picked up on our camping trip to Deep Ravine, and mostly shells collected over the years by my friends Charlene and Joan. Their shells are from their trips to Mexico and the Caribbean. I felt honored to have received their shells for my birthday, to use in my work. They are especially precious since Joan just recently passed away. All the joy and fun and wonder with which these shells have been collected, come together to be used in a piece which incorporates the female form. The canvas is the body of a mannequin. A NUDE mannequin! So we will see if this beauty will make it into the show. If not there, I’m sure she will show up someplace else soon!

What I am really hoping is that my process comes through to the viewers at the Hospital. I hope they will ponder and fantasize about being at the beach picking up all these shells while hearing the waves as they come in, the seagulls flying overhead. I have not seen all the work of the other artists, but we will bring the healing nature of the ocean to the gallery lobby for a couple of months. May the patients and the employees enjoy it.

New toolbox


Found sea shells from my local beach in HMB, have become my latest material in my artwork. I love the smoothness of the random shapes that have been formed by tumbling in the waves. As I collect them I have been placing these treasures in an old Japanese box. The matte shades of white look lovely against the shiny old black lacquer.

Jane, the curator at the Alta Bates Hospital gallery, invited me into the ocean-themed show which opens May 10 in Berkeley. I’m coming up with some cool pieces that will go into plexiglass cases in the lobby gallery. I’ll show you some new work soon!