This year’s recipient of the Denchu Hirakushi Award, a biennial recognition “for the promotion of the art of wood carving,” is Minoru Ohira, a California-based sculptor who utilized materials that were supposed to be thrown away, like dead branches and construction waste. The award, considered to be a prestigious recognition in the field of sculpture, was founded by Denchu Hirakushi on his 100th birthday in 1971, with the funds donated by him.
Ohira’s works have been acknowledged for their creativity and ingenuity in using materials that were already used. “Don’t you think it’s wonderful to see things that were once disposed of and dead recover as art?” Ohira said during his recent stay in Japan. His creation was inspired by the indigenous people in Mexico, where he went to study art further at the age of 28. What he saw were people creating art out of spare cloth and waste materials. Ohira claims that he can work anywhere as “material costs are almost nothing” and the only tools he would need are his fingers.
Ohira went to the Tokyo University of the Arts, one of Japan’s oldest art schools. After three years in Mexico, he went to Los Angeles, where he is now based and concentrated on his art activities. While in Japan to receive his award, Ohira said that he was reminded of what the influential Hirakushi said in a book: “Men in their 60s and 70s are still runny-nosed kids and a real man should be 100 years or older.” Hirakushi himself was 107 when he died. “I believe I’ve just reached the starting point as a sculptor,” Ohira said. Although not sure if he can make it to the age of 100, he said, “[but] I always try to be healthy.”