Crafting a Global Life

Japan native Hiroko Yamada has found her place within Madison’s internationally minded community

Hiroko Yamada melds Japanese and American influences in her jewelry.

Hiroko Yamada melds Japanese and American influences in her jewelry.

PHOTO BY NOAH WILLMAN

Hiroko Yamada moved to Madison to study architecture, specifically the type influenced by design icon Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived and worked in the area and who had a keen interest in Japanese art and architecture.

Luckily, the opportunities and connections the Fukuoka, Japan, native discovered here prompted her to change course. She started out working toward a master’s degree in architecture but wound up earning an MFA in metal studies. And in the process, found a place to put down roots and connect not only to the local community but also to others abroad.

Yamada opened HYART Gallery, which represents more than forty artists and craftspeople from around the world as well as Yamada herself and is a fixture of the downtown arts scene. The jewelry, pottery, prints, scarves, glass pieces and more on display in the beautiful West Johnson Street space, just steps off State Street, bring global creativity to Madison and allow Yamada to give back to her adopted city and pay homage to the teachers she’s learned from in the United States as well as Japan.

“It was time to share with everybody what we do,” she says.

But the bridge building doesn’t end at the gallery. Yamada travels back to Japan often to see her parents, and recently she lectured at a university there on craft in the United States. She was impressed by the level of interest in the topic and has since helped foster visits among students and faculty between the two countries.

“Japan has a huge craft history,” she says. “Craft here is less than three hundred years old.”

Yamada’s jewelry, which she makes in her downtown studio as well as her west-side home, melds the traditional Japanese and more experimental American craft styles.

For instance, in some contemporary rings she weaves tiny strips of metal, while in others she uses a mokume-gane technique in which the metal surface appears grain-like.

Over the years, Yamada has built up a loyal following, including people who like her jewelry as well as those who love stopping by the light-filled gallery to peruse her display cases. Longtime clients even pop by just to chat over coffee.

Yamada feels at home in Madison, partly because of such support and connections.But her comfort also stems from the community’s global outlook. Thanks to transplants from other countries and native Madisonians traveling abroad, many people here expect cultural authenticity. This plays out across the city, from arts to dining. For instance, Yamada considers Madison’s sushi restaurants to be of higher quality than those in bigger cities.

“People here are so interested in different cultures,” she says. “They want what’s real.” 

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