The ancient Japanese art of ikebana gives students a chance to explore themselves through flowers, says Miyako Ballesteros, a Halifax master of the craft.

 

Ikebana is a lifelong study, she explains. The learning does not come from merely memorizing the basic tenets of ikebana flower arranging, but from students “attuning to their inner selves, to the flowers and branches they are touching, to the surroundings that envelop them and, by extension, to the world they exist in.”

 

It started 1,500 years ago when Chinese Buddhists arrived in Japan. The monks became increasingly elaborate in how they arranged their flower offerings for the shrines of buddhas.

 

“Later, the rich people appreciated the arrangements. In their house, they have a small area called tokonoma to receive the guests,” Ballesteros says. “Tokonoma is always decorated with flower arrangements, a hanging trough and an incense burner.”

 

The well-to-do began using ikebana arrangements in their tokonoma, she says.

Ikebana was a men’s art until the Japanese government began encouraging women to study ikebana 200 years ago. “Today, students are mostly women. It’s not the fancy arrangements for a lady, it’s really challenging, meditative.”

She points to an arrangement in water of a lily and two twigs. “Very simple. Those three main stems have meanings: This is heaven, man, Earth, then try to connect those three together,” she explains.

The basic rules of ikebana guide the angle of the flowers and branches in the vase, plus their length and position. “Very simple rules,” she says. Asked how long it takes to master them, she replies, “If you take lesson every week, once a week, hmm ... three years.”

Ballesteros has been practising for more than 17 years. She became interested in ikebana when she was in Hong Kong; living abroad made her want to learn more about her homeland. When she arrived in Halifax two years ago, she was surprised to find the art was not well-known here and started teaching. She is a qualified instructor of the Sogetsu school of ikebana and collaborates with other ikebana masters in Montreal and Ottawa.

The Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design is offering two afternoon workshops on ikebana on April 25 and June 14. Cost is $30 per class; call 492-2524 or 492-2522 to register, or visit craft-design.ns.ca.

Ballesteros also offers lessons in her luminous Quinpool Road studio. Call 431-0487 or e-mail lessons@mirochi.com for more information.