The museum is all abuzz putting the finishing touches on “Literati Modern: Bunjinga From Late-Edo to Twentieth-Century Japan, The Terry Welch Collection at the Honolulu Academy of Arts,” opening to members tomorrow and to the public on Thursday. I had the honor of walking through a bit of the stunning exhibition with Mr. Welch and guest curator Michiyo Morioka, both of whom have an aura of warmth and calm—just like the paintings that have inspired them. That is Terry and Michiyo standing next to a trio of scrolls by Hirai Baisen. Two Dr. Seussian depictions of snowy branches flank a warm, vibrating sun. The story behind this collection, how it came to call the Academy home, and the extensive conservation work that went into the paintings will all be explained in the upcoming international symposium on literati painting the Academy is holding on Sept. 13. It’s FREE, and you don’t want to miss it.The paintings in this show are all about the literati ideals—nature, companionship, being mindful of the here and now—and Terry Welch embodies them. He lives in a garden sanctuary in Woodinville, outside of Seattle. When you hear him speak on Saturday, you’ll know why he and bunjinga are a perfect fit. 

The exhibition opens with this magnificent six-panel screen, which encapsulates the literati concept. “Drawing Pure Spring Water to Compare Tea,” painted in the early 1800s by Yokoi Kinkoku, shows an idyllic gathering for drinking tea on a platform set over a mountain stream. “Regardless of the type of tea, a requisite for any such gathering was the finest quality water, and mountain spring water drew the highest esteem,” explains Michiyo in the exhibition catalogue. “Having an occasion like this in the mountains was largely a daydream, yet such a splendid depiction would have created a delightful atmosphere in the room with tatami mats where one could have tea while embraced by this fantastic landscape.”

From this jumping off point, later artists took the literati ideals and ran with them, creating paintings that will “blow the roof off your head,” says Terry Welch. Come and be transformed.