July 01, 2021

Forging switches to awaken memories
Mayumi Utsunomiya, Curio

すべてが記憶を呼び覚ます、スイッチ<br>金工作家 CURIO 宇都宮檀


Words by Aki Miyashita / Photos Courtesy of CURIO


She calls them “Ishiki,” written in Japanese with the characters for “stone” and “vessel.” Handcrafted metal covers carefully formed around individual stones, each a unique vessel for the stone it contains. A stone on the side of the road is just a stone. But as a stone’s shape is polished and refined over many years, it becomes a reflection of nature. It is a small piece of the earth.

Mayumi Utsunomiya, the artist behind CURIO, creates accessories and other objects using mainly gold, silver, and copper. She says that she has always been drawn to stones, and as her collection grew, she felt increasingly compelled to emulate them. She uses the word “utsushi,” a term used in various Japanese arts to refer to copying or imitating another, often older, work to study and draw inspiration from it. It is an act that encompasses the desire to recreate a beautiful object along with feelings of admiration and respect. It is a process of emulating something beautiful, something that moves the soul.

“I wanted to send some stones I had collected on a trip to a friend and I decided to make individual containers for them. This was the beginning of Ishiki. I sent each stone in its own fitted case made of hammered copper, each with a lid to match. My friend really liked them.”

Rather than modify the stones by carving out holes or breaking them apart, Mayumi chooses to observe and accentuate the natural shape of each stone. It just so happens that her name for these objects, Ishiki, is pronounced the same as the Japanese word for “consciousness” or “awareness.”

“I think that beautiful things are born from making a point to be aware of things that we are usually unconscious of. In Japan it has long been believed that words can have an inherent spirit or power, known as “kotodama.” My imagination is sparked by words, and I often build on ideas as if I am playing a game of word association.”

A stone encased in its own perfectly fitted metal sheath, Ishiki. Holding it in my hand, I find myself admiring the natural beauty of the stone inside. The weight of hundreds, thousands of years in the palm of my hand. The world looks different when you approach it with awareness.

Mayumi encountered metalworking as an aspiring sculptor. She currently lives and works surrounded by nature in Ashiya-Okuike, Hyogo Prefecture.

"I just happened to meet a person who worked with hammered metal. Their atelier was in an apartment with mud-walls, it was so lovely that I decided to join in. It was all just a coincidence, but there were people who liked what I made, so I decided to continue. Rather than creating for myself, I wanted to create things that would make others happy. I was always looking for answers as I was creating. Why do people wear jewelry? What makes metal, metal? Why do I create? … I've been thinking about things like that since I was a kid. I was always wondering about where people came from and what it means to be alive. I was fascinated by the origin of the universe, the origin of life. Looking into these things it didn’t give me the answers I sought, but I still haven't lost my curiosity for the unseen.


In her search for answers, she arrived at ancient times. Exploring and emulating ancient Egyptian goldwork became her lifework. She named this series of work “Memory.”

“I had the opportunity to meet astrophysicist Dr. Haruo Saji and he asked me about what I do. I replied that I make rings and necklaces from gold and silver and he told me: ‘The universe was born from exploding stars, gold and silver are fragments of stars formed even earlier than that. It’s wonderful that you transform those fragments into objects people can wear.’”

This conversation reignited Mayumi’s interest in the universe.

“The universe is the beginning of everything. If we understand the universe, we understand ourselves. I think that maybe the reason people have adorned their bodies with metal from ancient times is because it has a resonance with the universe. I think it has the power to remind us of our own memories and origins.”


Metalworking is an activity that humans have engaged in since ancient times. Mayumi says that in the process of heating and shaping the metal objects she creates, there is a moment when she can sense that the metal has achieved harmony.

 "It’s the moment when I can sense that I’ve done enough. A friend who carves wood told me that they know this feeling, too. Metal that originated in space and was buried deep in the soil can be brought into harmony at the hands of a person. I feel that these objects are a joy to wear and become things we are naturally drawn to wearing."

Mayumi has crafted a wide range of items, from accessories such as rings and necklaces, to tea utensils and other utensils for her own use. She says the common theme that connects her work is her concept of a “device."

"Each is a device for awakening memories. You could say they are like switches that allow us to connect with the universe and awaken ancient memories. I’ve realized that I'm always seeking to create devices that people can wear or use to transform themselves into something special, like a kind of ritual.”

A view of Mayumi's Studio

As she prepares for her next exhibition, Mayumi says she is drawn to the concept of “seeds.” Surrounded by the nature of Mt. Rokko, she often encounters wild plants and seeds. "I think seeds contain many types of memories, so for the first time in a while I’m really interested in engaging with plants," she told me cheerfully. A seed can also be a switch to connect us to memories. A switch to free someone’s heart.



Mayumi Utsunomiya regularly announces exhibitions and open house events at her atelier in Ashiya-Okuike via SNS.