Eaglemania: Collecting Japanese Art in Gilded Age America

I went to the Boston College McMullen Museum and in the following response, I will be talking about the large bronze eagle and the Imari Punch Bowl artifacts that I observed at the museum. Both of these items were made several decades after the Meiji era when Japan started opening up to the West. While the eagle reminded me of the US and Western culture, the punch bowl made me think more of China or Japan because of the flowers and the butterflies painted on it. After Japan started trading with the West, Japanese metal workers began making objects for the Western market, such as sculptures of eagles. In Japan, birds are symbols of longevity, luck, love, and courage. When Mr. and Mrs. Lars and Isabelle Anderson visited Japan, they bought a bronze eagle. Years later, the bronze eagle was given to Boston College and became the emblem of the university. Recently, the eagle was renovated and put in the museum. Today, the bald eagle is the emblem of the United States of America. Eagles are seen as an important symbol in the US and are often mascots of schools and sports teams. In fact, I think the eagle is an example of the global exchange between Japan and the West since it first started in Japan as a symbol in reference to schools, and was later adopted by the West. For example, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles is a baseball team based in Sendai and there is the Eagle International School in Tokyo. In the US, there are the Philadelphia Eagles, Boston College Eagles, and the BC High School Eagles.

Similarly, the Imari Punch Bowl represents the global exchange between Japan and the West. For example, the Japanese diet consists principally of rice, seafood, and vegetables. They use the punch bowl to eat food and to drink water or tea. Since the West, especially Britain, was known for drinking tea, this was a very useful product to sell. The paintings on the punch bowl introduced the West to more Japanese culture in the form of traditional ceramic painting. In fact, native Japanese painting techniques are still in use today in Japan and other countries. In other words, the purpose of selling the Imari Punch Bowl was not only for drinking but also to impress the West and encourage them to learn more about the Japanese art. Furthermore, the paintings on the Imari Punch Bowl introduced the West to the Buddhist religion that valued the natural world, such as mountains, rivers, butterflies, and flowers. Since the dominant religion in the West was Christianity, I think the West found Buddhism different and fascinating since it looked at life from a different angle. Overall, I really enjoyed watching the Eaglemania Japanese collection at the McMullen museum since it taught me more about how the Japanese culture influenced the United States and the West.