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Brown’s Book Has A Quiet Beauty About It

Published: November 17, 2014

The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) presented its 2014 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Home and Garden book to Art’s Ken Brown for his profile of the serenity and stimulation that define Japanese gardens in in his 176-page book with 180 color photos from Tuttle Publishing titled Quiet Beauty: Japanese Gardens of North America.

Japanese gardens have been part of North American culture for almost 150 years, said Brown, a member of the university since 1999. Quiet Beauty offers a look at the history of their introduction to North American gardening and how they have since taken root and flourished.

“The author is only one small part of a book like this,” explained Brown. “There is the photographer, the editor and the book designer. No matter how good your text may be, if others do a poor job, people will look at the book and say, ‘it’s boring, it’s gray and the cover is ugly.’ I feel good about this book because I worked with a wonderful photographer, David Cobb, as well as with an excellent editor and book designer. I’m very pleased with Quiet Beauty, but my pleasure is as much about the people I worked with as with my contribution.”

The IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, which include 55 categories recognizing excellence in book editorial and design, are regarded as one of the highest national honors for independent publishers. Brown’s first book on the topic, Japanese-Style Gardens of the Pacific West Coast, was published in 1998 and included CSULB’s Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden. That the current book, which discusses the Miller Garden in its appendix, won an award shows to Brown that the topic of Japanese gardens in America is being taken seriously.

“This recognition is good for all Japanese gardens including ours here at CSULB,” said Brown. “It gives gardens greater stature. Japanese gardens in America have an important history that tells us a lot about the creation of culture across the Pacific. Now that history is being acknowledged in a very positive way.”

Brown’s Quiet Beauty underlines the cultural importance of Japanese gardens in part through its focus on how gardens function.

“I’m interested in what people do in gardens,” he said. “They get married in them, they have funerals in them, and in between they do many things in them, both sanctioned and not. Gardens need us to nurture them but in turn gardens nurture us in a variety of ways. This book does not talk about Japanese gardens in abstract or formal terms regarding authenticity. Instead, it looks at how gardens function, what they do for people and how they have functioned socially, historically and at present.”

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Brown has curated many exhibitions for art museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Honolulu Academy. He is the editor of many catalogues and the author of several books, including The Politics of Reclusion: Painting and Power in Momoyama Japan and Kawase Hasui: The Complete Woodblock Prints. He studied at Kyoto and Osaka universities, and received his B.A. and M.A. in Art History from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. from Yale in 1994.

Japanese gardens in North America are hybrids, Brown believes.

“Through the 1950s, there was a new interest in the ‘essence of cultures.’ Through world fairs, countries projected their ostensible national identities. But in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there is a new interest in how cultures mix and transform,” he explained. “When I started researching Japanese gardens 20 years ago, they described themselves as ‘pure’ and ‘authentic.’ Now, partly because of books like this, gardens have embraced hybridity and acknowledged that Japanese gardens in America are American gardens in a Japanese style. Changes, whether by law or by desire, no longer need to be denied or hidden. At the same time, Japanese culture lives as a dynamic force through these evolving gardens.”

The success of Quiet Beauty is timely as Brown and photographer Cobb are in negotiation to produce a second book for Tuttle. “Seeing the first volume sell well and win an award bodes well for our next book, Gardens of Vision: Contemporary Japanese Gardens in America’ which focuses on adaptation. It examines how contemporary garden builders seek to meet the diverse needs of our society in public, commercial and residential spaces,” he said.

The Independent Book Publishers Association represents smaller publishing houses but, nonetheless, the Benjamin Franklin is a major award.

“The publisher was very proud to receive this award which I think gives small publishers a greater sense of stature,” he said. “More importantly, the award provides stature for an emerging topic that is only now being taken seriously.”