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These Japanese hair ornaments were collected by the late Angelyn Kelley Riffenburgh over decades. Angelyn’s husband, Dr. Ralph Riffenburgh, presented the combs in her honor to the Scripps College collections in 2012. Most of these hair ornaments, or kanzashi, are made of bamboo or lightweight woods that have been lacquered; they date from the 18th century well into the 20th, when elaborate hairstyles included decorative combs (kushi) and hairpins (kogai). Matched sets of ornaments featured seasonal images, landscape scenes, as well as historical or fictional references. The combination of pine, bamboo (nanten), and plum blossom (shochikubai) designs were popular at New Year’s time. Cherry blossom patterns were worn in the spring, and chrysanthemums in the autumn. Some kanzashi were made with tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, bone, or precious metals. Hairpins with a ball ornament, or tama, were also color coordinated to the seasons, with the cool colors green and blue worn during the summer months and the warm colors red, orange, and gold used during the winter.
The comb is made of painted or dyed ivory. It was then painted again with gold using a "wash" technique. The artist covered areas he didn't want painted, then dip dyed the piece. Dr. Juli Wolfgram, an expert in Japanese art, notes that it is difficult to date ivory; this piece may or may not be from the Late Edo period.
The comb features a seasonal motif. The design includes pinks for spring and summer, bush clover or "hagi" for fall, orange blossom or "tachibana" for winter, and what appears to be plum blossom for the New Year. The plants' seasonal associations may refer to poetry, instead of actual blossoming times. The peony in the center, which is found on both sides of the piece, may be a "kamon" or family crest. The circles are outlined with twigs. The long ribbon with writing may refer to sacred wishing trees at Japanese temples. The idea was to write a wish or prayer on a long piece of paper and tie it to the branch of a tree. Priests would then pray for all of the wishes. The comb is a takahara-kata shape.
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