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Q&A with Ikebana Arranger Tone Olsen

Olsen doing demonstration at the National Arboretum


The Art League asked Tone Olsen, the Branch Director of the Washington, DC Sogetsu School, some questions about Ikebana, our show, and how she became involved in the art form.

How did you become acquainted with Ikebana?

I moved to Japan in 1990 because of my husband’s job and was invited by an expat to join her Sogetsu Ikebana group at someone’s home in Tokyo. It was fun to learn how to work with flowers in a very contemporary style. Sogetsu has some elements of mathematics, which made it comfortable for me to work with. I began to take lessons and worked through the curriculum to obtain certification.

As I learned the basics, this led to me creating more freestyle arrangements and using many different materials.

How is Sogetsu Ikebana different from the other schools of thought?

Recognized as a sculptural form of art, Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging, has over 300 schools of thought. Sogetsu was founded in 1927 by Sofu Teshigahara, who showed originality in starting new, modern styles of Ikebana. Sogetsu Ikebana features the idea that Ikebana may be arranged anytime, anywhere, by anyone, with any material— fresh, dried, or unconventional. The Sogetsu School believes that Ikebana should aim to be contemporary and should always be refreshing and attractive.

What do you keep in mind when working on an arrangement? What elements are most important to you (ie, design, composition, color, etc)?

The three basic design elements of Sogetsu are line, space, and color.

How do you approach creating an arrangement for The Art League’s Ikebana Show? Is it different from how you normally design an arrangement?

We must decide on a piece of work that speaks to us; perhaps it is the colors in the artwork, lines, or subject matter. Our goal is to enhance the art; to make the artwork and have the Ikebana reflect each other.

When working on an exhibit at the National Arboretum, we think of the space we want to work in, the materials available, and containers we have to use.

Detail of Olsen’s arrangement in the 2018 Biennial Ikebana Show
What makes The Art League’s Show different/unique from other Ikebana Shows?

It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to work with the artists art at The Art League. Once we choose a piece to work with, we then decide what scale we need to work in and what colors we want to use. It is a partnership that we need to develop so that the artwork and arrangement become one.

Where do you find the plants and flowers for your arrangement?

We shop at local super markets, wholesale flower outlets, neighbor’s gardens, and roadside flowers. Everywhere!

In your opinion, what makes a successful arrangement?

The most successful Ikebana arrangement would be one that reflects the arrangers own style. If the arranger is content, hopefully the observer is also.

Olson’s installation
How can someone learn or get involved in Sogetsu Ikebana?

The Sogetsu Branch of Metropolitan Washington, DC has four meetings/workshops a year. We participate in the annual exhibit at the National Arboretum, with Ikebana International. There are teachers certified by the Sogetsu School located in VA, MD, and DC.

Catch the 17th Biennial Ikebana Show through Sunday, May 6.
Free events:
Reception: Thursday, May 3, 6:30 pm
Flower arranging demos:

Saturday, May 5, 1:00-2:00 pm with Sheila Advani
Sunday, May 6, 1:00-2:00 pm with Jane Redmon

Get tickets for Art on the Rocks on May 4!
Mixologists from Brabo, Chadwicks, Virtue Feed & Grain, Vola’s Dockside Grill, and The Wharf have each selected an Ikebana installation as inspiration to create the most artistic cocktail and appetizer pairing and then compete for the title of ‘Art on the Rocks’ champion. Taste all the pairings at the event.

Other arrangements in the 2018 show:


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