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Samurai Armors Are Works Of Art -- And On Display At The Kimbell

Kimbell Art Museum
This Tengu armor from 1854 is made of iron, lacquer, fiber, bear fur, leather and feathers.

An exhibition of some of the world’s finest samurai armor and weapons is at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.

We asked Kimbell curator Jennifer Casler Price to pick out her favorite samurai armor from the show -- and explain why she likes it so much.

Samurai, which runs through Aug. 31, features more than 140 pieces from the collection of Dallasites Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller.

Interview Highlights

Why Price chose a suit with helmet that looks like a screaming eagle:

“It doesn’t look anything like the other suits,” Price told KERA. “First of all, it has a bird-head helmet with radiating feathers coming off the back. And then the actual chest armor and sleeves look like human musculature. So this is a suit of armor that is in the form of a tengu. And tengu is a mythical creature, it can be half-man, half-bird, it can be a little bit diabolical. It also has Buddhist connections, so there’s a lot symbolically going on.”

Why the armor, which was made during a time of peace, resembles a parade uniform and is about the samurai showing off his peace-time rank:

This particular piece of armor is more about parade and less about battle,” she said. “Technically speaking, the armor that’s produced in the Edo period, while still fully functional, is more about flourish and embellishment. And that’s where you get imagination and creativity being combined with the technical craftsmanship that has been around for hundreds of years.”

Why the samurai armor includes so much artistry – leather, painting, engraving, and even feathers and fur:

You have schools of armourers in Japan,” Price said. “There’s actually nine hereditary schools that many of them started in the mid-16th century, and it’s a craft that is passed down from father to son.  And it’s definitely a group effort and time-consuming. Any one piece of armor will take months.”

Why kids will love this armor:

I actually like the menacing aspect of it, the mischievous aspect of it,” Price said. “I’m a little bit hesitant to say this, but the bird helmet actually is somewhat reminiscent of a Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle. … But I like that because I think that the people that know something about armor are going to be intrigued. And then kids are going to love this because the idea of the samurai and battle and that influence on anime and then yeah, the humor in it, there’s humor, and there’s imagination. I think there’s something for everybody here.”

Visit KERA’s Art&Seek to listen to the interview, meet the samurai collector and learn more about the exhibition.

Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.