Sakura Orihon

Honor Award


Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Ron Henderson / LIRIO Landscape Architecture
Client: United States National Arboretum

A gorgeous collection of extended horizontal drawings that document the movement, experiential sequences, conversations, cultural significance, and seasonality of Sakura (cherry blossom). The richness of the subject matter is surpassed only by the elegance, artistry, and craft of the orihon sketchbooks themselves and the drawings within. The exhibition leaves no detail overlooked, presenting an exquisite arrangement of information, craft, culture, and history. It offers a beautiful visual journey on the poetry of landscapes, embodying cultural perspectives and exchanges. Multiple reinstallations provide evidence of its significance and appeal to its target audience.

- 2023 Awards Jury

Project Credits

Dr. Richard Olsen, Director, United States National Arboretum

Kathleen Emerson-Dell, Museum Specialist and Curator of the Sakura Orihon Exhibition, United States National Arboretum

Travis Rothe, Graphic Design

Jiaming (Jamie) Sun, Graduate Assistant, Illinois Institute of Technology

Bian Simin, Research Assistant and Visiting Scholar, Illinois Institute of Technology

Hans Friedl, Graduate Assistant, Illinois Institute of Technology

Project Statement

Fifteen orihon (ori=folding, hon=book) sketchbooks from the landscape architect's Japan-US Friendship Commission Fellowship in Japan are the subject of recurring solo exhibitions, Sakura Orihon, at the US National Arboretum each spring from 2018 to the current Spring 2023 (with hiatus from global pandemic). Following the cherry blossoms from south to north, the landscape architect recorded pilgrimages to famous venerable trees and documented horticultural practices (branch crutching, rope tenting, etc.) that embody cherry blossom culture in Japan. Kathleen Emerson-Dell, the exhibition’s curator, says the "themes resonate with the U.S. National Arboretum audience and advance the Arboretum’s mission to preserve plants from around the world."

Project Narrative

Fifteen orihon (ori=folding, hon=book) folding sketchbooks from the landscape architect's Japan-US Friendship Commission Fellowship in Japan are the subject of a recurring solo exhibition at the US National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. The format of these sketchbooks, in which the landscape architect has been drawing since 1994, allows extended horizontal drawings that are particularly valuable for landscapes, maps, diagrams of linear travel paths, and experiential sequences.

The exhibition, Sakura Orihon, was initially commissioned and installed in the Spring of 2018 with subsequent re-installations in Spring 2019, Spring 2020, and Spring 2021. The exhibition was re-printed and is currently installed at the Arboretum in Spring 2023 (following a one-year pandemic hiatus) where it is also part of the programming around global conservation of legacy and heritage trees. The exhibit focuses on, and is structured around, three narratives - cherry blossom culture, Three Great Japanese Cherry Trees, and Japanese horticulture techniques - that grew from the fellowship where the landscape architect followed the cherry blossoms across Japan for four months as part of the fellowship.

The landscape architect was invited by the Director of the United States National Arboretum to exhibit the sketchbooks as the Arboretum's contribution to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. The exhibition was held at the Arboretum in the galleries of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum which welcomed approximately 30,000 visitors during each run of the Sakura Orihon exhibition. Five custom mahogany and glass vitrines designed by the landscape architect display and secure the sketchbooks. Forty-nine printed and mounted panels at 30" x 40" in an upright folded configuration include enlarged drawings and photographs from the fellowship. Two wooden hand stamps for visitors make commemorative cherry blossom imprints on handmade washi paper.

The exhibition was accompanied by a series of public lectures across several years - Sakura Orihon: Diary of a Cherry Blossom Journey, A Healthy Long Life: Horticultural Practices for Cherry Trees in Japan, Connecting Cultures, The Gravity of Desire, and Drawing is the Entrance of Thought - with plant biologists, horticulturists, arborists, Asian Studies scholars, landscape architects, and the general public. The Washington Post, Landscape Architecture Magazine, and other journalistic venues (as well as extensive social media coverage) have published the sketchbooks and the exhibition.

The sketchbooks reveal the broad range of scholarship on sakura: botanical, ecological, cultural, aesthetic, philosophical, urbanistic, political, economic, etc. The fellowship during which the sketchbooks were completed provided an opportunity to research and record the complexity and richness of all these aspects of sakura and their significance in the culture of Japan. Conversations with noted horticulturists, gardeners, foresters, cultural historians, chefs, and others enriched the research. The sketchbook entries also document the role of urban rites and rituals — such as hanami (cherry blossom viewing festivals), remembrance and passage (the coincidence of school graduations with blossoming times), and seasonality (expressed in food and fashion) — that are centered on the blossoming of the cherry trees.

No flower falls to the ground as beautifully as the petals of the sakura.