Artistically gifted and trained by an artist renowned in Japan, Mariko Maita came to Seattle to get married at the age of 28. After raising two children and working hard in oyster farming and housekeeping to supplement the family’s income, she finally found time to resume her art after retiring from her job.
Mariko’s unique and exquisite flower pictures, as she calls them, are graceful and delicate. A representation of a flower basket is built up from an abundance of pressed blossoms. In another composition, hummingbirds with bodies made from pressed dahlias hover under a sprig of fuchsias.
“I always make the hummingbirds much smaller than they are, very tiny,” she points out. Their understated size looks just right. In many of Mariko’s creations, the pressed flowers are functioning as a textured kind of paint. One needs to look twice to detect the individual petals used. A pair of bald eaglets practicing their first flight is worked like this. The flowers give them an appropriate feathery appearance. Butterflies are a favorite with customers. With these, she abandons any resemblance to nature, running wild with glowing floral patterns on their wings. The same is true for the clothing of the doll-like people she creates.
One of six children, Mariko was born in Tokyo in 1940. Her family was fortunate to own a second house in the country, in Chiba near the ocean. The family moved there when the bombs of World War II started falling on Tokyo. There was a cave in the backyard and they felt quite safe. She still remembers the noise of the bombings. Eight years older, her husband Yosuke was not so fortunate. He escaped direct bomb attacks in the city.
As a child, Mariko was always making things. At school, she excelled in calligraphy, but her real interest lay in drawing. After the war, Mariko went to work for an insurance company. Sacrificing part of her small income, she took art lessons. For eight years, she studied oil painting under renowned artist Jyohei Kawakami as well as sumi-e (Japanese brush painting) under Keiitsu Kishimoto. She keeps a number of slim sketchbooks from that time on her work table and refers to them often. They contain beautiful Japanese landscapes and sights as well as her most treasured drawing, a portrait of herself by her teacher.
Yosuke Maita, who had become a merchant marine officer after the war, decided to try his fortune in Seattle where he found work at a relative’s oyster farm. Ten years later, at age 36, he was looking for a Japanese bride. His marriage to Mariko was arranged by relatives. He also became an American citizen and acquired a middle name, Joe, as Yosuke had proven hard to pronounce for his American friends and colleagues. As a husband and father, Yosuke worked in a number of oyster businesses on the Washington coast and finally became a manager at Coast Seafoods in Raymond. Yosuke Joe Maita passed away in 2014.
As a working mother of two children, Mariko had little time for art. Even after her husband’s income had become sufficient, she kept working three to four days a week to have money to travel. “We travelled to many places,” she recounts. “We went to Italy and to China. I just kept working until my friends asked me if I was ever going to stop.” She finally retired at age 71 because of a back injury. The time had come to resume her art.
Mariko’s studio is her dining room table overlooking her beautiful hillside yard, which supplies the pressed flowers for her work. She has been collecting them for years. “I spread them out all over the table for a project. I forget to eat,” she says. She increased her pressed flower work after her husband’s death. “I cannot make very large pieces,” she regrets. “I get tired.”
Fortunately, small works like greeting cards are in demand. Encouraged by sales at the annual Catholic Church bazaar, she joined the South Beach Art Association in Westport. “It was hard. I did not know anybody and I was shy,” she confesses. She was able to attract some repeat customers who love her pressed flower work. She has exhibited pieces at the Grays Harbor Community Hospital Healing Gallery and has greeting cards for sale at Harbor Blooms, Aberdeen. Mariko is also a member of the new Riverside Gallery in South Bend which opened four months ago.
The Maita children are artistic, too. Son Sidney enjoys detailed work using pen and ink. Daughter Christine draws and illustrates books.
On the porch, some beautiful bonsai are displayed. They filled Mariko’s creative need in the years she was working. Among them is a 30-year-old pine. Smiling, she points out a young seedling: “I told my son he would have to take this one over. I will not have another 30 years.”