Richard with Ogose house (left, red roof) and studio in background
Richard talking with Ray at doorway of studio
– Chris Leatherwood
Richard and Fireflies
Insects were sometimes a feature in Richard’s work, as they were in traditional Japanese artwork. In January of 2020, only months before Richard’s death, at Paul Denhoed’s urging, I went to Japan to see old friends, but especially to spend time with Richard. Because of my interest in Japanese paper lanterns, Odawara chochin in particular, Richard and Ryoko took me to a shop that specialized in all manner of “Akari” or traditional lamps and lanterns. While there, the shop owner showed us an unusual standing lamp, basically a cylinder about 10 inches in diameter and 20 inches tall. It was old, but it had an original electric bulb on the inside. The shade or wall of the cylinder consisted of two layers. The outer layer was a dark nighttime image of bamboo leaves. Images of fireflies appeared here and there on the leaves. The inner wall was an angular zebra stripe like pattern in black on an otherwise clear material. I recall there was a small electric motor that slowly rotated the inner wall, but it may have been moved by the rising heat from the lamp. As it turned, it let light illuminate the lightning bug bodies every now and then in a surprisingly realistic way. The effect was magical. Richard and I were drawn to it, but Richard was enthralled. The lamp was in need of repair to make it fully functional and to avoid any future damage. Richard said nothing, but I could tell he was enchanted and that if his health had been better, he would have loved to take the lamp home and give it the attention it deserved. He stood staring at it for many long minutes. The trip to that shop was the highlight of my time with Richard and Ryoko.
Six months later, late in June I was in our kozo garden back here in Iowa, trimming the excess growth from our young Nasu kozo trees. My head was completely surrounded by very healthy green kozo leaves. As I looked down to pick up my clippers, I saw a firefly on a leaf. I smiled and thought to myself, “Perhaps it is Richard.” I gently moved the firefly to a safe location. The moment left me feeling calm, and somehow assured.
Tim Barrett, July, 2020
My HPM newsletter arrived today and I sit here stunned and so saddened to hear of Richard’s death. I’m not sure when I first met Richard, but long ago. Since then I got to hang out with him in Hawaii, at PBI, Ogawamachi, and Tokyo. He is with me, in his prints on my walls, his JOEKOZO book in my collection of miniature books, the odd bits of Japanese paper objects he gave me. About a year after Haruko died, we travelled to Haguro together, climbed Gassan when fall had turned the Japanese maples fiery red. I last saw him in 2012, when I visited him and Ryoko, saw her amazing work and his amazing work. His prints are wonderful but the last work I saw, a starched and dyed paper assemblage, reflected his great open response to the world. He gave me a book on Kobo Daishi that I noticed on his bookshelf. I read it on the train going north to Hiraizumi to visit the Konjikido, an indigo and gold temple so small it fits inside a glass box within a larger building – and takes your breath away. I hadn’t known Richard was ill. I couldn’t have imagined not seeing him again. Richard taught in the gentlest way. His art reflected his love and his depths. I feel so honoured to have known and spent time with him.
— Dorothy Field, July 2020
Richard Flavin, my mom Maureen’s brother, was my uncle and my Godfather. While I didn’t know him very well, I do have great memories of his visits to the states which seemed to be about every 5 years or so. Whenever he came home to visit in Mass, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would all get together with Richard the center of the visit. I recall how he always brought wonderful gifts from Japan which is where my love of Japanese decor began. The very first gift he gave me was a little pair of wooden Japanese shoes which were painted with beautiful designs. I even brought them to my first grade show and tell.
My next memory is when we all went down the Cape (Cape Cod) to my grandparents house to visit Richard and Haruko. While we were there, Haruko made a Japanese dessert similar to pudding, which consisted of seaweed. I remember thinking how awful it was going to be (since I never heard of anyone eating seaweed) but after trying it I loved it and had a few more helpings!
Unfortunately, the last time he visited, I was already living in the Phoenix area and wasn’t back East when he and Ryoko arrived. However my son Jesse was there for the summer, visiting Grandma and Grandpa, so he met both of them. Even at the young age of 9, Jesse was fascinated with Richard and the Japanese culture. The following year or so I was visiting back home and my mom showed me photos of Richard and Ryoko and brought out all the beautiful gifts they had given her. She gave me some of Richard’s handmade paper as well as some of his paintings that had been part of some calendars. Later when I got back home, I laid several pieces of his paper down, placed his paintings on top of them, framed them and hung them up in my home.
Of the many gifts he brought over the years, my most favorite treasure is a pair of antique traditional Japanese dolls dressed in the beautiful robes and headwear sitting on top of some decorative wooden blocks. Along with the hanging pictures I also have these proudly displayed in my house.
I was fortunate to have reconnected with my uncle Richard about a year ago through email. I wrote to him, talking about his artwork and what he’d been doing with his craft and I sent photos of the artwork I made with his paper and paintings. I also told him I believed I got my artistic ability from both him and my father (who is quite the talented artist himself) and how I did some watercolor paintings for my in-laws, which they hung up in their home. He emailed me back talking about what they have been working on and he shared how he also enjoyed working with watercolor pencils too (how they were an easy medium to use while traveling) and he sent me pictures of him and Ryoko and their fat cat Toby. When I showed my mom his email to me, she joked about being jealous because Richard never wrote that much to her in any emails, lol!!
After reading about Richard’s life in Japan, I got the impression that he was a man who was unafraid to take chances and lived life the way HE wanted to live it. We should all be so lucky, to have such a rich and wonderful life as he did!
It’s apparent that Richard was surrounded with a beautiful loving wife, amazing friends, and a loving family that will greatly miss him.
If Japan only knew that there was a man from the other side of the world, who on the surface seemed so different, yet he loved a country, its people, their traditions and long history so much so, that it was truly a part of his spirit.
Richard, you would be amazed at the heartwarming sentiments from your friends and colleagues in the papermaking community as they pay tribute to you. It is deeply touching to witness in print the almost magical effect you had on so many lives.
Your artistic nature was evidenced early on, but we had no inclination that your move to Japan in 1970 would transform you so profoundly. Your lifestyle, your spirituality, your inquisitiveness, and your energy, appeared to bring you immense joy. As your beautiful talent continued to blossom, it seemed to be linked to your love of nature and humankind.
I will always be thankful for the precious moments shared with you during your many visits to America, and my visits to Japan. At Haruko’s Memorial service in 1993 when you spoke about death as being compared to removing a tight shoe – that you must cross a wide river and when you reach the opposite shore you will find the golden slippers. Put them on and go into the golden land of brightness which is your true original self. Richard, is this true? I hope so.
Many fond memories of you, Ryoko, and your friends during visits to America continue to make me smile. I am profoundly grateful to Ryoko and the Sind family for their kindness and grace, particularly during the visit a couple of months before you left us. The hospitality and friendship that Maureen and I experienced was incredible. Sitting in your home in Tokyo with Ryoko and a small group of friends, with the sun setting outside, listening to you “teaching” us about “mindfulness” will always comfort me. I know why you so loved Japan! Thank you for being such a wonderful brother, teacher, and confidant.
The significance of your enormous contributions and all that you accomplished during your life awes me. You are forever in my heart. Be at ease! Your journey was your true home.
Your loving sister,
On behalf of myself and my sisters I want to express our sincerest thanks to Richard’s friends and colleagues who created this marvelous tribute to his life and work. For myself, it’s comforting to know that he is so well regarded both in his field of work and, more importantly, as a person.
Although Richard and I shared a bedroom for most of the 20 odd years that we lived at home, because I was 4 years older we didn’t see much of one another. That changed somewhat in the early 1960’s with our mutual interest in folk music. Living in Boston we were close to the folk clubs in Cambridge and saw many of the folk artists in their early days. Some of my best memories are from the 1963 and 1964 Newport Folk Festivals that Richard and I attended. (At one of the workshops we had a brief conversation with Bob Dylan; it made my day.) We both developed a love for “old timey” which Richard continued with his accomplished banjo playing.
I left the Boston area shortly after that to become a government bureaucrat. Richard left a few years later to establish his remarkable life and career. Thanks again to all those who put in so much work to chronicle this and leave us with such wonderful memories.
Richard was 2 years older than me, so my memories of childhood generally include him being involved as well. I liked to “hang around” him.
I especially remember his artistic nature. He won most art contests at St. Peter’s School in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Being very impressed, I would copy his ideas to enter my version the next year.
I remember his sharing the ‘’discovery” of white paint, an old toothbrush and the edge of a cardboard to make snow on my picture. Wow, he was clever !
At our last visit to Japan, I learned of our mutual interest in Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and peace activist. It was comforting to share a philosophy on birth and death from his writings; comforting to know he would be at peace and acceptance when his human body failed.
Richard has left a mark in this world of his gentle nature and the artistic passion for a pure art, using natural plants, his hands and his consciousness to produce a tangible object that reflected his whole essence.
I treasure the few pieces I have that will remain a memory of a beautiful spiritual being and brother.
Sadly missed by Maureen Flavin Sloan
Photos: Richard about 5 years old, me about 3, at home in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
The 5 Flavin’s, David, Mary, Richard, Maureen, and Peggy at our camp in Acton, Massachusetts.
Tim Barrett, Richard and Haruko Flavin and Japanese Friends at Jionji, circa 1976
REFLECTIONS ON RICHARD FLAVIN
Compiled by Tim Barrett
I’m so sorry to hear of Richard Flavin’s passing. At every PBI that I was able to get to, Richard was pure magic to be around. I learned so much from him. One of the very best times of learning something new for me was his PBI class “In and Out of the Vat” at Penland. Somehow that was over 20 years ago. Richard was for me part of what made PBI so incredible. As was Nell Meldahl, too. They both taught me so much about books and about craft in the Japanese tradition. Such wonderful people we’ve had the honor to learn from. – John Cutrone
[Posted on the Book Arts Listserve, 5-28-2020]
Trip to Richard Flavin’s in Ogawamachi, Japan Friday, October 4, 1985
Got up at 5:30am, packed our stuff and headed to the train station and Ogawamachi- First time we got to use our rail pass for the 1st part and the rest was by private line – took about 2 hrs. Realized we had to transfer at one point when everyone got off the train. We got there with amazing good luck.
Richard came and picked us up after I called. When we got in his van and I saw tapes of old time music, I knew it was going to work out.
He & Haruko live at a Buddhist Temple- as a result they have larger living quarters than most and not many visitors to the shrine except for one big event a year.
No shoes- tatami mats- Japanese no flush and no hot water or shower/ bath visible.
He had a papermaking studio of sorts- more like a summer porch area and a number of old Japanese chests of drawers. Lots of Persimmon trees in the area, bamboo and red lily-like wild flowers. He showed us his studio he does printmaking Japanese style wood block prints.
Richard took us to visit a papermaker in Ogawamachi. Mr, Tanaka- a lively little man who had a young woman assisting him. He was making dark green kozo paper and laminating splotches of red, and dark blue to it.
We watched him form a number of sheets, charge the vat and stir vigorously all the while slowly pressing another group of sheets. His wife made us tea & Chestnuts and we watched as he removed the sheets (no felts between but he did lay a sheet of dry white commercial paper between the lamination and the next sheet. He whipped them off the stack and onto his steam heat paper dryer. In a matter of 5 minutes or more the sheets could come off.
This particular paper would later be crinkled, smoothed, and laminated to a flat sheet of paper- quite a process. The studio was dark, cool and would be very cold in winter. In surrounding rooms were stacks of paper, the kitchen, outfront was soaking tanks, cooking shed, picking shed and storeroom we didn’t see.
We never really spoke to Mr. Tanaka. Richard asked questions for us. We left his place and stopped at a place in town and bought sandwiches for lunch and took them back to Richard’s & Haruko’s. While we were trying to eat our lunch, the cat kept carrying on- jumping on us, the table and she had a horrible pink bulging eye and side of her face- cancer. Her voice was out of a nightmare- I tried very hard to act normally since she was like their child and they were taking her back for treatment on Saturday.
Anyway- we then left again and went to the Paper Station- Shikenjo a very large facility with only one woman ever doing anything- picking kozo from Thailand. We saw any number of beaters, cookers, even a small scale paper machine and some different su’s & wooden stamper. Richard uses the Station to cook, stamp, beat his fibers. There was a huge lab section but it was locked up.
We left the lab and went to visit Mr. & Mrs. Fukuishi- su(flexible screen) makers, one of 6 still doing it in Japan. They make screens for papermakers, ones for rolling up brushes in and decorative ones that are lacquered for large sus.
The loom is on wheels to be moved along as you work. Their studio was up the steepest stairs with clutter everywhere and he was sitting on the floor with poor light and weaving away. The su has heavier bamboo strip along the edge. The length of the strip is determined by the space between the ridges on the bamboo. Someone else supplies the drawn down bamboo. I remember Mr. Fukuishi had grooves cut into his longish finger nails that he would use like a beater to position the fine bamboo used to weave the surface.
We left there and went back to their home and spent the next couple hours chatting and cleaning specks of kozo. Then he showed us paper he had made & Haruko fixed a wonderful supper. Five taste casserole & chicken pieces and Sake- very good- except for the cat.
After supper, Stu and Richard played folk, bluegrass music – Richard on a banjo and Stu on a fiddle at hand. I had no idea that Bluegrass music was so popular in Japan. I looked at Richard’s books and listened to the music and then there was an EARTHQUAKE! Things started vibrating slightly for about a minute- a very scary feeling as we had asked about earthquakes earlier and Richard said they rarely have any. Experiencing it in the old temple reassured me as to how many other earthquakes they had over time and it was still standing.
We slept on the floor in the room next to them with sliding frosted glass panels between us. On Saturday morning we had the best toast so far- wheat, molasses with preserves and tea. Bought Richard’s beautifully made book, The Ballad of Joe Kozo #13 from an edition of 100 which he signed, dated and inscribed to Peg & Stuart.
We all four of us and the cat walked to the train station to go to Tokyo. When we got there we got our Bullet Train reservations. We headed back to the Ogahsui Hotel to get a room. It was about 11:30am & we weren’t allowed to check in until 3pm. Trudged back to the park and ate sandwiches we had picked up. Then walked over to Tokyo University to check out the Metals Dept. We asked 2 Japanese students where it was and proceeded to head every which way- finally found some of it but nothing was happening until Monday. We walked back to the hotel and collapsed- walking with a backpack in the rain was not my favorite thing to do. Then at 2pm we left to meet Richard and Haruko to see about getting some Katazome tools. Instead we visited a school of sorts- a couple of tiny rooms and in one an old woman was coating the stencil with some smelly lacquer and next to it at a low table was a woman cutting an intricate stencil and an older man who R & H conversed with who told us about the process. He personally seemed to do very intricate figurative kimonos and women with many colors. He had some beautiful examples- 300 years old- stencils framed. We left there and went old book store hopping. There were about 30 of them. Richard seemed to know which ones had books on art/craft. Saw some beautiful Japanese paper sample books.
Study No. 7: Richard Flavin
The following is Aimee Lee’s section on Richard that she wrote for her report for the American Folklore Society (you can download the entire pdf after searching for her name on this page: https://www.afsnet.org/page/ConsProfDev
Of all the ex-pats devoted to washi in Japan, Richard Flavin is by far the elder statesman. It is worth repeating that many people believe that he makes paper closer to the Japanese tradition than Japanese-born makers. An artist and proprietor of Jionji Press who lives in Tokyo and maintains a studio in Ogose, a western suburb, Mr. Flavin is an American from Boston who has lived in Japan for over 40 years. I met him twice during my trip, at his wife’s studio. Ryoko Haraguchi is a talented textile designer who owns the design studio Sind/Gallery Sind in Tokyo, and works extensively with master artisans in India.
Mr. Flavin was drafted during the Vietnam War and therefore very happy to be sent to Korea to serve in Incheon (1968-1970). In Korea, he met an etcher who introduced him to a Japanese printmaker, and was so inspired by this visit that he returned to Boston to save money to get back to Japan. Like Mr. Denhoed, he never expected to stay this long. In college, he studied graphic design and printmaking, and in Japan learned how important paper was to woodblock printing. In the 1970s, Ogawa’s Testing Station had an excellent system with many teachers, where he met Timothy Barrett, who happened to be training at the same time. This was a way for students outside of papermaking families, and even outside of Japanese culture, to learn the craft.
Eventually, Mr. Flavin gathered enough equipment to set up his own studio and kozo field. He found a dream location at a Zen temple in Ogawa where he was the temple keeper in exchange for rent. He was very active in the farming community, which included the care and harvest of kozo plants. The building was very accessible and he worked there until a tragic fire in 2005 that destroyed everything. This was the biggest shock of his life, and he used his entire savings to help rebuild it. The community is happy with the new temple and he remains part of it, having always given a yearly donation since his days as a caretaker. In the meantime, he and Ms. Haraguchi had already bought land in nearby Ogose, so they built a new studio there. It is more remote, 20 minutes from the station after a 1.5-hour train ride from Tokyo. Only one neighbor stays year round, and only half of the 12 houses are occupied. The homes are not winterized but his studio is insulated, though his only source of heat is from kerosene space heaters. Ogose is a depressed area that can only produce plum and other fruit trees because of its poor soil in the rocky mountains. The benefit to working there is clean river water that runs through his property with high calcium content, excellent for papermaking.
When Mr. Flavin had the temple space, it was large enough to accommodate visitors and short-term students who came and went as they trained with him, as well as long-term ‘apprentices’ like Mr. Denhoed. Mr. Flavin never searched for people to train; they simply came and he took in those whose natures fit. When Mr. Denhoed asked to study with him, Mr. Flavin accepted because they had already met and he knew that they would get along.
Now in his early 70s, Mr. Flavin no longer teaches papermaking because the physical labor is too demanding. He still teaches paper casting and other craft workshops, which require significantly less time and energy to prepare. He thinks that washi can only survive if young people participate in making it. “If you asked me ten years ago, I would have said that washi would not survive. But now, the attitude of young people has changed,” having seen more of them give up city life to move to the country. Though country life requires a lot of hard work, it is less costly. He noted that young papermakers are more independent and freer than their elders, who often only made paper to fulfill orders and had a limited, conservative output.
Mr. Flavin spends weekdays in Ogose at his studio and long weekends in Tokyo to help his wife at work. They both use kakishibu (persimmon dye) and carved woodblocks in their respective work on paper and textiles, and the same block created dyed designs on silk and debossed patterns on paper. He loves antiquing, and has found worm-eaten account books made of washi that he recycles into new paper, cross-shaped woodblocks carved on both sides to print kite designs, and 66cm-square sheets of paper made during World War II for balloon bombs.
Mr. Flavin has an expansive view of papermaking and his travels informed our conversations about Chinese, Nepalese, and Philippine papermaking. He acknowledged Mr. Kobayashi’s prescient insight to approach a brewery to make sake labels, which has now become a trend. Mr. Flavin also made labels for a local brewer over 10 years ago in collaboration with a local farmer, to make a product made entirely in Ogawa. He feels this is a consistent and regular market for washi, which appeals to customers looking for good quality products. In the past, he made large paper with Mr. Denhoed to cover fusuma (sliding panels that act as doors or walls) for a traditional Japanese restaurant in Kyushu. These are only a couple of his many collaborative projects that highlight the versatility and beauty of handmade paper.
Without signs of boredom, Mr. Flavin fielded my barrage of technical questions with practical and poetic answers. He talked about work songs in Ogawa often sung while people beat fiber, one whose lyrics are sung by women who do not want to marry papermakers. Unlike most of the papermakers that I met, he considered himself an artist first. To make his art, he dedicated himself to papermaking, which is the first step before he works with natural dyes, acrylic colors, and rubbings over wood and metal shapes. Not many artists commit this deeply to materials and process, and his work has inspired American endeavors in root-to-sheet papermaking that leads to thoughtful paper artwork. His boundless sharing of time and expertise seemed completely in character with his history of teaching many people over many years.