THE LIST: 10 things curator Alan Elder can’t live without

Alan Elder

He has been working on the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s summer exhibition Japan: Tradition. Innovation. for five years. “We’re surrounded by Japanese products,” explains Alan Elder, curator of craft and design at the museum. “But though Japanese products are part of our daily lives, we don’t necessarily know much about Japan.” The exhibition, which celebrates the idea of Japanese ingenuity, will showcase contemporary design while also exploring objects from the Edo period (1603-1868), an era in which artistic and scientific innovation flourished. In the wake of the devastating tsunami, Elder says, he is confident that innovative spirit will play a huge role in the country’s recovery. Here are the 10 things — some Japanese, others not — that Alan Elder cannot live without.

The Japan: Tradition. Innovation. exhibition runs May 20 to October 10, 2011.

1 My morning coffee

coffee mugI begin my day with a cup of strong coffee in my favourite mug. The mug was a gift from a friend, potter Kayo O’Young, in the late 1980s. (I hide it when we have house guests, because I worry about somebody breaking it.)

2 Entertaining

My partner, Richard, and I love to entertain — from small dinners to family gatherings to cocktail parties. When we were looking for a house, one of our criteria was how the house would work for guests.

3 Online information

Like many Canadians, I’m an Internet junkie. Whether I’m reading a book or watching television, I’m checking for related information. I’m constantly amazed at the amount of information we now have at our fingertips.
stack of books

4 Books

Even with the availability of information online, I still love books: new books, used books. We’re still saving to have enough bookcases built to house literally thousands of books.

5 Working with craftspeople, designers, and artists

I spend lots of time working with creative people. I’ve most recently been working with Japanese craftspeople and designers like Oki Sato, from Tokyo’s Nendo, a multi-faceted design firm. Sato is designing our Japan exhibition.
red chair by Robin Bush

6 Furniture designed by Robin Bush

Most of our living room and dining room furniture was designed and made in Victoria by Robin Bush in the early 1950s. Before we bought it, it was owned by the same family for almost 50 years.
Snider clocks

7 Snider clocks

I have a small collection of clocks that were produced in the 1950s by Toronto manufacturer Snider. Three of them hang on the wall of our kitchen. For me, they represent how forward-looking Canadian design was in the 1950s and 1960s.
handful of muji pens

8 Muji pens and Moleskine notebooks

I’m constantly making notes about things I’ve seen and things I’ve done and need to do. I use pens from Muji, a no-name-brand store with locations throughout Japan. I write these notes in Moleskine books.
Isamu Noguchi lamp

9 Isamu Noguchi lamp

My friend Sunil Bhandari, a graphic designer in Toronto, gave me this lamp as a Christmas present over 20 years ago. We’ll include a selection of Noguchi’s paper lamps in the Japan exhibition.

10 My passport

My research has allowed me to travel to Japan. I’ve been lucky to renew friendships and make new friends. It’s been difficult to see pictures of the destruction at Sendai — home to Kenji Toki, one of the artists we will be featuring.

Photography: Brigitte Bouvier