The Little Walking Box

An Important Sculpture by Isamu Noguchi

The present lot displayed in the 1952 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura. © Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In September of 1952, The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura hosted a major exhibition of Isamu Noguchi’s ceramic sculptures and lighting. Earlier in the year, Noguchi and his new bride, actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi, had taken up residence in Kita Kamakura in a farmhouse owned by the noted ceramicist Kitaoji Rosanjin. Noguchi established a studio and had access to Rosanjin’s kilns; the exhibition at the museum was the result of the year’s production and illustrated the multitude of influences that Noguchi was able to so gracefully unite in his exquisite forms.

The present lot, Little Walking Box (Arukidaso kobako) was among the works on display in this important show. Hand-crafted in Shigaraki stoneware, a clay found in the Kamakura region and dating as far back as 1192-1333, the expressive form is reminiscent of Japanese stone lamps called Ishidoro found initially in temples and shrines, but later in gardens, along pathways and near home entrances. Taking cues from traditional stone lantern designs, Noguchi’s Little Walking Box has windows on all four sides representing the sun, moon and stars.

Stone Lanterns at Kasuga Taisha with various windows and cutouts 

Noguchi’s exploration of traditional lighting forms may be further explained by his collaboration with Ozeki Jishichi Shoten (later Ozeki and Co. Ltd.). The year prior, Noguchi had traveled to Gifu to visit the firm’s factory and had begun designing his Akari light sculptures, the first of which were produced and made available in Japan in 1952. The logo that Noguchi devised for the Akari was a stylized sun and crescent moon, like the one found on the side of this sculpture.

However, unlike the Akari, the Little Walking Box is not a functional object. While drawing inspiration from the land and its traditions, it is completely modern and abstract in execution. The form has been simplified through the exclusion of a roof-like element and sits playfully on wooden legs, which are acknowledged in the work’s title, as we imagine the box to literally walk on its stick legs.

Large Walking Box, Arukidasu obako, 1952 in the collection of The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum. © Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Big Boy, Kamakura, 1952 in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This spirit of personification and play similarly appear in other stoneware works made by Noguchi during this period of his career, and indeed recur throughout his entire oeuvre. Shown alongside Little Walking Box at The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura in Isamu Noguchi (September 23,1952 – October 19,1952), Big Boy and Even the Centipede both exhibit distinct and lively personalities rendered with an economy of materials and shapes. Both works today reside in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 

After the exhibition in Kamakura, Eleanor Ward, the proprietor of Stable Gallery, showed Noguchi’s ceramic works in New York City in Isamu Noguchi: Terracottas (November 23, 1954 – January 8, 1955).  It is through Ward that the present lot came to The Arts Club of Chicago the following year, where it was included in Noguchi: Sculpture and Scroll Drawings (November 11, 1955 – December 7, 1955). It is believed that it was through this exhibition that the work came into the possession of Arts Club member and patron Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy.  

Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy

Artist and Patron

The present lot comes from the collection of the artist and art patron, Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy. Leonore was born in 1904 in Highland Park, Illinois to Leonore Annette Law and Robert Edward Smith, head of the J.P. Smith Shoe Company. From 1920-1923, Leonore attended the Mary C. Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island where she was encouraged to create art. She returned to Chicago upon graduation and continued her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1927, Leonore married Arthur Jerrems. The couple bought property and built a home outside of Chicago in Barrington, Illinois where she would frequently entertain other artists and friends from the city. Leonore won the Chicago Woman’s Aid Society prize for painting in 1928 and was connected with the National Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago. 

Article published in the Chicago Tribune March 5th, 1928.

Over the following decade artworks by Leonore were included in the annual Exhibitions of Artists of Chicago and Vicinity held at the Art Institute of Chicago. Here her work was shown alongside Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, Frances Badger, George Buehr, Julio De Diego, Rowena Fry, Norman Macleish, and Rifka Angel to name a few. Leonore maintained active in the local artistic community and was a member of the Arts Club of Chicago. Through these organizations she became friendly with many artists and acquired works by her contemporaries for her own collection.   

Watercolor by Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy included in the International Watercolor Show at the Art Institute of Chicago.

By 1951, Leonore had married a second time. She and her husband Edward Molloy purchased an apartment in Chicago in 880 Lake Shore Drive, the new high rise recently completed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Leonore would outfit their home with an eclectic mix of mid-century and antique furnishings complemented by the artworks she collected. Her family remembers her Noguchi sculpture displayed on a table before windows overlooking the lake while the painting, Lobster Salad, by Ivan Albright was prominently hung on the opposite wall.

Leonore would continue to take classes in painting and woodblock printing, and exhibit on occasion. In 1960, her work was included in the Artist Members Exhibition at The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago and her block prints were regularly included in the Block Print Calendar from the Chicago Society of Artists, landing on the cover in 1966, and then again in 1978. 

Cover, by Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy, of the 1978 Block Print Calendar from the Chicago Society of Artists

Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy died in 1976. The works offered here have remained in the family until now. 

Works from the Collection of Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy

Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi was the son of Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet, and Léonie Gilmour, an American writer. He was born in Los Angeles in 1904 but lived in Japan from the age of two until 1918 when he returned to the United States to attend school in Indiana. In 1922 Noguchi moved to New York to study pre-medicine at Columbia University. He also took night courses in sculpture with Onorio Ruotolo and soon after, he left Columbia in pursuit of a career in the arts.

In 1927 Noguchi received a Guggenheim Fellowship for a trip to Paris and the Far East. For six months in Paris, he worked in the studio of Constantin Brancusi and his own work became more abstract as Noguchi explored working with stone, wood and sheet metal. Noguchi returned to New York and in 1929 he met R. Buckminster Fuller and Martha Graham, colleagues and friends with whom he would later collaborate. In 1938 Noguchi was commissioned to complete a work for the Associated Press building in the Rockefeller Center in New York. Marking his first public sculpture, this work garnered attention and recognition for the artist in the United States.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Noguchi became politically involved. He started Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the patriotism of Japanese Americans, and he volunteered to be placed in an Arizona internment camp where he resided for seven months. Following the war, he spent time in Japan exploring the issues highlighted by the conflict of war; the experiences culminating in sculptural works that were included in the exhibition Fourteen Americans hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1946.

Noguchi traveled throughout his lifetime and was inspired by experiences, artists and techniques around the world. Never confined by material or a particular movement, Noguchi’s aesthetic accomplishments covered a broad range including sculpture, furniture and lighting design, parks, gardens, theater and more. His first retrospective was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968. He received multiple accolades and awards during his lifetime and in 1986 he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. A testament to his commitment to public spaces, in 1985 Noguchi opened The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City, New York (now known as The Noguchi Museum) and today his legacy lives on through the museum’s work. Noguchi died in 1988 at the age of eighty-four.

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