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Samurai! A Conversation With Kimbell Curator Jennifer Casler Price

by Jerome Weeks 19 Feb 2014 5:30 PM

The Barbier-Mueller collection has traveled around the world and finally stops in the Dallas couple’s neighborhood: the Kimbell. Samurai, the exhibition of armor and artwork is so rich, we asked curator Jennifer Casler Price to pick one favorite piece to talk about.


armor-with-the-features-of-a-tengu-CloseupTengu armor, late Edo Period, 1854. Iron, lacquer, fiber, bear fur, leather, feathers, fabric.

Samurai is the new exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum. It features more than 140 pieces from the collection of Dallasites Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller. These are some of the finest examples of the Japanese artworks that are both fierce and beautiful. The show is so rich, so visually stunning, KERA’s Jerome Weeks asked curator Jennifer Casler Price to pick out her favorite at the Kimbell and discuss it.

  • Meet the collector, Gabriel Barbier-Mueller in an episode of CEO.
  • KERA radio report:

  • Online story:

Weeks: So, Jennifer, for your favorite piece, you selected this particular suit of Samurai armor, complete with helmet, and it’s a stunning suit, very striking. It looks like a screaming eagle or something.  Could you describe it and explain why it looks like this?

Price: Actually, it doesn’t look anything like the other suits. First of all, it has a bird-head helmet with radiating feathers coming off the back. And then the actual chest armor and sleeves look like human musculature. So this is a suit of armor that is in the form of a tengu. And tengu is a mythical creature, it can be half-man, half-bird, it can be a little bit diabolical. It also has Buddhist connections, so there’s a lot symbolically going on.

jennifer and gabrieledit Weeks: So this armor was made around the middle of the 19th century, the Edo period, as it’s called, and that actually was a time of peace. So this armor, as much as it is still battle armor, is about the samurai showing off. It’s like a parade uniform.

Price: That’s exactly right. And I would say this particular piece of armor is more about parade and less about battle. Technically speaking, the armor that’s produced in the Edo period, while still fully functional, is more about flourish and embellishment.

And that’s where you get imagination and creativity being combined with the technical craftsmanship that has been around for hundreds of years. (Price, left, with Gabriel Barbier-Mueller)

Weeks: And speaking of craftsmanship – in the West, when we think of armor, we think of metal and metalsmiths. But the samurai armor here includes so much artistry: leather work, silk, painting and engraving, and in this case, even feathers and fur.

Price: I mean, you know, you have schools of armorers in Japan. There’s actually nine hereditary schools that many of them started in the mid-16th century, and it’s a craft that is passed down from father to son.  And it’s definitely a group effort and time-consuming. Any one piece of armor will take months.

Weeks: In that way, at least, this armor is like a 19th century, Japanese version of a complex weapons system.

Price: It’s that, and I also like to say that this is definitely couture.

Weeks: So I wonder if one reason this suit of armor is one of your favorite pieces is that it is so flamboyant. It’s almost playful.

Price: Playful or maybe I actually like the menacing aspect of it, the mischievous aspect of it. I’m a little bit hesitant to say this, but the bird helmet actually is somewhat reminiscent of a Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle. And actually, but I like that because I think that the people that know something about armor are going to be intrigued.  And then kids are going to love this because the idea of the samurai and battle and that influence on anime and then yeah, the humor in it, there’s humor, and there’s imagination. I think there’s something for everybody here.