When Kyoto-based “minimalist” sculptor Jiro Okura saw reproductions of works in the exhibition catalogue, he was
deeply moved. He had been influenced by Cage’s ideas about chance and indeterminacy, ideas that derived, in part,
from Japanese Zen philosophy. Because the ideas in his own work shared an affinity with those of the Mountain Lake
programs he was invited to be a guest artist in a collaborative workshop. His “chance” viewing of the catalogue JOHN
CAGE/NEW RIVER WATERCOLORS, led to Mountain Lake and eventually Okura conducted workshops in 1990, 1992 and
1993.

After a visit to the United States in 1969, several years after he had completed a post-graduate course at Kyoto Kyoiku
University, Okura began to use wood as a sculpture material. In his youth, Okura had studied and trained in a Zen
temple trying to attain what Zen Buddhism calls a “pure emptiness” of spirit. But it wasn't until driving across the
vast empty expanses of desert in Arizona and New Mexico that Okura would succeed. Soon after his return to Japan, a
carpenter in his neighborhood unexpectedly gave him a piece of wood, camphor laurel. He didn’t know the first thing
about wood carving or carpentry. As he began to work with this piece of wood, all this changed: “I was hooked on
wood. By working with wood, I discovered a way to confirm not only my own existence, but also the vast presence of
nature, of the entire cosmos, surrounding me.” In this piece of wood his experience of vast, empty space was fused
with material substance into a powerful metaphor for a consciousness of existence.

he focus of Okura’s workshops developed out of his deep respect for natural materials, especially wood. This respect
is based on an understanding of the relationship between nature as an environment of material substance with
physical location, and as a concept of pure space. For Okura, substance and space acquire a sense of plenitude when
the self grasps this relationship, which wood (or any other natural material) can symbolize if treated properly. Okura’s
ideas, which are expressed by his treatment of wood, are manifested in Eastern belief systems through ritual practices
that allow for chance and indeterminacy in the processing of materials. Such ideas paralleled the Mountain Lake
conception of the self and locale as manifestations of both natural and psychic forces.

It is hardly surprising that Okura would want to continue working with wood when he came to Mountain Lake. During
the first week of January, 1990, eight black walnut trees from the Jefferson National Forest at Little Stone Mountain in
Wise County, Virginia were selected to be cut for the workshop. This was done in cooperation with members of the
local community, including the National Forest Service, Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, and the Brooks Wood Products
Research Center at Virginia Tech. Black walnut was chosen because it is a wood very like Zelkova, Japanese gray-bark
elm, which is traditionally used for sacred objects in Japan.