Maruyama lectures on art, her community projects and more

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 at 6:40 PM

Wendy Maruyama, a renowned furniture artist, visited Edinboro University on April 5. She spoke with individual classes before her presentation and she is judging the 95th Annual Spring Show at the Erie Art Museum that will run from April 21 to July 1. 

Maruyama was introduced by professor Karen Ernst, who called Maruyama her personal hero and said, “She entered this very much male-dominated field in the 1970s as a young Asian-American, hearing-impaired woman [and] I can’t imagine how much guts this took.”

Maruyama spoke to a crowded room about her history and how that affected her and her work. 

Maruyama also spoke about her childhood and about having a hearing disability and cerebral palsy. She spoke about how she got into furniture making and how she had to reteach herself furniture making when she moved to the east coast because the styles were different. Maruyama was one of the first women to get a Master of Fine Arts from Rochester Institute of Technology.

She then proceeded to show some pieces she had created throughout the years. She showed her early work, which was influenced by the west coast design trends at the time. She talked about how her environment had influenced the work she did and the colors she used. 

Maruyama then talked about some of the series she’s done that are inspired by injustices she’s seen. She, a Japanese-American woman, had family members who were affected by the Japanese internment camps. Her family moved to Colorado to avoid these camps, but she used the stories she’s heard to inspire a series of pieces based on the experience.

She also takes inspiration from animals that are being persecuted. She’s taken inspiration from the plight of rhinos, elephants and pangolins. She made life-size masks of elephants by sewing together different painted woods, and she collaborated with glass blowers to make life-size replicas of tusks to show the fragility of elephants. 

Maruyama likes to make her projects into community activities. The Tag Project utilized high schoolers, churches and a home for senior Japanese-Americans to help her make realistic replicas of the tags Japanese-Americans had to wear in the internment camps. The finished tags were then combined to form four pillars.  Another recent project where she engaged the community was one involving the pangolin. She visited Cambodia and utilized local Cambodian weavers who helped her form the structure of the pangolin. She then had the community come together to form the scales. 

After the presentation, Maruyama took questions. One question addressed the types of wood she uses. She encouraged the furniture designers in the audience to avoid exotic woods so they do not contribute to more deforestation.

Maruyama then took individual questions after the presentation and a line of students formed.

Erica Burkholder can be reached at

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