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Crafting from the Collections: Cherry Blossoms

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This is a guest post by Rachel Gordon, Visitor Services Specialist at the Library. 

Spring’s arrival brings many welcome changes after the winter. In Washington, D.C., one of the prettiest is cherry blossom season. Around the Tidal Basin near the National Mall and monuments, the area’s largest cluster of Japanese cherry trees burst into spectacular bloom. The spectacle is all the more special due to the brief time the pink and white blossoms last; it can be cut short by wind, rain, or a late snowstorm. The highlight of the short season is the National Cherry Blossom Festival; the Library has released three short films to celebrate the 2021 festival.

The Tidal Basin cherry trees have a long history. On March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first trees there, part of a gift from Japan to the United States. You can read all about the event and how the trees came to D.C. in the blog post Field of Cherries.  The exhibition Sakura: Cherry Blossoms as Living Symbols of Friendship, opened to mark the centennial of the 1912 gift. As well as viewing it online, you can watch a video tour and enjoy the beautiful accompanying book, pictured below. The exhibition also includes a wealth of primary sources for teachers.

The Washington Monument reflected in the Tidal Basin, which is ringed by blooming cherry trees
Cherry blossom at the Tidal Basin, Washington D.C.; photographer Carol M. Highsmith; Prints and Photographs Division

It should come as no surprise that the Library’s huge collections include many resources related to cherry trees and to Japan. Two of the original 1912 trees are on Library grounds, transplanted to thin out the seedlings at the Tidal Basin. The Asian Division is home to the Japanese Collection that the Library began to acquire in the late 1800s. Some of the rarest holdings are digitized.

If you’d like to have your own cherry blossom festival at home this year, these pretty, delicate flowers are perfect for homemade crafting of all kinds. Even if there are no cherry trees nearby for some real “hanami,” or blossom viewing where you are, with access to the Library website, a printer and some paper or cardstock you can come up with inventive and creative ways to celebrate this brief season.

The Library’s Free to Use and Reuse Sets of cherry blossoms and Japanese prints provide plenty of copyright-free images that you can adapt however you wish. Some judicious cropping of photographs or prints is a quick and easy way to produce attractive bookmarks that would make lovely gifts packaged up with a book or two.

Tissue paper cherry blossoms and bookmarks made with cherry blossom images from the Library
Homemade paper cherry blossoms and bookmarks inspired by Library collections

Origami comes to mind too, of course, given its long history in Japanese culture, as shown in this print from the 1770s. There are many online resources for origami flowers, some of which are quite easy and quick to do, after a little practice. Try making origami cherry blossoms from tissue, crepe or any kind of paper you have on hand, or from downloaded images from the collections. Once you have a batch of flowers, you can tape them to some bare branches or make a decorative garland.

Now you’re in a cherry blossom frame of mind, you may enjoy learning more about Japanese culture from some family-friendly books. Here are a few suggestions from colleague (and fluent Japanese speaker) Sasha Dowdy, of the Young Readers Center:

  • Andrea Zimmerman, Eliza’s Cherry Trees (Pelican, 2011). Ages 5-8.
  • Chieri Uegaki, Suki’s Kimono (Kids Can Press, 2005). Ages 4-8.
  • Willamarie Moore, All About Japan: Stories, Songs, Crafts and More (Tuttle Publishing, 2017). Ages 8-12.
  • Florence Sakade, Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories, Book One (Tuttle Publishing, 2012). Ages 8-12.
  • Tim J. Myers, Basho and the River Stones (Two Lions, 2013). Ages 6-8.
  • Aurora Cacciapuoti, Let’s Learn Japanese (Chronicle Books, 2019). Ages 4-8.

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