Puyallup Speaker Spotlight: Robyn Griggs Lawrence, Wabi-Sabi Expert

Reader Contribution by Erica Binns
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Get to know Robyn Griggs Lawrence of Ogden Publications.

What are you going to speak about at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR?

Easy Green Cleaning for Pennies – 9 a.m. Sunday on the Herb Companion stage

Simply Imperfect: 12 Steps to Wabi-Sabi – 1 p.m. Sunday on the Natural Home stage

What are you most looking forward to sharing with FAIR attendees?

I always love sharing natural, green cleaning techniques with people. I’m particularly excited to talk about wabi-sabi at this time because my book about that was just released.Tell us about your background with your particular topic.I’ve been studying wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of finding beauty in things that are imperfect, impermanent and rustic, for about 10 years. I first encountered the philosophy at a sweet, rustic stone house in Maine, built completely by hand and appointed with cozy flea market furniture and other dumpster finds. While discussing the house with the homeowner, I asked about a rusty grate hanging on the wall. She called it “wabi-sabi,” a term I had never heard. Kate explained that wabi-sabi was the Japanese art of appreciating things that are imperfect, primitive and incomplete. I knew immediately that wabi-sabi was the concept I’d been living all my life. The beauty of discovering it was to now point to something concrete when answering to my mother, my husband, or assorted others about my wild garden, my raw-wood salvaged French doors, the yellowing enamel table I insist on using as a desk.

In my mission to learn about wabi-sabi, I’ve studied everything from Zen to the art of uncluttering (and my own house got a much-needed overhaul in the process). I spent a few days at the Freer-Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., poring over former House Beautiful editor Elizabeth Gordon’s research into shibui (a related concept) back in the 1960s. I found ancient textbooks on Tea and early American housekeeping manuals–both of which proved invaluable. I met with Tea Ceremony teachers and practitioners in San Francisco. The highlight of my research was my trip to Japan. There, I attended Tea Ceremony lessons, toured museums and traditional Japanese houses, and met with potters, artists, philosophers, curators, and others who challenged my thinking and opened up my perceptions about wabi-sabi.

Wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of imperfect beauty, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. Emerging in fifteenth century Japan as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all. Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. Wabi-sabi celebrates cracks and crevices and rot, reminding us that we are all transient beings–that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in liver spots, rust, frayed edges. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the impersonal sadness of these blemishes, and the march of time they represent.Intimately tied to Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi can be embraced as an aesthetic sense, but it also brings a subtle spiritual component into the home. It reminds us that home should be a sanctuary, not a loud place full of disturbance and distraction. It asks that we set aside our judgments and our need for perfection and focus, instead, on the beauty of things as they are. Wabi-sabi isn’t a “look,” like French country or shabby chic.

Intimately tied to Zen Buddhism and the Japanese Way of Tea, it’s a subtly spiritual philosophy that offers a path toward home as sanctuary, a simple place devoid of clutter, disturbance and distraction. Wabi-sabi focuses on things as they are, right now. Everything in our homes–from the breakfast table to the attic windows–presents an opportunity to see beauty. Wabi-sabi is a lens.

Why should fairgoers attend your presentation?

Wabi-sabi is about appreciating the simple and letting go of the superficial–the perfect antidote for a society in recovery from a decades-long consumerist binge. This workshop will help you learn to clear away the clutter so you can accept and love your home just the way it is–but it’s about far more than home décor. Wabi-sabi is a state of mind: living modestly in the moment, stripping away the unnecessary, finding satisfaction in everyday things.

What are you most looking forward to at the FAIR?

I love the opportunity to get face to face with readers. The conversations and connections that happened at the last Fair were so vibrant and inspiring.

What advice do you have for attendees?

There’s so much to see and do at the Fair that it can seem overwhelming. Don’t despair if you can’t get into a standing-room-only workshop that you’d planned to attend. You’ll likely find that something even more interesting is happening on the next stage. Make a plan of action so that you can see as much as possible at the Fair, but be willing to be flexible. Guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.

If you were stranded on a deserted island and could have only one thing, what would you choose?

My kids. (OK, that’s two things, but I wouldn’t leave either of them behind.)

Thanks, Robyn. We’ll see you at the FAIR!


Please visit the FAIR website for more information about the Puyallup, Wash. FAIR June 4-5, and upcoming FAIRs in San Rafael, Calif. and Seven Springs, Penn. Tickets are on sale now for all fairs.

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