Rare Japanese Exhibition

Photography provided by the Cincinnati Art Museum

The Cincinnati Art Museum exhibition, “Dressed to Kill: Japanese Arms and Armor,” introduces Japanese samurai culture and arts from the 16th-19th centuries and boasts many rare and never-before-seen objects.

The show, which runs from February 11-May 7. features 130 warrior-related items from the museum and local collector, Gary Grose. 

“Gary has shown one or two pieces,” says Hou-mei Sung, PhD, curator of Asian art. “But his collection has never been displayed as a whole.”

Sung had the idea for the exhibition after reading an article about Grose in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “He wanted to display his collection. And I knew it would be a very interesting show for the museum as well.”

Included in Grose’s collection are very rare match-lock guns and eight suits of armor, one for a child. “Many of our objects, including swords and hidden weapons for women, have never been on display before,” Sung says. “From our collection, we have Japanese battle prints and three suits of armor, two of which haven’t been shown for over a hundred years.” 

One suit of armor from the museum’s collection, donated in 1881 by the Women’s Art Museum Association (WAMA), was the first object in the Asian art collection and had never been assembled. “This is the first time anyone, including me, is getting the opportunity to see it assembled,” Sung says. “That’s very exciting.”

Many of the objects have stories to tell as well. In the late 19th century, Dr. Adeline Kelsey traveled to Japan as a medical missionary. While teaching English, she met two Japanese girls who wanted to become doctors. Dr. Kelsey brought the girls to Cincinnati so they could attend the Laurel Memorial Women’s Medical College, which would later become the University of Cincinnati Medical School.

 To raise funds for the girls, Dr. Kelsey sold the gifts she had received while doing charity work in Japan, including two suits of armor that she sold to the museum. After the girls graduated, all three returned to Japan and established a hospital to serve the poor.

“Every time I look at these two suits of armor, this story comes to mind and makes it far more interesting,” Sung says. “All of these stories are told in our catalogue.” 

Sung says the exhibition is for everyone, especially anyone interested in Japanese art and culture. “I hope people come to see the show. I think there will be something unexpected they can learn from it.”

She believes visitors will walk away with a more in-depth understanding of a different culture. “For me, using this exhibition to help people see the art and culture of Asia is exciting.”

The exhibition, which is free for museum members, offers rare glimpses of Japanese art and culture with a local connection.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to show, not only Mr. Grose’s collection, but also some of our related objects that have never been displayed before,” Sung says. 


The Cincinnati Art Museum is located at 953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, call 513.721.2787 or visit www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org. Tickets for “Dressed to Kill: Japanese Arms and Armor” can be purchased at the museum or online. 

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