The Mingei Museum: San Diego, California
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Aug 19 2014

The Mingei Museum: San Diego

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park. I should have had high standards given the beauty of the park and all the buildings, but I just had no idea what we were walking into.

Surft Craft

In the opening text for the first exhibition, “Surf Craft,” a short explanation for the museum’s name is found:

In The Unknown Craftsman, Japanese philosopher Soetsu Yanagi divides craft into three broad categories: mingei (or folk) crafts, artist crafts, and industrial crafts. Mingei crafts are anonymous, useful, handmade objects intended for daily life… With artist crafts, the maker begins to eclipse the object.

Folk art isn’t usually something to make me jump out of my chair with excitement, but the Mingei was so much more than dolls and baskets (OK, there were a lot of dolls, but they weren’t the main focus). I was immediately intrigued when we walked into “Surf Craft” and looked around at the surf boards of all shapes, sizes and colors mounted on walls and suspended from the ceiling. The exhibition explained the origins of surfing in Hawaii with the first paha and alaia boards – short, flat, hand-carved boards made from a solid piece of wood. The evolution of the surfboard evolved from an anonymous practical craft into an artist craft as individuals began earning fame through their dedication to the sport and innovative boards.


The making of paha and alaia boards was believed to be a spiritual process involving a sort of conversation between the maker and his ancestors. Science joined the mix and voila, surfboards became concave and grew fins.

The exhibition also highlighted knee boards and even boogie boards which are more up my alley. All the math in the world couldn’t make me good at surfing.




Quick Tips:

  • Admission is only $8! (San Diego residents and college students get in free every third Tuesday of the month!)
  • Check out the gift shop for some amazing jewelry and hand-crafted goodies
  • Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • “Surf Craft” is on view through Jan. 11, 2015



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Evanne Allen

Evanne co-founded Poplar Travels after quitting her job in Washington, D.C. She got itchy feet at a young age and has never lost the urge to explore the planet. A previous museum employee, she is apt to drag travel partners into several cultural institutions anywhere she goes. She wishes she could speak every language and loves meeting new people.

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