Nara Pilgrim Wood was born in a wooded, one-room cabin in the coastal mountains of Northern California. At age four she moved with her family to Kauai, and at six relocated to a remote Fijian island in an open expanse of the Koro Sea. Pop culture, and its distractions, were a world away and had little influence on the island. It was there that she began her training in hand skills and the arts; lei-making, rangolis, weaving, painting, music, dance, theater, learning these skills in a village setting and being trained by elders rather than in a classroom.
At the age of ten Nara returned to mainland U.S., spent a year attending school in New York and then returned to California to complete her schooling. She has frequently returned to the islands throughout her life.
Nara’s paintings and drawings transport the viewer to a sanctuary of earth, water, animals, flowers, everything beautiful in this world. Each piece is inspiring of love and beauty, peace and prayer. Her deep connection with the elements is proven within the paint.
Nara cites two aspects of her early education which strongly influenced her art. The first was the encouragement to select a “sacred art”, an artistic discipline to commit to, practice, and master. Throughout her childhood she had many accomplished artist-tutors and mentors in music, crafts, traditional and fine arts. Each of these artists provided valuable lessons in technique and approach, challenged her limits, and inspired her with their mastery. She explored and experimented in many arenas before settling on painting, and, eventually watercolor as her preferred medium.
The other unique aspect of Nara’s education was an extensive study of cultural, religious, and artistic traditions of the East and West. Nara states that she was equally inspired by Manohar Das and Hokusai as she was Monet and O’Keefe. Her artwork reflects this fusion , as does Nara, herself (her ancestry is Japanese/English). This amalgam can be clearly seen in her watercolors.
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While attending high school in northern California, Nara chronicled the story of her grandparents’ incarceration in the Japanese internment camps of World War II, and an interest in her Japanese-American heritage grew from that. She studied the great masters of Asian painting, gaining an understanding of traditional brushwork and the approach to space and line. Her artistry became clarified in the Japanese aesthetic combining sumi ink with watercolor as her medium.
Concurrently, Nara studied for three years under Sensei Shuko Kobayashi in the Sogetsu school of ikebana. Sculptural forms in the arrangement of flowers began to translate into the play of spatial relationships and positive and negative space in her paintings. Nara also practices the art of bonsai and has a small collection of trees that she has been tending for twenty-three years.
Nara’s art and life, both, reflect her intimacy with and love of the natural world. Her watercolors are grounded in her personal relationship with the world around her, not in the mind.