Janine Ibbotson

Zen Enso Circle Art and Practice Blog

Blog about the art and practice of drawing the Zen Enso Circle.

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Appreciating Keith Kumasen Abbott

©Janine Ibbotson, "Beyond Concepts," sumi ink on rice paper with Well Frog seal, 2019.

©Janine Ibbotson, "Beyond Concepts," sumi ink on rice paper with Well Frog seal, 2019.

This is a note of appreciation for one of my mentors, Keith Kumasen Abbott, who passed away last week. I met Keith when I worked at Naropa University. He was a faculty member in the Jack Kerouac School of Writing and Poetics where he taught reading and writing. He was also a brushstroke artist who worked with painting, calligraphy, and collage.

With my budding interest in the enso circle, I was drawn to Keith and he was very warm, friendly, and encouraging of my artistic efforts. I assisted him in a class that he taught at Naropa’s Practice Day where after class, he drew a few enso circles, showing me the basics of the brushstroke.

As I continued to draw the Zen circle, I made little movies about them, and I would share my art and videos with Keith. He would always be very happy to see them and would reciprocate by sending me some of his writings and drawings. They were images of monks, the teacher Bodhidharma, or of nature: monkeys, frogs, flowers, etc.

Keith generously invited me to his studio, shared information about his collection of hand-carved seals, showed me his calligraphy, gave me little lessons with homework assignments, and told stories about his Zen teacher Kobun Chino Roshi. He showed me an enso drawn by Kobun Chino that he had rescued from the trash after his teacher threw it away after practicing. It was powerful.

Keith highly encouraged me to study with Zen artist Kaz Tanahashi and so I did. After a visit to Kaz’s art studio, I brought one of his ensos back to Keith as a gift. I lost touch with Keith after he retired and after I left the university, though I think of him regularly, partly because I have a few pieces of his art in my studio. They are examples of a high standard and so are very inspiring to study and view.

I sent Keith an email the day before he died but did not hear back, then a few days later I heard through the grapevine that he had passed. Keith was precious and he lives on in my heart/mind and through his writing and art. I am fortunate to have known him.