Setsuo Ito spent much of his childhood just south of where the devastated Fukushima Nuclear Plants are in the Tohoku region of Japan. He was born in 1947, at a time when the Japanese were laboring to recover from the devastation of World War II. A sculptor and artist who spent 30 years in architectural corporate design in New York City, Ito came out to the East End in the early 1990s and purchased a 15-acre piece of property north of the highway in Water Mill. He would camp there, immersing himself in the surrounding forest. As a conceptual artist trained at the Tokyo University of Fine Art and influenced both by nature and modern art and architecture, Ito set out to build his dream house. The result was a futuristic 12,000-square-foot home with a symbolic pyramid observation tower on a hilltop, providing panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Peconic Bay. At once serene and modern, the property includes a 5,000-square-foot sun deck, a 1,600-square-foot pool, with a waterfall and Jacuzzi; all protected by a one-acre white pine forest.
A series of events have landed Ito at perhaps the most interesting time of his life. These events, which include a longstanding love affair with the landscape of the American Southwest, his concern over many years for the welfare of Japanese culture, and his choice to leave behind a successful career in architectural design to focus full time on his art, have led Ito to make a decision—he will auction his Bridgehampton estate, called Island in the Sky, and donate 10% of the proceeds as seed money to the Japanese Rescue Fund, a foundation he has created to help the Japanese recover from the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima disaster. In addition to his home, he will auction a subdivided, adjacent vacant lot of 5.8 acres.
After completing “Earthscapture,” a series of large sculptures inspired by the landscape of the American Southwest, Ito injured his right wrist, rendering him unable to continue sculpting in the large-scale way he had. Shortly thereafter, he was helping some workers carry materials when a piece of wood pierced through his left leg two inches and hit the knee bone.
While recovering, he turned to writing a book about Japanese culture and Japanese identity, both of which he felt were threatened by the “numbness” of the Japanese people. He wanted the book “to wake up” the culture, “to rescue Japan” from its slumber. But something else happened: Tohoku earthquake on March 11 of this year, also known as the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. It roused the nation.
“My book is no longer important,” Ito said, “they’ve woken up.” And so has Ito. A new purpose has been ignited, which led him to found the Japanese Rescue Fund and to auction his home. “After the earthquake I said to myself, just go directly to Japan and work on this.” A percentage of the money raised by the auction, which will be held on June 26, and a benefit on Saturday, June 11, at his estate, will go directly to “helping to restore farming in the contaminated areas around the Fukushima plant.” Ito will go there in August and he plans to meet with nuclear physicists, biologists and environmentalists to collaborate on how to “remove radioactive particles from the soil” and restore the rich agricultural life in the area.
Meanwhile, he and his wife and three small children have moved to “one of the smallest most isolated towns in Utah” called Torrey, which has a population of 170 and is at the entrance of the Capitol Reef National Park. They have downsized considerably to a 1,600-square-foot home with two bedrooms. After traveling so often to the Southwest, to a landscape that has clearly caught his attention, Ito decided it was time to stay. “We want to raise our children in nature,” he said. “We love it. There is no grocery store, but there are amazing rainbow-colored rock formations.”
To find out more about Island in the Sky, the Japanese Rescue Fund, and the house and land auction, you can visit JapanRescueFund.us. The benefit on Saturday, June 11, called “Japan Culture Fair,” from 5 to 8:30 p.m., will give participants an opportunity to see Ito’s estate. There will be traditional Japanese music and dance, a martial arts demonstration, a tea ceremony, an origami and Japanese drumming class for children, flower art, and sushi and cocktails. You can also call 537-3201. General admission is $150, children under 12 are admitted for free.
“The disaster in Japan is a wake-up call for many of us,” Ito said. In fact, “I believe it is a wake-up call for all of us. We must help now.” [/expand]