Amy Lee Segami had been a fluid-mechanics engineer for various corporations for several years when she began looking for a way to express her creativity and looked toward traditional Japanese arts. She mastered ikebana (flower arranging), cha-no-yu (tea ceremony), and sumi-e (brush painting). Her background in the precise science of fluid mechanics eventually drew her to suminagashi. “I discovered that art and science are connected. When you see formulas, you see pictures too.”

Translated literally as “flowing ink,” suminagashi is a form of painting created by 12th-century Shinto priests, who dripped black ink onto water then captured the random designs on rice paper, a pure reflection of the interaction of nature. Segami practices contemporary suminagashi, using acrylic paint and slightly manipulating the water designs.

A shallow wooden box filled with water is the basic tool of her trade. She sometimes spends an entire day leaning over the box, applying paint to the water’s surface and delicately shifting the designs with a brush. “It’s a very spiritual thing. You have to empty your mind and concentrate. I have no interaction for a couple of days when I’m doing suminagashi.”

Segami came to the U.S. from China in 1976 and became a citizen in 1990. She was born Amy Lee, but added Segami to her name to symbolize her new profession. “The Chinese have many names,” she explains. “Each name represents another stage or step.”

Segami’s contemporary version of suminagashi has provoked some criticism from traditionalists, but she believes she is helping to promote Asian culture. “Asians are perceived as secretive. They keep traditional skills in the family, passing it on quietly. I say, “Here’s the information. Let’s do more with it.”‘

“Floating Dreams,” Segami’s tenth solo exhibition, will be on display through June 6 at the Riverfront Gallery in the Chicago Riverfront Antique Mart, at 2929 N. Western. Hours are 10 to 6 Monday through Saturday, 12 to 6 Sunday. Tomorrow, May 30, at 2 Segami will give a talk about her art. Call 252-2500 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routtenberg.