Dalitoku myoo statue at Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, image

The Dalitoku myoo statue comes from the Kamakura period (1185-1333 A.D.).

entrance to Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, image

The Clark Center welcomes visitors with a simple and serene entrance.

Central Valley Road Trip: Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture

Road Journals Blog—What? You think California's Central Valley is a cultural wasteland? I say bull semen! Frozen bull semen, to be exact. In addition to giving plenty of cattle a start in life, the stuff has also helped birth a world-class Japanese art collection, housed about 45 minutes south of Fresno, in Hanford, Calif.

The Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture was founded by Elizabeth and Willard G. "Bill" Clark with profits from their bull semen supply company. The center sits serenely amid cornfields, adjacent to the Clarks' Japanese-style home and garden.

To enter, remove your shoes and pad into the first intimate gallery, where works are displayed in traditional niches, called tokonoma, with woven bamboo tatami mats. The absence of glass cases allows for a more personal interaction with the scrolls, screens, ceramics, kimono, wood-block prints, sculpture, and bamboo baskets you may find displayed.

Though the collection numbers more than 1,600 pieces, only a small number is exhibited at a given time in the two galleries, with themed shows that might focus on a particular artist (painter Kamisaka Sekka and ceramics master Fukami Sueharu have been featured) or subjects such as landscapes and Buddhist deities.

One of my favorite aspects of the center is its sense of fun. Bill Clark has a fondness for the humorous and bizarre, reflected in works like Kogo's comical paintings of hell (in one panel, a demon uses the "mirror of truth" to groom his beard) and other pieces, which, in essence, are exquisite cartoons. Even the center's signature piece, a stunning Daiitoku myoo statue from the Kamakura period (1185–1333 A.D.), depicts the Wisdom King astride—yes—a bull.

Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture 15770 Tenth Ave., (559) 582-4915, ccjac.org. Weekly docent tours are held Saturdays at 1 p.m.; guided group tours can be arranged by calling in advance.

Photography by Gayle Keck

This blog post was first published in April 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.