Connected \\ March 30, 2021

Harbor Sweets chocolate bunnies return just in time for Easter

For nearly four decades, Harbor Sweets chocolates in Salem has been a source of pride for local residents and a source of unique, high-quality confections for everyone else. The company values tradition and still relies on copper kettles and wooden paddles to create its artisanal chocolates by hand, making its storefront along the harbor smell nothing short of heavenly.

About 25 years ago Harbor Sweets’ founder Benneville Strohecker sought a new chocolate design to produce for the Easter season, their second busiest time of year. Having a close relationship with the former director of the PEM Shop, he turned to the museum for inspiration. A piece was selected from the Japanese art collection: the netsuke Moon Bunny.

Netsuke in the form of a rabbit, 19th century

Naitō Toyomasa, Netsuke in the form of a rabbit, 19th century. Ivory. Gift of E.G. Stillman, 1947. E26721. Photo by Mark Sexton.

This spring, after a 10-year-hiatus in production, the beloved milk chocolate Moon Bunnies are available once again at PEM, for Easter baskets everywhere.

The miniature netsuke rabbit, which the chocolates are molded after, hold much symbolism in Japan, says Karina Corrigan, Associate Director​–Collections. “The moon rabbit is a central character in a popular Japanese folktale. Here in the US, when we look up to the moon, we talk about seeing a man in the moon. But in Japan, people see a bunny or a hare.” This symbol of perseverance and devotion made rabbits an enduring subject in Japanese art.

Typically made of ivory, bone or wood, netsuke were carved into a variety of different motifs in 19th-century Japan. But these decorative pieces also served a functional purpose. “Traditional Japanese garments don’t have pockets,” explains Corrigan. “If you wanted to carry something with you, you’d hang them off of your obi, or sash, using a netsuke as a toggle. Originally simple utilitarian fasteners, netsuke developed into works of art in their own right.”

PEM holds hundreds of whimsical netsuke carvings in its collection. The museum’s close ties to Japan are credited to Edward Sylvester Morse, director of the Peabody Academy of Science (one of PEM’s predecessors). Morse grew fascinated with Japanese culture and his research became instrumental in assembling the museum’s distinctive collection of Japanese art that focuses on daily life. One favorite piece from his personal collection was a stoneware Hibachi (hand warmer) molded into the shape of a bunny. Both Morse’s portrait and his Hibachi are on display in PEM’s Salem Stories exhibition.

Frank Weston Benson’s Portrait of Edward Sylvester Morse, and a brazier in the form of a rabbit, which Morse gifted to the museum in 1900.

Frank Weston Benson, Portrait of Edward Sylvester Morse, 1913, Oil on canvas, Gift of Edith Owen Robb, 1914, M4311, and Artist in Aichi prefecture, Japan, Hibachi (hand warmer), 18th or 19th century, Stoneware and copper, Gift of Edward Sylvester Morse, about 1900, E5798.AB.

We’re fortunate to have PEM as a neighbor and to be able to work with such a world-class museum,” says Doug Burritt of Harbor Sweets. “It’s really quite exciting for us.
Harbor Sweets storefront on Leavitt Street. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Harbor Sweets storefront on Leavitt Street. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Today the shop is under the ownership of Phyllis LeBlanc, who was hired by Strohecker when she was a student at Salem State College. Close to a quarter of a million packages are sold and shipped across the country each year, as well as internationally to Switzerland and Japan.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

At the PEM Shop, these classic Moon Bunnies are available just in time for Easter, both in store and online. “Museums are places to feed the senses, like sight and sound,” says Victor Oliveira, director of merchandising at the shop. “Now with our Harbor Sweets netsuke Moon Bunnies, you can add smell and taste.”

Read more about these bunnies with Tales to Tell in this recent story from The Boston Globe.

Buy these in-store now and have them just in time for Easter. Curbside pickup is available to local customers! Simply select "Curbside Pickup" at checkout.

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