29 November 2022

Kate Sessions, San Diego's landscape gardener

Kate Sessions statue, by sculpor Ruth Hayward.

As the weather turns chilly here in New England, I think back fondly to a late summer vacation in San Diego.  While there we toured Balboa Park, a huge park and cultural center in the city.   I learned about Kate Sessions (1857-1940), an important woman with whom I was unfamiliar.

The land which became Balboa Park was deliberately protected from development to create an amenity for the city, partly to increase the attractiveness of San Diego real estate but also because some forward-thinking city elders realized the value of open space to the quality of life in a city.

Kate Sessions, a native of California, managed a plant nursery in San Diego and needed more space for her growing business. The City of San Diego leased land in the park to her, and in exchange she consulted on the design of the park and donated plants and labor.

It is important to know that, by the time Ms. Sessions began her work, much native vegetation of the area had already been heavily over-grazed by cattle introduced by ranchers from Mexico, who colonized this area of California before any European settlers.  While Ms. Sessions introduced non-native species, such as eucalyptus, to the nursery trade she also popularized native plants, particularly succulents, and introduced them to a broader horticultural audience.

I apologize for my less-than-great photograph of the statue; I hadn't planned to blog about this.  However, I love this statue of a woman in the midst of her work - sturdy boots on feet, trowel in hand, a tray full of offshoots to be planted or potted up.
There is a children's book about her: The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever.  Below, in the Cactus Garden in Balboa Park.

17 November 2022

John C. Weber kimono collection at The Met, part 2 - Meisen

Yoshu Chikanobu, A Contest of Elegant Ladies among the Cherry Blossoms, detail, 1887.

After Japan opened up to trade with the West, western-style clothing became fashionable, especially among the upper classes. However, kimono were style worn by many, especially in the home, but also by young women who newly entered the work force after 1920 or so.  As  Western styles infiltrated the wardrobe so did the concept of "ready-to-wear" garments. While the kimono in my previous post were made of hand-reeled silk from top-quality cocoons, machinery imported from Europe could spin the filaments of lesser-quality, previously discarded cocoons into thread.  This thread was then woven into silk fabric which was much more affordable than yardage for custom-made garments. In addition, new synthetic dyes added deep and novel hues to the traditional color palette.  Designs were also influenced by Western art movements, such as Art Deco and Art Nouveau.

Meisen kimono, ca. 1930's.

Decoration of these ready-to-wear kimono was simplified too - no more gold embroidery, hand-painting or other time-consuming techniques. Instead the fabrics were patterned by resist- or stencil-dyeing designs onto the stretched warp, before the actual weaving. This process is call kasuri (from the Japanese word for "blurring") and is similar to ikat.  You can get a feel for this surface design process in this youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaziD8vT6f8
although the process for producing meisen textiles was more mechanized.  
Some traditional patterns and motifs continue to appear, but updated, such as the rabbit kimono below, which may have been made during the Year of the Rabbit, in 1939.
Meisen summer kimono, ca. 1930's.
Japan is an island nation and the sea has always figured prominently is its decorative imagery.  The wave design below recalls The Great Wave, a woodblock print by Hokusai (1760-1849).
Summer kimono, 1920's - 1930's.

Kimono, detail.

Meisen kimono were not as well known or as widely collected as the earlier kimono, but John Weber made them a focus of his collection. I love their bold designs and graphic impact.  Many of the most intricate designs are made with a double ikat technique (heiyo-gasuri) in which both the warp and weft are patterned prior to weaving. 
Meisen kimono with thunderbolts, ca. 1950-55.

Meisen kimono with water droplets pattern, ca. 1930-40.

Meisen kimono with diamond patterns, ca. 1950-55.

As much as I enjoyed this ground-breaking exhibit, I would have appreciated it if the curators had featured more about the process and perhaps included some videos of  textile surface design and construction.  There is a helpful illustrated glossary at the end of the catalog, called "Textiles and Techniques," which features close-up photographs of weaves and decoration techniques.
Also, why did even modern-era Japanese fabrics still heavily rely on dyeing, either by stencil or immersion, for color deposition whereas in the West patterns on silk and other fibers are so often placed by printing?   However, there's no doubt these garments are amazingly beautiful.

Meisen jacket with looped lines, ca. 1950-55.

Jacket, detail.

13 November 2022

The John C. Weber kimono collection at The Met, part 1

Bridal kimono, 19th c., detail.
In October we went to New York City to visit family and see this amazing exhibit of historic Japanese garments.  Below are some images, more or less in chronological order, of items which appealed to me.  The exhibit was big, so I'll do more than one post about it.  This post focuses primarily on garments from the Edo period (1615-1868).  Most of the images reference uchikake, which is actually a heavily embellished over robe which would have been the top layer of an ensemble, but I will just use the term kimono for simplicity.
My husband's newer iPhone did a very good job of capturing the images in the low light of the galleries, but for better images and more information the catalog accompanying the exhibit, Kimono Style: Edo Traditions to Modern Design, is excellent.
Kyogen suit, detail, mid-19th c.

The kimono and related garments in the exhibit were worn by a variety of folks: actors, brides, wealthy women, fisherman and firefighters. The jacket above was part of a comic theater (Kyogen) costume and is made of hemp, as is the jacket below.  The rabbit motif references a Shinto tale of a clever rabbit who outwits some crocodiles to get across the sea.  Many kimono reference literature.

Kyogen jacket, early 19th c.
Of course, many are familiar with Noh costumes, elaborately decorated silk kimono worn by performers in these highly stylized plays. Many of these costumes featured gold embroidery, eye-catching and glittering on stage.
Noh costume, 19th c.

Noh costume, detail with shippo motif.

Kimono often feature traditional motifs commonly understood by the audience, such as the interlaced circles shippo pattern, symbolizing harmony and prosperity.

Designs for kimono were published in woodblock-printed pattern books, from which women, or their representatives such as a family steward, could select  suitable decoration.  Use of materials and decoration was closely circumscribed by sumptuary laws during the Edo period, as the military dictatorship of the shogunate kept control over society. Politics and social status were intertwined with clothing. 

Hishikawa Moronabu, book of designs, 1677.

Imura Katsukichi, order book of kosode patterns, 1716.

The kimono shape we know today evolved from an earlier type of garment called a kosode; the salient differences being the sleeve proportions and the sash - thinner than kimono obi and worn lower on the body, as seen in the figurine below, made for export to the West.

Porcelain figurine, c. 1670-90.
The kimono shape became codified by the end of the Edo period but colors, patterns and forms of decoration changed with the times and woe betide to the high-status lady who wore an out-of-date kimono.  Old, no-longer-chic kimono were not discarded, however, but often donated to Buddhist temples to be recycled as garments or liturgical textiles.
Buddhist monk's vestment, detail, 18th c.

Wealthy brides wore astonishingly decorated kimono, featuring all the skills of Japan's textile artisans, including: brocade weaving, embroidery, dyeing, and painting.  Symbolic motifs demonstrated that the wearer aspired to the attributes of the images.
For example, the kimono below features bamboo stalks, symbols of resilience and vitality. The folded paper decorations, in the shape of butterflies, symbolize a long marriage.  Other motifs in the kimono, including pine trees, turtles, plum blossoms and cranes, reference longevity (see first image of this post.)

Bridal kimono, 19th c.

Bridal kimono, detail.

Bridal kimono, mid-19th c.
The reddish-orange kimono above was worn by a samurai bride. She would have worn all white for the ceremony, then changed into a colorful robe for the banquet.  Auspicious images cover this kimono, including Mount Horai, near the hem, a mythical mountain associated with eternal life. We see cranes again, in the embroidery.

Bridal kimono, detail.

The turtle depicted has a "skirt" of threads attached to its rear end. These lines symbolize the seaweed that attaches to a sea turtle during its long life. The longer the trailing seaweed, the longer the life.

Detail of turtle, with seaweed trailing behind.
Finally, one more exquisitely embroidered kimono from this era.  This would have been worn by a high-status lady at court.  There are embroidered Chinese characters (Japanese borrows Chinese characters for part of the writing system) at the top of the body and on the sleeves which originally referenced a poem by courtier Miyako no Yoshika:
The weather clears, breezes comb the 
hair of the young willows;
The ice is melting, wavelets wash the whiskers
of the old bog moss.

Kimono, 18th century.

Kimono, detail.

10 November 2022

Weavers' Guild of Boston Show and Sale

Beautiful rug, Johanna Erickson.

A friend clued me into a wonderful sale of woven items by the Weavers Guild of Boston, whose annual sale took place November 4 and 5, at the Weston Art and Innovation Center, the "maker space" of the Weston public library system. Lots of wonderful items for sale - accessories such as scarves, wraps and jewelry, and textiles for the home too.  And we were allowed to touch!  I purchased a scarf for my daughter-in-law - hope she likes it.

I wasn't able to record every weaver's name for every item, but there was a lot of skill on display and exciting use of color.

Scarves in glowing hues.

Scarves in shades of white, black and gray.

Scarf - reminds me of the Drunkard's Path quilt pattern.

This year, 2022, is the 100th anniversary of the Guild. An interesting display board gave a bit of history of weaving and a bit about the craft today. From this display:

Weaving is the action of making fabric by interlacing threads.  This ancient process involves intertwining two distinct set of yarns or threads -the warp and the weft - at right angles to form cloth.  Warp threads are the length wise fibers that are stretched tight on a loom, and weft threads are laced horizontally through the warp threads.  (Weft is an old English word meaning "that which is woven.")  By crisscrossing the fiber strands in this way, a weaver can create textiles, such as cloth, carpets, tapestries, and more.

The display also included the graphic below, just about the best illustration I've seen of warp and weft.

Clear and concise explanatory image.

One room of the sale, with items for kitchen and dining table.

One room featured domestic textiles: dishtowels, runners, place mats, hot mitts, etc. Designs were both traditional and contemporary.

Dishtowels for sale.

Another area with wraps, jackets and scarves.

More from the display board on weaving:

Before the textile weaving process emerged, its underlying principles were applied in the creation of everyday necessities like fences, shelters, and baskets.  These construction relied upon the interlacing of small materials, such as twigs and leaves, to form stable objects.  Once ancient humans discovered how to spin plant fibers to create thread (some 20 or 30 thousand years ago), basic weaving principles were put to expansive use, providing woven textiles for both utility and expressions.
A towel by Marjie Thompson, based on a very old draft, or weaving pattern.

The weavers had to suspend their monthly meetings due to the pandemic.  Twenty-four members determined to make a community quilt, using small woven bits and pieces. From the project description:

Home Sweet Home 
The COVID-19 Closet Cleanup Collaboration 
by members of the Weavers' Guild of Boston
What does home and security mean to you in the time of Covid 19 pandemic? 
This theme brought our guild members together as we faced national quarantine in March 2020.  Zoom meetings began with small talk, and we laughed about the frenzy of cleaning closets. It was a time when going to the store was not possible.  By using pieces from previous projects, and reimagining them in a small format, our community quilt project came alive with joy and colorful expression. 
The individual blocks represent views from our own window to the world.  Featuring familiar snapshots, like a house, a partner, a pet, a good book, a windowsill with flowers, a fantasy portrait with a bag of craft supplies, are all rendered with handwoven fabrics.  As each block found its place in the panel, it was clear that the answer to our theme question revolved around love.

Home Sweet Home quilt created with hand-woven fabrics.

Block detail - the house wears a mask.

Detail of one block - wash on the line.

Weaving and embroidery combined.

My favorite block, simple but evocative.

29 October 2022

Paper Bag Hats by moses at the Mingei International Museum

Hats on heads.

Hats on display.

Remember "paper or plastic?" at the grocery check-out? Making puppets out of paper lunch bags? The all-time maestro of paper bag upcycling may be moses (born Murray Odessky, 1931-2015) and his moniker is indeed all lowercase.

We viewed this wonderful display of his work in the exhibit "Fold-Twist-Tie" at the Mingei International Museum, part of the art complex in Balboa Park the cultural center and garden in San Diego.

 moses moved to Hawaii and according to the exhibit wall text:

According to moses, his journey making hats began serendipitously on a New Year's Eve in 1979 when he brought some things to a party in a paper bag.  When he went home, he emptied a size 12 bag and turned it over his head.  It fit, and he formed it into a hat. The original concept for the hats was to create protection from the strong Hawaiian sun, but ideas kept coming, each hat inspired by a person, thing or idea over roughly a decade. moses created over 250 hats in total, ranging from relatively simple designs each made from a single bag to elaborate examples that transformed a hundred or more bags each into fanciful headdresses.  His past career experience as an package and graphic designer for Mattel and other firms informed his work, as did his love of literature, poetry and travel.  He was clearly influenced by the brilliance of other cultures just as he was inspired by the mundane.  He worked daily and diligently, either from a "studio" at the public library in Waimea or with a borrowed camera on the beach, photographing willing participants who somehow served as the perfect characters to model each hat.  He also visited schools all over the Big Island, teaching workshops to hundreds of children.  He also hosted countless workshops for adults.  Today, over 20 years since his first exhibition at Mingei, moses' hats continue to radiated prodigious talent, perceptive humor, his love of humble materials - and unexpected beauty.

The Mingei museum, which collects and displays what we commonly call "folk art," holds a collection of over 200 of moses' hats. In addition to the displays, a continuous video loop featured portraits of willing volunteers modelling the hats.  moses took snapshots of his hat models - some are shown in the first image in this post and more images can be admired at the website of his daughter, artist Kira Od.

Imaginative hat designs.

Shangri-la hat.

Image of Shangri-la on model.

Off to the races hat. Shades of Royal Ascot!

Off to the races hat on enthusiastic model.

Wall of hats.

Exhibit title on wall.
As the exhibit title indicates, many of the hats were made by simply folding, twisting and tying bags, but more elaborate  creations involved scissors, twine and white glue.

There was wall text with moses' instructions for making a paper bag hat; I would have loved a hand-out of this to learn more about his methods but will just experiment on my own, if I can find the bags in this era of reusable grocery totes.

More hats.

Artichoke hat.

As Halloween is Monday, I'll share a Halloween craft, made with a paper bag and tempera paint by my son some time ago in kindergarten. Believe it or not, this item is in mint condition.
Happy Halloween!