31 May 2023

The Beauty of Chiso: Kimono Couture

Book about the Kyoto-based kimono maker Chiso.

The Worcester Art Museum had a significant exhibit of kimono history in 2021, entitled The Kimono in Print: 300 Years of Japanese Design.  I didn't make it to that show, celebrating Japan's national costume, but am grateful for the internet's ability to give me a fair substitute for in-person attendance.
An interactive online exhibit, The Beauty of Chiso: Kimono Couture, features the almost 500-year-old Chiso textile firm, based in Kyoto.   Chiso developed a unique kimono for the Worcester Art Museum exhibit - the fabric design is featured on the cover of the book, above. The publication accompanying the exhibit, in the image above, includes chapters on the long history of Chiso, sources of inspiration, innovations in surface design, and the kimono development process.  In addition to two dozen color plates and additional illustrations, the book also has a useful glossary and a graphic explaining the components of a kimono.  I love the fabric design in the image below, Plate 17 in the book.
Tatsuta River Design, silk crepe, 1890, designer Imao Keinen.

 Catalog ISBN: 978-1-911282-66-2

29 May 2023

Death and the Maid - Cecily Brown at The Met

Viewers enjoy the exhibit.

In April we visited family in New York and viewed Death and the Maid, an retrospective exhibit of work by New York City-based artist Cecily Brown.  The exhibit, including about 20 paintings as well as monotypes and sketches, was favorably reviewed in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.  It helps to have some knowledge of art history to appreciate the imagery of the paintings, as many of the works connect to earlier artists' work, such as the monotype below.  In this work Brown riffs on the genre of vanitas paintings, typically featuring young women fixated, Narcissus-like, on their image in a mirror while the composition forms a skull, a memento mori.  

All is Vanity (after Gilbert), monotype, 2006.
"Gilbert" refers to Charles Allen Gilbert, (1873-1929), a popular American illustrator who created the image below.  Brown updates this timeless theme for this era of social media and influencers.

All is Vanity, Gilbert, 1892. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Allan_Gilbert

The painting which gives the exhibit its title is below and echoes a work by Edvard Munch (1863-1944), which in turn continues the long tradition of juxtaposing young women with a skeletal angel of death, a reminder that youth and beauty are fragile and fleeting.  Below, two barely discernible vertical figures merge in a frenzied landscape.

Death and the Maid, 2022.

Death and Life (Death and the Maiden), Edvard Munch, 1894. https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/death-and-life/GgGrhNSsviphYA?hl=en

One of my favorites in the show is below, entitled "Selfie" and was painted early in the Covid-19 pandemic.  There's a reclining figure in the right foreground, and a mirror and vanity in the right background (with a suggestion of a face). The room is crowded with pictures, shelving, a wall clock; the sense of confinement and containment is palpable.  I really enjoy Brown's use of color.
Selfie, 2020.

Selfie, detail.

At the exhibit.

Another genre which Brown explores is the still life celebrating luscious displays of luxurious foodstuffs, such as lobster, table grapes, cherries. Animals often invade, or lurk in, the scene.  We think of this genre with regard to 17th-century  Dutch painters but modern painters such as Picasso painted still lifes too, even with a cat.

Lobsters, Oysters, Cherries and Pearls, 2020.

Still life with cat and lobster, Pablo Picasso, 1962. https://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/still-life-with-cat-and-lobster-1962

Lobster, Oysters, Cherries and Pearls, detail.

The  tablecloth,  cherries and lobster all merge in a swelter of red, relieved by white and cream suggesting a compote dish, the titular oysters and pearls. A black cat crouches, concealed beneath this swirl of luxury - a reminder of fickle fortune, perhaps.

There is an exhibition catalog, ISBN: 9781588397614.

30 April 2023

Shaped by the Loom - Navajo weaving at the Bard Graduate Center

Germantown blanket, ca. 1900, Diné artist.

In April we went to the Bard Graduate Center in New York City to see a small but powerful exhibit on the artistry of Navajo weaving, Shaped by the Loom.  "Navajo" is a term of Spanish colonial origin; the people refer to themselves as Diné, but I will use the term interchangeably in this post. 

 Info and samples of wool raised by Navajo.
From the wall text:
Each element of a Navajo weavng is carefully planned and executed.  To create a balanced composition, a weaver considers the formation of motifs, the placement and scale of design elements, and the combination of colors.  Symmetry is important, but fifth-generation Diné textile artist Lynda Teller Pete encourage flexibility.  As she explains, "your rug or textile is at the mercy of its environment," which often causes the warps to stretch and shrink, altering a weaving's dimensions and the proportions of the design.
Historically, the weavers worked with the natural colors of the sheep's wool. The color palette is more expansive than one might guess, ranging from pale cream to very dark gray and brown. The colors can be seen in the textile below, which features undyed yarn sourced from the artist's own flock.
Burnham Area Geometric Weaving, Marie Begay, ca. 2021

Burnham Area Geometric Weaving, detail.

From the wall text section 'Dyeing and Coloring':
Adinidiin - light - is magic.  It is prayer, projection, and perspective.  it is an all-seeing element that permeates all aspects of life and is found in land, air, water, and sky.  Moreover, light exists withing and radiates from each one of us as we are the connections between and within the elements. - Rapheal Begay, (Diné ), photographer
Initially the Navajo worked with the natural colors of their sheep's wool as well as mineral- and plant-derived colorants, including indigo and cochineal.  In the later part of the 19th century, with a growing tourist market, trade cloth made from synthetically-dyed  Germantown yarn was unwoven and re-spun for use in weavings.
Dye chart, Roselyn Washburn, 2019.
Dye chart, detail.

Untitled (Tourists), Gerald Nailor (Toh-Yah, Diné ), 1937.
In addition to new materials, new subjects were assimilated into the designs.  Trains brought settlers, trading posts and tourism, encouraging both exploitation of,  and new economic opportunities for, indigenous populations. The motifs along the trains are thunderbirds, a symbol of strength and protection.
Train pictorial weaving, Diné artist, 1880s.

The exhibit also featured tools and educational material, explaining the parts of the loom and the weaving process. The image below is from a book by Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas, How to Weave a Navajo Rug and Other Lessons from Spider Woman (Loveland, CO: Thrums Books, 2020).

Book illustration, Mychal Yellowman, 2020.

Contemporary Navajo weaving tools, Belvin Pete, Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas.

Navajo loom with unfinished weaving (sash belt), before 1910.

Weaver at Her Loom, Geanita John, ca. 2007.

Carrizo Summer, Kevin Aspaas, 2023.

The tradition is in good hands with weavers such as Kevin Aspaas (born 1995), whose weaving, above, is dyed with sagebrush and rabbitbrush.  
More historical images can be see here:  https://exhibitions.bgc.bard.edu/shapedbytheloom/collection/

01 April 2023

Beaverland, book by Leila Philip


No April's Fool today, just a sincere plug for a book I very much enjoyed, Beaverland, by Leila Philip.  It's a well-written volume of natural history, made engaging with a bit of humor too as well as some fascinating illustrations.  I've seen a beaver while paddling in the Charles River and at least one beaver has made a watery home in my city, a suburb of Boston. 

While on a family vacation in Montreal long ago, we bicycled to the Lachine Museum of the Fur Trade.  French voyageurs - early explorer/traders - bought or bartered beaver pelts from Native Americans.  At the museum we learned that the European hat making process did not utilize  the intact pelts for hat making but separated the soft underfur of the beaver pelts from the longer, coarser guard hairs.  The soft underfur was felted and this material was then molded into hats

Although silk became the preferred material for top hats, beaver pelts are still used today for the international fashion industry.  California recently outlawed the trade in new animal fur products; perhaps other states will follow suit.

20 March 2023

Patio pattern baby quilt

Next step - binding.

A new baby will arrive soon, so of course I made a quilt. Not for use in the crib until baby can safely roll over, but useful as a clean surface for "tummy time," a layer in the stroller, etc.

The pattern is one of my favorites, Patio, designed by Happy Zombie

Reminds me of the graphics of Alexander Girard.

I used fabric from my extensive stash and only had to buy the backing fabric. Many of the fabrics are vintage prints (pre-1960 or so) - we can date these fabrics as they are 36" wide, not the current standard of 45."  Most of the prints are "conversational" - this is the textile world's term for fabrics with figurative images.  One of my favorites is a variation on Little Red Riding Hood (above.)

Attenuated people.

Ships in a bottle.

A fun music-themed fabric.
Mid-century modern colors.

Save those shards of china.

The fabric below was produced by Rose and Hubble and is based on mosaics by Kaffe Fassett.  It's a useful print because of all the colors; I employed it as the binding for this quilt.
Based on a mosaic installation for the Chelsea Flower Show.

 The backing is a cute owl fabric by Robert Kaufman designer Ann Kelle.  Machine quilted for durability - just an edge-to-edge pattern called Meander, expertly done by Burlington Electric Quilters.


26 February 2023

Threads of LIfe - Stories told with stitching

ISBN 978-1-4197-3953-8
Just finished Scottish author Clare Hunter's book, Threads of Life, subtitled A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle.  In chapters with headings such as "Protest," "Identity," "Community," and "Loss," Hunter celebrates the stitch with personal, and political, reflections on everything from the Bayeux Tapestry to the AIDS quilt.  Oddly, the book contains no images - not one - so I read it with my tablet alongside, to search for pictures. Only after finishing the book did it occur to me to visit Hunter's website, where, indeed, there are many (public domain I assume) images of some of the artifacts referenced in the book.

21 February 2023

Pattern and Flow - Handmade ornamental paper at the Grolier Club

Peacock pattern marble paper, Robert Wu, no date, detail.

In February DH and I viewed "Pattern and Flow: A Golden Age of American Decorated Paper, 1960s to 2000s" at the Grolier Club in New York City until April 8, 2023.  The exhibit, glowingly reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, presented two families of decorated paper: marbled paper and paste paper.  Marbled paper is made by manipulating pigments sprinkled on thickened liquid - surface tension allows the pigments to float on top of the liquid - and then placing paper in contact with the floating pattern.  Paste paper is made by manipulating a thickened paste, with colorants, on paper.  Both kinds of decorated paper were used historically in book-binding. 

Video display, gallery.

The exhibit was initiated by Mindell Dubansky, the preservation librarian for the Metropolitan Museum's Watson Library.  Her efforts in documenting  decorated papers became the Paper Legacy Project, and now encompasses paper samples, as well as books, tools, studio records, catalogs and all manner of documentation of this craft from its revival in the 1960's to the present day.

I have a small personal connection to this material, having taken a paper marbling class with Faith Harrison at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education back in the 1980's. She was an excellent teacher and produced beautiful papers. One of her designs was licensed by Kleenex for a facial tissue box, seen below.
Wave pattern, Faith Harrison, 1980's.

Licensed patterns created by Faith Harrison, c. 1980's.

Vitrine with marbled papers and related books.

I loved seeing the innovative tools, many made by the artist themselves to achieve specific forms and shapes; many artists also mixed their own proprietary paint and pigment formulas, and used a variety of papers.  There was no depiction of the marbling or paste processes, however, but there are many Youtube videos showing the steps involved.

Some of the tools used by the artists.

A tool made by Claire Maziarczyk from plastic hair picks.

Ms. Maziarczyk manipulating colored paste on paper with her home-made tool.  

Gallery at the Grolier Club.

Marbling can be done on cloth, as documented in my earlier post.  In addition to licensing for paper products, decorated paper designs have been translated into quilting fabrics.

Paste paper, Marie Kelzer, 2005.

Kelzer designs licensed for quilt fabrics, 2005-6.

The profusely illustrated catalog for the exhibit is a beautiful book; ISBN 978-0-300-26619-1. 

Landscape paste painting, Madeleine M. Durham, 2016.

Rainbow Spanish, Iris Nevins, 2014.

Shades of Spain, Mimi Schleicher, 1991.

Daisy Garden, Robert Wu, ca. 2015.