Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kyoto Bound

If it weren't for my wonderful friend Chisako, this trip would not have happened! Chisako and I met 10 years ago at a weaving workshop in Coupeville, Washington. By chance, several years later we found ourselves weaving side by side at the Silk Weaving Studio in Vancouver, B.C. It was a very sad day for me when Chisako and her husband returned Japan in 2007.

Little did I know that there would be a silver lining:  last year Chisako invited weavers from the Silk Weaving Studio to participate in a weaving exhibition at the Hinoki Gallery from September 18 - 28, 2010. This was a great opportunity and just the excuse I needed to finally take a trip to Japan. Diana Sanderson, owner of the Silk Weaving Studio, joined me on this trip and the two of us happily followed Chisako's lead as she guided us through the amazing world of textiles in and around Kyoto.

I'll try to capture and highlight some of the wonderful experiences we had and the talented and inspiring artists we met on this 2-week visit. Thank you Chisako!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 1

Chisako and I visited several galleries and shops on my first day. We stopped by a Craft Dyer who uses natural dyes on organic cotton clothing a 300-year-old tea merchant , and Sophora Gallery where I was really taken with ceramics by Toru Hatta. I dreamt about them for days and finally returned on my last day to fetch a few small cups. Now that I'm home I've put them to the test -- yes, the tea definitely tastes better in them!

The highlight of the day was a visit to a small gallery behind a fine metal -working shop featuring the work of artist Armel Barraud. She is a French artist who works with wire to produce Calder-like figures that become wall pieces and jewelry. She was living and working in Kyoto through a grant from Villa Kujoyama which awards residencies to artists and writers in order to strengthen intercultural dialogue between France and Japan. So wonderfully whimsical...


In a completely different vein, we also visited the dizzying Nishiki Food Market. So many pickles! So much fish! Beans in all shapes, forms and flavors! Yes, there's way more to Japanese food than sushi...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hinoki Gallery Show

On Friday, September 17 it took us 4 - 5 hours to get from Kyoto to the town of Katsuyama in Okayama Prefecture where the Hinoki Gallery is. En route we passed through some beautiful countryside tinged with the yellow-green color of rice planted on any available plot of land. Chisako's charming friend Akemi took time off her duties at her farm to meet us at the bus stop and drive us the last leg of our journey.

Akemi, Chisako, Diana and me in Katsuyama...after a wonderful lunch

After lunch we got to work setting up the show at the Hinoki Gallery. Yoko Kano, a talented weaver and textile artist, opened Hinoki 13 years ago. The gallery is housed in a 250-year-old former sake factory that had been owned and run by Yoko's family for many generations. It is where Yoko grew up and stayed to raise her own family of three children. Her daughter Kapo, who speaks beautiful English and teaches it to local students, helps Yoko keep the gallery running smoothly. They were incredibly warm and welcoming hosts and by the end of our visit we felt like family.

Front door of Hinoki Gallery with noren made by Yoko

Yoko in front of Hinoki Gallery building. Love those shibori dyed pants she made!

Behind the Gallery is Yoko's home and studio, leading to steps down to the river.

Hinoki Gallery interior, looking up into the rafters.

We loved this couple! He  made his shirt from a sporting-event flag he overdyed. Oh, and he also dyed the yarn for her dress with natural dyes... and wove the fabric. Her hat and 100-year old bag are to die for!

Chisako working the crowd at the opening!

Akiko, in her new scarf, made by me.

Our lovely hosts, Yoko and Kapo.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Shodo Iwagaki and the Mairai-Ji Zen Temple

On Sunday, September 19th, after leaving Katsuyama, seven of us stopped for Indian food on our way to visit the Mairai-Ji Zen Temple, set discreetly on a hillside street in a small village. I will never forget this magical visit.

Presiding over the temple is the charming, cheerful, and very talented Zen monk, Shodo Iwagaki (Chisako's friend Akiko knows him well and had made the arrangments for us to visit). As a young man, Shodo was a painter, but his artwork was interrupted when he had to complete his studies for the priesthood. He moved to the Mairai-Ji Zen Temple at the age of 35 (he is now about 70) where, among other things, he made it his life's work to adorn the interiors of the Temple with his artwork. His woodblock prints are bold, graphic and very modern and cover every surface on the walls and ceiling of the Temple. They are a stark contrast to the elaborate and traditional altar at the heart of the Temple, yet his artwork makes the space feel even more sacred. The less abstract artwork, mostly on the ceilings (yes, the ceilings!) depict writings from Zen Buddhism.

He entertained us for almost an hour -- Chisako translating for Diana and me -- and had all 7 of us laughing a good part of the time. He demonstrated his woodblock printing technique, gave us a tour of his "galleries", and served us tea. I felt so priveleged to be in this awesome space with this bright-eyed and charming monk.

Shodo Iwagaki at the Mairai-Ji Zen Temple

Shodo demonstrating his woodblock printing

Shodo's large block prints contrast with and complement the more traditional altar

Shodo's painted curtains

More curtains - I can't get enough of them!

Junco, and Shodo pouring tea

Shodo demonstrating the "proper" way to meditate

Friday, September 24, 2010


After touching down at the Palace Side Hotel in Kyoto for one night, we were off again early the next morning, September 20th. Paul, Chisako's husband, made arrangements to rent a car so the four of us -- Paul, Chisako, Diana and I -- could drive to Miyama to visit Hiroyuki Shindo's studio and Indigo Museum. Paul was quite adept at negotiating the winding roads through the hills and delivered us to Miyama safely and on schedule.

Miyama is a beautiful historic farming village -- about 2 hours' drive from Kyoto -- set in a valley surrounded by thickly forested mountains. Rice and soba (buckwheat) fields dominate the landscape, and as luck would have it, the soba was in full bloom with showy white flowers. Centuries-old thatched-roofed farmhouses are kept in pristine condition (thanks to government subsidies) for the enjoyment of Japanese tourists who flock to this area. It was a weekday, so we had relative peace and quiet and enjoyed leisurely walks down lanes bordered by tidy gardens. I couldn't decide whether I had just walked into a fairy tale or Eden itself!

The Hisaya Bed & Breakfast where the four of us were fed a delicious dinner and
traditional breakfast and slept comfortably on futons on tatami mats.

One SERIOUS thatched roof! They are at least 12" thick, can bear heavy snowfall in winter,
 and as the brochure says "they have a feminine and formative beauty".
If I could, I'd take brush to canvas and paint this pretty landscape
Bright yellow-green rice fields

Soba (buckwheat) in bloom. We enjoyed locally made soba noodles
 for lunch at a small restaurant. Mmmmmm.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hiroyuki Shindo and the Little Indigo Museum

"Since this rational process demands such sensitive perception that only a sort of 'sixth sense' or instinct can control it, we indigo dyers have no choice but to trust in the God of Indigo (Aizen Shin) who is enshrined in our workshops and to whom we pray for luck before starting any dyeing process. By creating my works using natural materials only, I wish to lead people to reconsider: what is nature? And: what is the Japanese tradition?"    Hiroyuki Shindo (from Brown Grotta catalog)

As much as we loved the thatched-roof farmhouses, they were not our real reason for trekking to Miyama. Our main purpose was to visit Hiroyuki Shindo's indigo studio and his "Little Indigo Museum." Hiroyuki Shindo is a respected and highly accomplished indigo dyer and artist. He came across my radar for the first time 12 or 13 years ago when I visited the Brown Grotta Gallery in Connecticut. His large, translucent indigo-dyed panels hung quietly in the gallery but nearly bowled me over when I saw them. Amorphous shapes in deep blue stood in stark contrast to a pure, handwoven white linen background-- like huge indigo clouds in a bright sky. I later learned more about him from Textile Magicians, a wonderful documentary about 5 Japanese artists (three of whom we met on this trip). If you love art and/or textiles, I highly recommend it.

Shindo-San moved to Miyama 30 years ago after teaching for several years in the art department at Kyoto University. He chose Miyama because the quality of the water is conducive to indigo dyeing, and because of the availability of ash for fermenting the indigo. Although Miyama wasn't a tourist destination when he moved there, it became popular 20 years later. It wasn't long before people were knocking on his door to see his studio and his collection. He finally decided to open his "Little Indigo Museum" 5 years ago. We're so glad he did!

Shindo-San is a lovely, gregarious man and speaks very good English, which gave Chisako a welcome break from translating. He welcomed the four of us warmly, and started by taking us directly upstairs to the farmhouse "attic" to see the current collection on display. Here are a few of several indigo textiles that were on display.

20th century kimono, "sekka" (snowflake) design. The design
 is complex, but the technique is simple: wood shapes are clamped
around the folded fabric, resisting the indigo dye.

Handwoven, indigo -dyed "jeans", work wear for the fields. They are for someone very tiny!

19th century quilted (sashiko) fireman's coat with freehand
 paste-resist decoration (tsutsuguki).

After he gave us a guided tour of his museum, Shindo-San brought us back downstairs to his studio. His indigo vats are set in the ground, and the one vat that was open had a beautiful "bloom" on its surface.

And, finally, he served us coffee and showed us his indigo-textiles collection from his recent trip to Hungary.

Shindo-San's work is in the permanent collections of the Chicago Art Institute, the American Craft Museum, the St. Louis Art Museum, and the Stediijk Museum in Amsterdam. Here are some photos of his art:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jun Tomita

"I live and work in t he mountains of northern Kyoto. I have a strong connection to nature and my surroundings. I have been producing and exhibiting my textiles in and out of Japan for 25 years. In my work is found a mixture of Japanese tradition, the influence of modern art and nature, which invokes strength and sensitivity, shap and color, surface and lines and the world of yin and yang."  Jun Tomita (from Brown Grotta catalog)

After spending three hours with Shindo-San, I would have died a happy woman, but there was still more to come! At noon we departed Miyama to make our way to the home and studio of Jun Tomita in a small town in northwest Kyoto.

I have to interject here that I was feeling so much gratitude for all of this -- the company of the friends I was travelling with, especially Chisako who made it all possible; the beautiful countryside; the food put on my plate three times a day, so beautifully presented; and to top it all off, the chance to meet such artists as Hiroyuki Shindo and Jun Tomita. This feeling recurred throughout the trip as we continued to meet remarkable people who were so open and welcoming to us.

Back to Tomita-San...it was a bit tricky finding him, and we had to ask two or three locals for directions. He welcomed us into his home, served us cold roasted barley tea (the perfect antidote to the hot, humid weather), and brought out several binders containing photos of his various exhibitions and publicity clippings. Conversation flowed easily, as he speaks excellent English. After showing us silk and linen ikat wall hangings reminiscent of Rothko paintings, he suggested we take a short hike up the hill to see his studio which is in a former greenhouse -- perfect for stretching out long warps which he paints under tension, tied to the back beam of his loom. This is a studio from my dreams -- light, space, water and a dedicated area for dyeing. Set on a hill overlooking farmland to boot!

Jun Tomita's greenhouse studio

A painted warp on a loom -- soon to be a felted wool rug

Tomita-San checking yarn for rugs he's making for Steve Jobs

Permanent exhibitions of Tomita-San's work are shown at Tawaraya Ryokan in Kyoto and The Toyama Modern Art Museum, Japan. His work is also in the permanent collections of the Stediijk Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Denver Museum of Art and the Israel Museum. Unfortunately, I don't have photos of his work that do it justice, but here are a few small pieces. He is also featured in the video "Textile Magicians", well worth a look.

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