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Archives for October, 2008

An Omi Jofu Child’s Kimono: Indigo Dyed Hemp or Ramie

October 30, 2008

Omi jofu is one of Japan’s most beautiful and highly regarded asa textiles.  Along with the fabulously refined asa cloth called Echigo jofu from Japan’s eastern region (present day Niigata) and the as-fine-as-silk Okinawan asa cloth, Miyako jofu, these three types of hemp or ramie cloth are the most elegant hand woven asa cloth in the country.

Omi jofu is woven in Shiga Prefecture, which neighbors Kyoto Prefecture; omi jofu is made from both hemp and ramie, and the best examples are of hand plied yarns.  In this child’s kimono, we see Omi jofu’s characteristic indigo dyed kasuri or ikat weave.  This small kimono bears the lovely pattern of paulownia flowers, folding fans and plum blossoms, images that suggest delicacy and fortitude simultaneously.

It is important to note that the fine asa cloth from Echigo and Omi are both directly influenced by the kasuri woven in Okinawa, and the importance of Okinawan fabrics on the Japanese culture cannot be overstated.  In fact, during the past centuries Echigo traded directly with Okinawa, and the impact of Okinawa’s kasuri on that of Echigo is evident.

Omi jofu, Echigo jofu and Miyako jofu are each very collectible due to their fine quality, and, as can be expected, each is highly priced and can be extremely valuable.

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Back From Japan

October 28, 2008

Still unpacked, but I wanted to write a post to say that I’m back from Japan and I will be uploading my website with new items this week, on Thursday or Friday–and yes, you do see things as shown in this photo all over Japan.

This photo was snapped outside a magnificent restaurant, Shishigatani-Sansou, high in Kyoto’s eastern hills or Higashiyama; the view of the hills and the city in the distance is amazingly beautiful.  My friends Aimiya-san, Nakahara-san and Fujii-san from Kyoto’s Gallery Granpie, a shop with beautiful rugs, textiles and objects from all over the world, hosted me to lunch–and while traveling back from the restaurant down the mountain to Kyoto city, three wild monkeys swung in front of our car, chasing each other!  A fun site, to be sure.

Stay tuned for more posts and I’ll make sure to upload some great new pieces to my site this week–with a lot more coming in subsequent weeks.

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On the Road: Going to Japan

October 14, 2008

Today I’m leaving for Japan, where I will be for almost two weeks.  I will be looking for fabulous and rare textiles to post on my site and to see friends–and to drink in the culture, of course.

I’ll be in Kyoto (where these photos were taken) with just one day in Tokyo.  I’m really looking forward to sourcing wonderful things to sell, so if there are any requests from you while I’m on the road, drop me a line.  I’ll be a moving target while in Japan, so I don’t think I’ll be posting while there, but certainly I will do so when I return.

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Daikoku and Ebisu: Gods of Fortune

October 13, 2008

Right about now we all need a reprieve from thinking about the tanking global economy, and what better way to do so than to introduce two of Japan’s most beloved deities, Ebisu (left) and Daikoku (right), the ubiquitous “Gods of Good Fortune” and two of Japan’s “Seven Lucky Gods.” They are sometimes considered to be father (Daikoku) and son (Ebisu).  They are shown here in folk depictions.

Ebisu is the God of Fisherman and Fortune, not surprising that we find fortune and fish joined in a thought couplet in Japan, whose sustenance relies on abundance of fish.  Ebisu is shown as jolly, bearded fisherman shown holding a fishing rod in his right hand (in this case it is missing), and a large sea bream–a symbol of good fortune–in his left hand, or slung over his back.

Daikoku is the God of Wealth and Farmers;  in his popular form in Japan he is considered to be the “god of success is worldly endeavors” and he is shown, plump and smiling, standing on rice bales and, in his left hand, his trusty “magic mallet” which can bestow treasures when tapped.  He is often shown carrying a heavy bag of fortunate goodies.

Daikoku’s origins are Indian, not uncommon with certain Japanese deities: Buddhism traveled to Japan from India via China and Korea, and some of Buddhism’s early beliefs were syncretized with Hinduism: Hindu deities are installed in some of the most important  Nara, Heian and Kamakura era temples along with Buddhist deities.

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A Magnificent, Indian Kantha Coverlet

October 9, 2008

On the new postings on my website this week I am showing this magnificent kantha embroidered coverlet.  Kantha is my absolute favorite of India’s folk textile traditions, and the high esteem in which I hold kantha is shared by a multitude of others.  Kantha embroidered cloth is the province of women and its territory is that of West Bengal and Bihar in India and in Bangladesh, whose Bangladesh National Museum has a staggeringly good collection of their indigenous textile tradition.

Kantha’s origins are fascinating: women in disparate villages thoughout this eastern region of the subcontinent would take worn-out dhotis (men’s “sarongs”) and sarees–usually of white cotton with a simple, colored border: think Mother Teresa’s outfit–and they would remove the colored borders.  They’d fastidiously flatten the cotton cloth and often they’d layer it.  In old, traditional kanthas, the colored embroidery threads would be drawn out of the borders and would be used to quilt the layered, recycled white cloth in fantastic pictorial opulence.

Classic Hindu kanthas show a central lotus, usually with eight petals, and this represents the universe.  The overall design of the kantha, which was often improvised, would grow around the center. The entire kantha is an intricate network of tiny stitches: even the white areas of the kantha are stitched and you can see how stitching is done in tight rows around the colored images, creating a kind of radiating effect.

Muslim ladies made kanthas and theirs would often be stitched with repeat patterns or non-illustrative images which is in keeping with their faith.  I have a fantastic kantha which I believe was stitched by Muslims which I may show later on: the entire textile is a repeat pattern of intensely stitched triangles in formation, or, as they call the motif, the kautar khupi or pigeon coop.

It is said that kanthas are the outgrowth of traditional, ritual diagrams (called alpana) that women would draw on their floor using rice paste.  Kanthas are of all sizes, from small to very large, and they are used for many purposes: they are used as book covers or as an envelope to hold the Quran, for storing jewelry, for seat covers, bed covers and for a kind of floor covering used for meals.  Kanthas are diverse and highly prized by the communities that make them.

The great India scholar and curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Stella Kramrisch, collected kantha during her lifetime and has donated her collection to the museum.  Her writings on Indian culture and Hinduism are some of the most profound in Western scholarship, and here is a long quote on kantha’s relationship to Hindu thinking from a catalog to her exhibition, “Unknown India: Ritual Art in Tribe and Village” from 1968: “Textile symbolism in India is hallowed by tradition.  In the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, the universe is envisioned as a fabric woven by the gods.  The cosmos, the ordered universe, is one continuous fabric with its warp and woof making a grid pattern.  Hence the importance of wholeness, not only of the uncut garment, like the sari or the dhoti, but also of the cloth woven all in one piece, on which a sacred picture is to be painted.  Whether as a cover for the body or as a ground for a painting, the uncut fabric is a symbol of totality and integrity.  It symbolizes the whole of manifestation.  Inversely, rags are offered to the gods.  Chindiyadeo, the Lord of Tatters, gives a new whole cloth if a rag is offered to him.  There are rag shrines all over the country.  Their goddess is Chithariya Bhavani, Our Lady of Tatters.  The Buddha  wore a patchwork robe (sanghati).  Some of the reliefs of the Mathura school of the second century A.D. show him thus clad.  Lord Chaitanya (1485-1533), the apostle and visionary, draped in a kantha the ecstasies which overwhelmed his body.  The colourful patchwork of the robes of saints form part of miniature paintings of the Mughal period.  The patched robe of the Buddha or of a saint belongs to him in his nature of Saviour.  The rags are given a new wholeness.  They clothe holiness.”

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A Beautiful Bowl by Naoto Ishii

October 6, 2008

This past spring, when I was in Japan, I went with a group of friends deep into Kyoto Prefecture to Kyotanba, to visit a young potter, Naoto Ishii.  Ishii-san’s sensibility and ceramics are just perfect: this piece, shown here, was offered to me by Ishii-san when we were viewing his kiln: this pot, set aside on a tall set of shelves next to the kiln, was a ‘reject’ that I found beautiful.  What a wondeful gift!

Ishii-san and his wife, Sumiko, live in a farmhouse, and it is one of the most beautiful homes I’ve seen. Ishii-san’s wife is a sylist working in magazine editorial and her touch in transforming this home into a sanctuary of wabi-sabi perfection is quite evident.

Ishii-san loves Korean art and objects and we were shown some of his impressive Korean ceramics and his wonderful, antique pojagi collection, including a stunning grey piece.  Moreover, we were also treated a view into his private collection of ancient Japanese ceramics, including an exquisite, elaborate Jomon small bowl.

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Hand Cut Paper Family Crests

October 1, 2008

Mon, or family crests, have a long history in Japan.  Originally used by the ruling class–and said to have developed around the 12th century, first to identify soldiers on the battlefield–mon are ingeniously designed and are usually circular in format.  The subjects of mon are drawn from a variety of sources and we can roughly categorize mon imagery from the categories of heaven and earth, plants, flowers, trees, man-made objects and ideographs.  In each case, there is an exquisite sophsitication in their rendering.

Although once the province of the elite, in later epochs mon were democratized and were adopted by a wide swath of the Japanese population: mon appear on formal kimono as well as on country textiles, especially on indigo dyed items used for the bridal trousseau such as yogi (sleeping kimono), furoshiki (wrapping cloths) and the like.  I’m not sure what was the purpose for this small collection of contemporary paper cuts, however they are beautifully decorative and I have a huge stash of them that I bought in a big lot in Japan.   This set of ten are available on my site.

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