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Archives for September, 2013

An Exhibition of My Collection of Rustic Ko Ema at The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin

September 30, 2013


I am thrilled to be showing my collection of 73 ko ema or small, rustic Shinto-Japanese votive paintings at The Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin.  The Douglas Hyde Gallery runs a program of world-class contemporary art exhibitions, and I am honored that this exhibition is my second at this esteemed gallery.  The first show, in fall 2009, was a selection from my collection of Japanese folk textiles.

VotiveShowBlog1I am particularly happy about this exhibition because I am especially fond of my collection of ko ema or small, rustic votive plaques which date to the early-to-mid 20th century.  Ko ema are not easily found, and amassing a group this large and diverse was a challenge.  I am grateful to the gallery’s director, John Hutchinson, for sharing my enthusiasm for this material and for offering to produce a full-scale exhibition.

VotiveShowBlog1jThe word ema means, literally, “picture horse.”  The reason for this is that in centuries past horses were offered as gifts by the faithful to Shinto shrines.  As this practice was a serious and often unattainable one for many, giving painted images of horses became popular.


Here we see many non-horse images.  Ema are used as petitions for prayers to be answered, or in thanks for a prayer which was answered. Each of the images on these ema represents a personal request from an individual, and the images relate to the nature of the request.

VotiveShowBlog1cAn ema showing eyes is asking for help with a malady of the eyes; an ema showing hands is similar.  An ema showing legs represents a petition for help with gynecological or sexual problems.

VotiveShowBlog1dSome ema offered to shrines by wealthy patrons are of large size and are elaborately painted, showing battle scenes or ships at sea, for example. Ko ema such as these are small and quickly painted.  Each measures about 5″ x 8″ or 13 cm x 20 cm, give or take.  These were painted by itinerant artisans who sold these plaques to those visiting a Shinto shrine.

VotiveShowBlog1fThose of you who have visited Japan and have gone to temples or shrines have seen multitudinous layers of ema hanging outside a shrine. I imagine the ko ema in this exhibition once were hanging in similar way.


VotiveShowBlog1gAlthough this collection is set, I am still on the hunt for more ema, particularly those that depict subject matter not included in this collection. This will take some time, patience, and the help of friends in Japan.



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A Whole Lot of Zokin: Sashiko Stitched Dustrags

September 17, 2013

Zokin12Those of you who follow my webshop know that I regularly offer for sale zokin.  Zokin are traditional Japanese dust rags which are hand stitched from leftover or re-purposed cotton cloth.

Zokin12aI just love zokin.  Each time I travel to Japan I buy all those that I can find if I’m lucky to find any at all.  I’m voracious in acquiring them not only because I like them so much, but also because they are harder and harder to find, like all Japanese folk textiles.

Zokin12bAsk any Japanese friend and they’ll tell you that they stitched their own zokin in first grade and that they used it to clean their desk and classroom.  Zokin are ingrained in Japanese culture.

Zokin12cMost zokin are hand stitched from about four layers of recycled cloth and they are usually stitched in the manner of those shown here, using broad sashiko stitching.  Sometimes they show fancier sashiko stitching, but the type on this page are most common.

Zokin12dMany of those who buy these zokin actually use them in the home, either as a place mat or for presentation, placing a zokin under a special ceramic piece or a vase of flowers.  Stay tuned to the webshop as I will be listing these zokin from time to time.

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A Rustic Okkochizome Shibori Kimono: Heavy Striped Cotton

September 5, 2013

KyushuShibori01Since I acquired this kimono a few years ago I’ve loved it.  It’s a dip-dyed or okkochizome shibori garment which is made of heavy, hand loomed, striped cotton and it was made in Kyushu.

KyushuShibori01aThe indigo is deep, velvety and warm in color.  The shibori is stitched, and the images are raw, bold and rustic–most of their meanings I am unable to decipher.

KyushuShibori01bWhat’s interesting is that the cotton is of such a heavy weight which is unusual for this type of garment; the weight is almost like a very light weight cotton canvas.

KyushuShibori01cI love that the images are so large in relation to the garment.  For example, the flower shown above measures 11 1/2″ in diameter.

KyushuShibori01dThe kimono itself measures 53″ x 50″ or 134.5 cm x 127 cm.  It was probably made in the second quarter of the twentieth century.


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