Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fish Tales

I treated myself to some relaxation time cutting stencils after the big show went up. I am supposed to be getting ready for a trunk show at the close of my Portland exhibit, but stencil cutting is one of the best ways I know to unwind. The images I was using were Asian vegetables and fish, from a Japanese clip art source. The vegetables I recognized mostly, but the fish were so specific that I got out my good Japanese cookbook, organized by ingredient, and when that was not enough I walked over to the OSU bookstore for a fish book so I could look them up. Here is one of the stencils I cut. This is a sea bream, a lovely red rockfish that is evidently as tasty as it is beautiful, and it shows up occasionally in Japanese textiles. I am looking forward to using it and painting the lovely red color. The other six fish in the series are not so brightly colored.

The convention of naturalistic images began during the Edo period, when scientific observation developed. I have a piece of antique silk with wonderful images of sea life, so detailed that I could easily identify porgy, tuna, flounder, and eel plus octopus, clam, and crab. I bought it in a shop in Tokyo particularly for the octopus since that was "my" animal during my research career, but now I am finding the fish fascinating.

Can you imagine wearing a delicate silk crepe summer kimono with this fierce looking porgy on it?

The flying koi banners you see are called koi nobori, carp banners. I was fortunate to be in Japan once during Boy's Day and got to see them for myself. Usually what one sees are carp (koi). Carp can be rather aggressive in the wild and Chinese legend has it that they can swim upward through a waterfall. Therefore they represent striving against adversity, a manly attribute. For this reason there are many textiles and banners for boy's day that depict carp. This is one that I bought several years ago.

I also have a stencil, one of the most intricate I ever cut, that shows carp ascending a waterfall. Susanna Kuo's book Carved Paper, has a similar stencil on the cover. I think I realized I had "arrived" as a stencil cutter when I found I could cut at that level of detail.

More often on women's kimono one sees the more languid and decorative ornamental koi we associate with Japanese gardens. I have a stencil I use for indigo but it is much more interesting when I paint it with my pigment dyes. This fabric panel is very impressionistic. The resist paste defines the image clearly, but I like the way the loose application of color seems to break up the image like moving water.

My own fish art these days is mostly salmon and trout. As an invertebrate zoologist I tended to overlook fish in favor of the bright colors of the tide pool animals I love. When I got to really looking at trout I discovered what flashy little creatures they really are. The three small quilts I did for the most recent show depict Dolly Varden, and Brook Trout with their delicate colored spots and rich red spawning Coho.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Here it is, May already. I did not think it was possible to work as hard as I have done for the last two months. My husband had emergency surgery right after my last post and once that was over I have spent every spare moment getting ready for a wonderful exhibit at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland, followed by the biggest show of my textile career. The invitation came from our local historical society museum, not, one would think, the most exciting of venues. (It is located at 1101 Main St., Philomath, OR and is open 10-4:30 Tue-Sat until June 13. bentoncountymuseum.org).

The gallery is in an old college building with an auditorium that is used for well known biennial quilt exhibits and other art displays. It is not usual to be invited for a solo show there so it was quite an honor and it cost me nothing. It is a wonderful large room, high ceilings, good lighting and there is a curator to help hang the show, paint the walls, send out press releases etc., and plan the reception. It would be nice if the show were in the Portland area so more folks could see it, but a good many friends are driving down so I am content.

I went in two months ago and got a plan of the space. Once I got my Portland show pieces completed and hung I looked at my remaining inventory. I really had to get busy. I finished nine quilts and five noren in six weeks (with the help of Linda Alexander, my wonderful machine quilting expert, for three of them.) There are twenty-two quilts, including three bed-sized ones, and ten noren, the asa door curtains I like making so much.

The opening was last Friday. It is a busy time of year and there had been openings the two previous days, so it was not crowded, but I had one potential student who came all the way from Michigan to visit her daughter and they came. One art patron friend told me it was the prettiest show he had ever seen in that space; it just made the room sing. That made me happy. The word is getting around about it and people are admitting they forgot or had some life-complication. Such is life. I moped around about it for awhile on Saturday and then took myself by the collar and told myself to just grow up and get over it.

This is the auditorium space with the three big quilts.

The long fish quilts had sold before the show opened. One we borrowed back for the exhibit and the second will be delivered to the Del Thomas Contemporary Quilt Collection after the show closes. I did finish three little ones in time for the show. I will talk about them, and fish in general, in my next post. The green piece at the end is the most experimental piece I have ever done.

It is called "Jellies" and was inspired by the look of the water in Puget Sound. It could be green marble based on the way it looks from the top deck of a ferry boat, but then the sight of a huge transparent jellyfish reminds you the water is transparent also. It has a sheer overlay. I machine stitched bubbles on the overlay to give it some texture but the quilt underneath is hand quilted and stretched on a frame. It moves delicately with the slightest breath of air and it really looks like water. The jellyfish stencils were almost the first I ever cut when I was designing my own stencils and the top was finished years ago. It has been put away for a long time because I could not figure out how to hang it. Nothing like a deadline and a blank wall to get you moving on a stalled project. We went to Home Depot and prowled up and down the hardware aisles until we finally found the little hooks designed to support the middle of a cafe curtain rod. They were perfect for supporting the dowel far enough away from the face of the frame and easy to screw into the wall.

The opposite wall was home for two pieces inspired by the night sky in the Willamette Valley. The long one is a six panel noren, actually a triptych of three two-panel noren. In order to paint the long background I sewed the panels of ramie together with a zig-zag stitch using invisible nylon thread. Then I stretched it, painted the sky and foreground, applied the stencils and resist paste for the trees and painted them. (It worked fine, but I had an awful time removing the stitching. When they say invisible they are not kidding.) The small trees were added with silkscreens made from photographs of other trees. We often see circular clusters of the native white oak trees growing around where the trunk of an older tree used to be. I have been told they are left from when the local native people burned the valley. The quilt on the right has a field of red clover in the foreground.

The last pictures are of the stage area with other noren and one of the nice perks of a museum show, a video kiosk to play my Art Beat video. I was really grateful for the opportunity to explain my process and share tools, stencils and some history with the viewers.