Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textile Design

Having my loom back up and in use, has me feeling inspired about textiles again and going through some of my favorite books. One of those books is an exhibit catalog, Serizawa, Master of Japanese Textile Design, that I picked up in September 2001 from an exhibit at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. I still remember how beautiful the exhibit was and the exhibit catalog is on my list of books I'd save in a fire. Not only is the content gorgeous, but the book itself is stunning.

Serizawa Keisuke (1895 – 1984) was a Japanese textile designer who in 1956 was given the title of Living National Treasure (or Holder of an Important Intangible Cultural Property as they call it in Japan) for his contribution to the textile dyeing technique known as kataezome. This technique involves using paper stencils to apply a rice-paste resist to a fabric. The fabric is dyed, then washed of the resist to reveal the design. Historically, each part of this process was done by a different artisan; one would design and cut the stencil, another would apply the resist design to the fabric, and another would dye it. Serizawa did all three himself and revived the art in the twentieth century.

A little background (summarized from the book), he first dreamed of becoming a professional artist, but was forced to take design classes in order to support his family. In his early 30s, he met Yanagi Soetsu, a man who made a spiritual journey through East Asia and developed a keen sense of the importance of traditional handicraft. He placed great value on the unknown craftspeople who made ordinary objects works of beauty. Based on these values, he invented the term mingei (literally “people’s art”) and worked to promote these ideals through writings and teachings. Serizawa was immediately attracted to these ideas. Around the same time he also saw an exhibit of stencil-dyed textiles from Okinawa, and soon thereafter he began to learn this technique. Mingei artists worked toward having objects that presented “the beauty that comes from everyday familiarity, the beauty of health and strength, the beauty of serviceability, the beauty of objects that move in harmony with their user’s movements, the beauty of tradition, and the beauty of honesty and solidity.”

Serizawa’s work is varied, he designed many different types of objects, such as kimonos, screens, book covers, flags, fans, tablecloths, the list goes on and on. In addition to his highly prized original pieces, he also worked to have his designs used in everyday objects such as fans and incense wrappers. His attention to detail is apparent in every example of his work and his perfection of this craft is remarkable and awe inspiring.

While flipping through this book, I decided to do a quick Google search and learned that there will be an exhibit of his work in New York City at the Japan Society from October 9 – January 17! I definitely won’t be missing this exhibit and anyone with a love of textiles should definitely try to get to it.

A quick description of the kataezome technique (in a very small nutshell):

  • Step 1: Cut the stencil
  • Step 2: Apply a silk netting to preserve the detailed cutting and prevent the stencil from curling.
  • Step 3: Make the paste
  • Step 4: Position the stencil on the cloth and apply the paste
  • Step 5: Apply the color to the paste-free areas
  • Step 6: Wash the fabric to remove the excess dye and the paste
  • Step 7: Dry the cloth

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