Yosemite Renaissance 31 – 2016

Have you ever been to Yosemite in the Winter or early Spring? It is a glorious time to visit and enjoy the snow. One of the relatively unknown treasures of the valley at this time is the annual Yosemite Renaissance Art Competition, which debuts in late February. The show runs from Friday, February 26 through May 1, 2016 in Yosemite Valley. The opening night has a wonderful, well-attended reception at the main gallery next to the museum in the village. This year the reception is on Friday, February 26 from 5:30 – 7:30pm.

The show is open to all mediums, and I entered one of my landscape pieces called “Yosemite Reflections.” Out of a record 364 artists and 973 entries, they selected 55 pieces by 50 artists. I am thrilled to announce that my piece got into the show. Here’s my piece.

Yosemite Reflections - reduced
I hope you can come and see the show sometime while it is in Yosemite Valley. It will also travel to Kings Art Center in Hanford, CA (June through July) and Carnegie Art Center in Turlock, CA (August through September) after it closes in the Valley. If you want additional information about the exhibit, this is the link to the website.


Yasushi Ando – Yuzen Stencil Dyer

Beautiful gray kimonoAfter having a delightful lunch at a private tea house on the grounds of the Imperial Palace, we were privileged to see the work of Yasushi Ando, an artist who specializes in painting kimono with the yuzen stencil dye technique. This process uses rubber latex to trace the pattern of his designs. He paints the backgrounds first, then the foreground design. The color is fixed by steaming, and the latex is washed away with an oil based product. Embroidery is then added with gold thread or gold dust. Kimono with gold leaf on it cannot be washed. He has an exquisite kimono with a gray stencil design to show the results of this technique.

Sotei Ibata – Calligrapher

Preparing the InkSotei Ibata - calligrapher
Another artist we visited in Kyoto was Sotei Ibata, a well-known calligrapher. He gave us a talk on the history of calligraphy, which was interpreted for us by Takako, one of our tour guides. The calligraphy originated in China. There are 5 levels or styles of calligraphy, but only 2 of the styles are used currently. The formation of the letters is very important. In 1898, the Major Restoration occurred, and more Western influence was felt. The West also found great beauty in the calligraphy. In 1932, Mr. Ibata met with Sam Francis and discussed calligraphy with him. In 1968, Mr. Ibata started demonstrations on the West Coast of the US.

Ibata and Tools of the TradeStriving to Achieve
Here is Mr. Ibata with some of his brushes. Notice the exceptionally large horse hair brushes. He uses these on the extremely large papers. The washi paper is made larger for the calligraphy work. The ink (nikowa) was originally made from animal hide and charcoal, but now Mr. Ibata buys it in a bottle. The size of the brush used is dependent on the weight of the paper. For our demo he used a sheep brush. He spends time thinking about the design and where the white of the paper will be. To mount the calligraphy onto the backing paper, he uses a rice paste.

I bought one of his calligraphies that has the symbol for “striving to achieve.” This seems to be a common theme in my life.

Robert Yellin Gallery

Expatriate Robert Yellin
Judy playing the Hamon
We had a delightful visit to the Robert Yellin Gallery of pottery. Robert came to Japan about 28 years ago. He has also been writing a column on contemporary ceramics in Japan for the last 15 years. When the Internet started up, his father bought him a domain name of “Japanese Ceramics”. That was certainly a smart move. He gave us a talk on ceramics and played a song for us on a Homan, which is a laser cut metal drum that makes a sound like water. My sister Judy took a turn at playing the instrument. Following his talk we had another wonderful lunch and enjoyed his pottery displays. He had many exquisite pieces.
Pottery at the Robert Yellin Gallery
Lidded Jar

Kumihimo Artists

Kumihimo Dragon

Making Kumihimo

My Kumihimo BraidOur next stop was the home/studio of kumihimo artists Mitsuo Nakao and his wife. They are 4th generation kumihimo artists. They make silk tassels for Shinto shrines, festivals and temples. They also make silk cords for jewelry. Historically, the husahimo are cords made for the castles. Adding the tassles increases the value of the cording. For Zen temples, the knotting patterns used in the tassels are dependent on the sect, but green is always the color at the top of the tassel. For sumo wrestlers, the colors are different depending on the rank of the wrestler. The highest ranking sumo wrestler wears a purple cord and tassel.

The loom for making kumihomo is called a kakudai. I may have misspelled this word. Mr. Nakao let me braid a simple braid on his kakudai. Then Mrs. Nakao went off and added a loop, a gold knot, and a tassle and gave it to me as a gift. What a sweet beautiful gesture! She also gave everyone a gold knot with a loop. The Japanese love to give gifts (omiyage).

Mari Horie – Katazome Artist

Mari showing her workAnother studio artist we visited was Mari Horie, a master of Katazome, which is a paste resist stencil dye technique. She was a student of Keisuke Serizawa, one of Japan’s national treasures. In addition, she taught Nancy Craft, our tour guide. Mari’s work is done on paper, linen, silk, and cotton. She uses mineral pigments, synthetic dyes, and indigo dyes. Her designs are either free-form, stencil, or tie-dyed. Her inspirations are Japanese objects and the garden.

Katazome paste dryingTo make the stencils, she applies cut forms onto silk mesh to reinforce the silk. The stencil paste creates the resist and is hand-made from rice husks, sticky rice powder and salt water. The salt water keeps the right consistency and keeps the piece from curling. The paste is applied with a tool called a hera. When the resist is dried, the dye is applied to the design with brushes made from horse, sheep and deer hair. A second coat of dye is applied after the first coat is dry. The dyes are set with soy bean paste. There are only 10 colors that make up her base pigments. When the dye is dry, the resist is removed. This process takes about an hour. Mari does all the steps in the process, and it takes her about 2 months to finish a piece. Above right shows one of her pieces drying with the stencil paste design on it.

Samurai ready to be paintedSamuraiOn the left is a stencil of the samurai design that is ready to paint. On the right is my samurai on linen that I purchased.

Japan – Satoshi Arakawa’s Ceramic Studio

Throwing a potNext on the agenda, we went to Shigaraki to see the ceramic studio of Satoshi Arakawa, an up and coming ceramic artist. He gave us a demonstration of how he throws his pottery. Mr. Arakawa lives in a beautiful mountain home with his wife and son, where he has studio and has built his outdoor wood-burning kiln.

KilnThe kiln is a hill kiln or climbing kiln (anagama) that has 3 domes going up the hillside. He starts the fire in the lowest dome, then will light the wood in the middle area, then at the top. He burns red pine from his mountain in the kiln, and the ashes create the glaze for his pieces. It takes 5 days to fire a batch of pottery, and he and his wife take turns watching the kiln over the 5 days.

We then spent some time in his show studio admiring and purchasing his pottery.

Miho Museum, Shige Prefecture, Japan

View from the tunnelAfter we visited the Mori Indigo dye studio, we continued to the Miho Museum, located near the town of Shigaraki, in Shiga Prefecture. The museum was built to house the art collection of Mihoko Koyama, the heiress to the Toyobo textiles and one of the wealthiest women in Japan. It was designed by I. M. Pei and completed in 1997. The museum houses Koyama’s permanent collection of Asian art and antiquities. We were also able to see a temporary exhibit of ancient glass called “Feast of Color.

Entrance to the Miho MuseumThe main show piece of the Museum was the building itself. It is located on the top of a mountain. In order to fit it into the surroundings, the builders literally moved the vegetation and mountain-top off the mountain, built the Museum, and replaced the mountain top along with the plants and trees. There is a shuttle bus from the parking lot, but we chose to walk the one-quarter mile to the entrance. You walk through an enormous tunnel designed so that as you approach the end, the Museum is framed in the circular opening of the tunnel. This view was spectacular. The inside of the building was also stunning with lots of glass, views of the neighboring mountains, different levels and angles.

Japan Art Tour – Indigo Dye Studio

Mr. Mori and his indigo threads - reducedWhat a fascinating experience to see the dye complex of Mr. Mori and his son in the town of Konko in the Shige Prefecture. Their family has been in business for several hundred years. Like all of the other artists we visited, they showed immense pride in their work and a love for their processes, many of which have gone unchanged for hundreds of years. Mr. Mori has the only company where the entire process of indigo dyeing is done by him and his son from the growing of the tada indigo plants to the dyeing of the threads. Mrs. Mori also uses the dyed threads to weave her own fabric and scarves. Here is Mr. Mori showing us his dyed threads.

Vats of Indigo Dye - reducedMr Mori gets the silk threads from the Guma Prefecture. He then “degums” the threads using the ash from burned camelia trees.

The leaves of the indigo plant are composted in the basement of a 150 year old house. This fermentation process gets to 120 degrees and is processed for 3 months through the winter. The fermented soil is made into blocks for easier storage. Then the dye and water are put in large vats in the ground. These vats are heated with charcoal that is put directly into the vats. Variation in value is made by changing the number of times the threads are put in the dye bath. The darkest indigo dyes are dipped up to 30 times and dried in between each dip in the dye bath. Here are some of his vats of indigo.

Ohara, Japan – Persimmon Tannin Dye Studio

Woman painting umbrellas with persimmon tannin dyeWe visited another rustic studio in Ohara, Japan: the Persimmon Tannin Dye Studio. The tannins from persimmons make a beautiful rich brown color that is water resistant when dry. The technique is called kakishibu. This dye is applied to art stencils, umbrellas, purses, tote bags, flags, ropes, and anything else that needs to last a while and be resistant to wear and tear. Outside the shop and dyeing area, there was a woman painting umbrellas with the dyes. Her right hand was deformed, probably from years of the repetitive motion of holding the brush. She also had the sweetest face.