Mermaids and Silkworms: A Review of Akihiko Izukura: The Way of Natural Textiles

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A recent vacation to Maui afforded me the opportunity to visit the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to see their current (and staggeringly beautiful) exhibit “Akihiko Izukura: The Way of Natural Textiles” (on view through March 19, 2017).

Stepping into the exhibit we were greeted with a large installation of hand-made silk orbs suspended in a large silk tube (“Eternal”). The desire to step inside the tubes and explore was strong, and we quickly learned that if we removed our shoes we could do exactly that.

2017-01-28 10.49.01wtmkIt was a magical experience to be in, and surrounded by silk made by tens of thousands of silkworms and hand-spun on an Edo period (1603-1868) spinning wheel by master craftsman Akihiko Izukura in only three months. Not surprisingly, “Eternal” was created to reflect the artists inspiration from the natural world, employing natural shapes, dyes, and materials. By contrast, the suspended panels of fabric surrounding the tube, 24 in all, took the artist three years. These panels show a variety of textures and patterns, but all created natural feeling permeable membranes.

2017-01-28 10.56.07wtmkThe reality of his work was informed by a small case containing the spinning wheel, dyes, silk-worm cocoons and other materials used with information on the craftsman’s history and process.

“Akihiko Izukura was born in 1942 to a family with a long history as Obi weavers in Nishijin, Kyoto, Japan. After formal studies at university and working in the family textile business he began his own personal journey into Ito-Shirabe (research on thread) learning complex ancient structures of weaving and braiding, mastering techniques of the Edo period that were nearly lost. His experience took him further into the ancient complicated techniques of ‘Ra’ (gossamer) and “Kara Kumi’ (braiding).”

2017-01-28 10.51.33wtmk“Years of research and hard work led him to his current philosophy of creating fabric or garments honoring sustainability and symbiosis with nature and the silkworm. His elaborated dialog within weaving, netting, braiding, entwining and dyeing led him to discover relationships between nature and man. his current work Senshoku-do includes eight methods: dyeing, reeling, spinning, plying, with four textile methods of weaving, braiding, netting and entwining.”

No wonder I was drawn to this work! Ancient techniques, research, and deep study of the history of thread certainly explained the amazing pieces on display. Quiet contemplative music filled the galleries, and as we left the larger objects behind we came to objects with more obvious purposes and more commercial appeal. Beautiful wall hangings, scarves, Kimono, obi, dresses, and jackets created using the same techniques (some of which were for sale).

2017-01-28 11.05.04wtmk2017-01-28 11.03.11wtmkTextures, colors, and woven shapes all seemed to reflect the experience we had been having in Maui – reminiscent of water, fish, seaweed and even mermaids.  Mariano Fortuny and Issey Miyake both felt referenced in the creation of the garments and textiles, especially the mermaid-like dresses that hung suspended between large swaths of fabric. A jacket in yellows and oranges at once reminded me of Fortuny, Miyake, and the way light filters through the ocean.

I left the exhibition feeling as if I’d been in an ethereal underwater world with shapes that reminded me of some of the more challenging knitted pieces I’d attempted to create myself. If you happen to be so lucky as to be in Maui – run don’t walk to see this marvelous show. (The exhibition catalog sold you in less than 3 weeks).

For an arm-chair tour, visit the gallery below:

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Kaffe Fassett: Dreaming in Colour (An Autobiography)

A Chenille and Lurex dress Fassett knitted with actual pearls, in front of one of his needlepoint tapestries. (1970s)

The new book, Dreaming in Colour, an autobiography by Kaffee Fassett, presents the story of this well-known, eclectic textile designer. Born in Big Sur, California, Fassett designed knitwear for Bill Gibb, the Missonis, and private clients (including Lauren Bacall and Barbara Streisand).

Though he trained briefly as a painter, his creative outlets have also included a wide-range of other textile arts, including needlepoint, rug-making, tapestries, costume design, yarn and fabric design, as well as quilting. He was also the subject of a rare, one-man retrospective show of his textile work at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1988. Though one can’t exactly call him a California designer (he’s lived in England most of his adult life), it’s clear his work was often inspired by California.

Kaffee Fassett in front of the Jars Tapestry, with a couple of his knits from the 1980s (Chapter opener for "The Glorious Eighties", pg 130)

Dreaming in Colour is a full of brightly colored photographs and illustrations of not only Fassett’s textile work, and illustrations, but also historical photographs. The chapters are laid out historically, and begin with a discussion of his “Childhood in California (1937-1956)”. They continue on to discuss “England in the Swinging Sixties” and “The Glorious Eighties,” among others: often focusing on the dress and textile history of those periods.

One interesting aspect of the book is how the photo-collages in each chapter show his development as a designer. Family photographs and artwork by other family members are juxtaposed by representations of his own work – showing a direct line of influence (such as a painting by his sister Holly of the Big Sur coastline shown alongside a handwoven fabric of the 1990s inspired by the colors of the ocean at Big Sur).

Those looking for previously unpublished information on Fassett’s design inspiration, history and art are sure to find their answers in Dreaming in Colour. It’s also a marvelous book for those in need of inspiration for their own art and craft endeavors.

Camp chairs Fassett covered with needlepoint florals, he called them "Gibson Girls" (1985-87)
The Hollyhock Tapestry, commission for the Stamford Shakespeare Company (9 X 6 feet), a more recent project.
Bordered Diamonds from "Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts" (2010) by Kaffe Fassett
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