ICU Hachiro Yuasa Memorial Museum

Closes Nov. 18

During the age of Japonism in the 19th century, the popularity of oriental pattern design was one of the reasons why Western art collectors pursued Japanese art and culture with such a passion.

Today, traditional Japanese patterns, such as those seen on kimono, are still admired by many, and they are well-known worldwide for their design aesthetic and variety of motifs.

“The Design of Katagami” reveals the skilled, and often overlooked, craftsmanship that lies behind those patterns. Before being dyed into textiles, such designs start out as katagami — rice-paper stencils that have been waterproofed by persimmon juice. Katagami are used for a resist-dye process in which a pigment-resistant paste is used to stencil the patterns onto textiles.

The often surprisingly detailed and intricate patterns are cut out by artisans using many different kinds of knives. It takes a keen eye, steady hand and incredible precision that can only be achieved by years of experience. Take, for example, “Katagami: Paulownias in stripe pattern” — the flowers and foliage are presented on a background of fine lines. Every stripe, petal and leaf depicted involved cutting out and around the motif while keeping the rest of the stencil sheet in one piece. This could only be achieved by using several different techniques.

Accompanying the stencils on display are the items for which they were used, reminding us that though beautiful enough to be works of art themselves, the designs were for everyday objects. “Work kimono: Cherry Blossoms and cloud pattern,” for example, was once worn by members of a family.

ICU Hachiro Yuasa Memorial Museum exhibitions focus on Japanese “function and beauty,” promoting the aesthetics of everyday objects created by highly skilled craftsmen. Sadly, in this age of cheaper factory-manufactured goods, the number of such craftsmen, including katagami artisans, is on the decline. Exhibitions like this highlight the cultural importance of Japan’s traditional crafts and how we should be thinking about protecting their future.

ICU Hachiro Yuasa Memorial Museum, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., closed on Sat., Sun., Mon. and holidays; admission free. For more information, visit subsite.icu.ac.jp/yuasa_museum.

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