Yes, I Colour It, but It’s All Natural.

Textile artist Warabi, Saitama, Japan

Friends in Kitakyushu often talked about Ms Nakahara’s younger sister, Hitoko Fujisaki. She, too, is a textile artist like her sister, but they said she does more experimental work, such as collecting soil samples from all over Japan to make pill bugs or dango mushi in Japanese.  I had no idea what they looked like and I pictured balls of clay with large pieces of fibre  sticking out. I still do not know what those particular pieces look like but I now understand how the soil samples were probably used since I had the pleasure of meeting her the other day.

She was busy preparing for a joint show in October but kindly made some time in her busy schedule for me. Although she has lived in the Kanto area near Tokyo for most of her adult life, she does occasionally return to Kyushu to do some work. In fact, she has to do some of her work because she does not have enough space to do the dye work in Saitama. Wait! I am getting ahead of myself here. Perhaps I should first explain what kind of art she does and how she got started.

Teshigoto: Exhibition
Teshigoto (Handwork)

She is a textile artist who uses only natural, organic materials. (One of her woven button covers is shown on the left in the photograph above.) She uses the minerals in different soils to colour her fibres. For example, soils from Okinawa create orange, soils from Kagoshima in southern Japan where there are many hot springs or onsen result in orangey yellow, and the soil similar to that used to make the black walls in Kawagoe, Saitama makes grey. This makes sense if you think how paints and chalks were traditionally made centuries ago. This kind of dyeing is not that common, so she searched for someone who makes his own pastels using clays and soils. She said she went to his house and basically camped out on his yard until he agreed to teach her. (I do not know if she literally did that or not but she might have done exactly that!)

Although art-supply stores in Japan sell powdered pigments made from natural sources such as shells and minerals for painting, you cannot go to these stores and buy a jar of sulphur-rich dirt. You also cannot use the topsoil in your garden. If you added water to regular dirt to create a dye bath, you would end up with…mud. To get soil rich in minerals, you have to dig a hole that is deep enough to erect a tall building. This is not something that you can do yourself. Fujisaki goes to shops that specialize in dirt. Can you imagine going to Kyoto and going to buy soil? She does. She does not go to the gardening section of a local hardware store; she goes to places such as those that use local clays and soils to make walls in traditional Japanese houses. The methods are similar to those that use wattle and daub to make walls in Europe. She collects soils during her travels and saves them for later use.

When she is ready, she usually returns to the family house or occasionally goes somewhere else that has a yard or a garden because she dumps the used soil in the garden afterwards. Don’t worry! The garden is not harmed! She only uses the soil to colour the fibres. No inorganic matter is added to fix the colours; everything is 100% natural. She returns the soil back to the land in a way that will benefit the land. Isn’t she amazing?

Teshigoto at Masuii RDR Gallery & Shop
Teshigoto at Masuii RDR Gallery & Shop

The show in October features small objects using cloth made by Hitoko Fujisaki and ceramics made by Misako Akimoto, and it is held at the Masuii RDR Gallery & Shop in Kawaguchi, Saitama just north of Tokyo on the JR Keihin line. If you have any free time between October 8 and 13, please go and see the show. She is a fascinating woman with many stories.

Soon after the show in Kawaguchi ends, she will be in Kimono ni Supaisu (Spice in Kimono), another group show at  Gallery T.H.M. The concept is very simple: kimono and the accessories that go with it, such as an obi, a decorative brooch to pin on the obi, and so on.

Kimono ni Spaisu (Spice in Kimonos)
Kimono ni Supaisu (Spice in Kimonos)

She acts as a mentor to younger artists and invites them to take part in shows such as this throughout Japan. The show will be held from October 18 to 29 in Kitakyushu. Instructions on how to get to the gallery are shown here in Japanese. Even if you do not have a car, you can easily travel to the gallery by bus from Tobata station.

Kimono ni Spaisu (Spice in Kimono) at Gallery THM
Kimono ni Supaisu (Spice in Kimono) at Gallery THM

Gallery T.H.M. is not well known and not well publicized but has shows of a surprisingly high calibre. If this gallery were in any major city in North America, it would surely be a popular spot for locals and tourists. It has a quiet presence in an old house on a quiet street beside a ramen shop. Mr. Nakahara, one of the owners, does metal work and made the display stands and tables; sometimes some of his pieces are on sale in the gallery. Mrs. Nakahara (shown in the photograph with one of her pieces featuring marine life), Ms Fujisaki’s older sister, is also a textile artist, so many of the gallery shows have a textile theme to them. She also regularly acts as a mentor to younger artists and encourages them to take part in group shows.

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Both of these shows offer chances to support small galleries and lesser known artists. Any support you give them will surely be multiplied and given by them to a younger generation of artists.

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