Art for the Environment Exhibition at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

When devastating fires engulfed Northern California several weeks ago, my kids’ school shut down due to heavy smoke. Our family decided to escape the Bay Area for the day. We headed south, to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where smoke maps promised better air. As it turned out, the air was just as hazy in Monterey, but the aquarium was as lovely as ever. As we made our way through the exhibits, I stumbled upon an unexpected surprise: the Art for the Environment exhibition.

This upcycled art exhibit displayed works by international artists who, like myself, are concerned with the growing waste created by humanity. These artists, too, use discarded items to create their art, and, like me, believe that art can inspire change in attitudes as well as behaviors. But whereas I use upcycled textiles to create my work, these artists use plastic waste. Their work concentrates around the topic of marine life and the health of the oceans.

A Virtual Tour of the Art for the Environment Exhibition

Alison McDonald‘s “Message in a Bottle” examines the negative and positive influences plastics have on the natural world. The empty spaces she created symbolize the negative effects. The emerging plastic kelp symbolize hope for the oceans.

The Turkish artist Gulnur Ozdaglar believes that the solution to plastic waste is not recycling but rather upcycling. She creates enchanting objects out of plastic waste. Her “Jelly PET Bowls” seem to float through the air the way jelly fish appear to float in water.

See the beautiful details up close:

Chris Jordan combined the horror of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with Hokusai’s famous woodcut The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. He re-interpreted the woodcut by creating it out of plastic waste.

His piece is made out of 2.4 million bits of plastic, which is the estimated number of pounds of plastic that enter the ocean every single hour. Here is a close-up:

The Japanese artist Sayaka Ganz creates sea creatures out of discarded plastic. Ganz grew up in Japan, where Shinto beliefs taught her that every object has a spirit, and that items discarded before their time weep in the trash bin.

This is her “Leatherback Sea Turtle,” a commentary of our use-and-dispose society.

And this is “Laysan Albatross:”

The photographer Jerry Takigawa is also concerned with the plight of the albatross. He created a series of photos titles “False Food,” in which he arranged bits and pieces of colorful and shiny objects that albatrosses often mistake for food:

This problem, of course, is real, as seen here:

South African artist Neath Nash creates lamps and home decor out of materials from discarded items. This, for example, is a lamp he created called “Milkhandle Ball:”

Nash is dedicated to upcycling other people’s rubbish, and by doing so he creats useful objects, provides jobs to local craftspeople, and raises awareness to environmental issues.

Artist Katharine Harvey creates monumental sculptures using everyday waste. She tries to show the effect plastics have on our world, and encourage people to keep the oceans clean. Her work “To the Depths” is a sobering wall-size:

And up-close:

What Can We Do?

We created a monumental plastic pollution problem, which can feel overwhelming. We did this in an astounding fifty years. Plastics didn’t exist on a large scale before the 1950’s, and weren’t mass-produced before the 60’s. We created a huge mess in a very short time, polluting our world as well as our fellow-creatures–and ourselves. But since we created this problem, we can also solve it. I really believe that humanity can overcome this, if we only put our minds to it.

The actions of each and every one of us matter. You can do your bit to help our planet, and as a result–our future generations. You don’t even need to do anything big. Just start small:

  • Shop less. You most likely already have everything you need.
  • Use less plastic. Replace disposable plastic items with multi-use non-plastic ones: replace single-use bottles with multi-use ones; stop using plastic bags and switch to reusable fabric ones. Buy non-plastic items whenever possible.
  • Clean after yourself and keep our environment little free. See litter on the pavement? Pick it up. Join groups to keep roadsides and beaches clean. Disposed of garbage properly. Litter picked off land will not make it to the ocean.
  • To prevent chemicals and toxins from reaching the sea, use less of them in your home and garden. Switch to environmentally-friendly products instead. And always make sure you dispose of things like paint, oil and other toxins by bringing them to a  waste disposal site.

Do you have more ideas? If so, I’d love to hear them!

Be a Conscientious Giver This Holiday Season

We’re a couple of days away from Black Friday, the biggest shopping frenzy of the year. Before you go stand in line in front of a big-box store in the middle of the night, stop a second to consider this:

Most of us already have enough stuff and then some more.

The flood of cheap imported goods in the last few decades turned our societies into cultures of consumerism and excessive materialism. We fill birthday goodie bags with cheap plastic trinkets that are tossed within hours. Many buy clothes and get rid of them after an average of three wears. We produce high-tech appliances that don’t last. We go shopping out of boredom or as a pastime; buy things just because they’re cheap; get rid of perfectly good items only to make room for the next trendy thing. Many (most!) of us have houses full of stuff we never use. We have turned into unaware hoarders.

And then we buy books or hire professionals to help us get rid of it all…

Our consumption habits have a HUGE impact on the planet we live in. Our short-term greed is destroying the prospects of our long-term survival.

And yet, giving is a huge part of the holiday season, and a long-established way to show people we care. So what should a conscientious consumer do?

I say, give responsibly.

Here are a few suggestions:

Give Experiences, Not Things

Experiences build memories that last forever. They enrich lives. Most importantly, they forge connections between people. There are endless possibilities that you can tailor to any budget. Some are entirely free. Others can cost a fortune. There’s a full range in-between.

Here are some ideas: Go hiking with your friends. Give tired parents a coupon for babysitting (and then babysit when they ask you). Take a loved one to the movies. Organize a family camping trip. Buy tickets to an exhibition, a museum, a concert, a play, an opera, a ballet, a Renaissance Fair or any other event. Last year my kids really wanted to see Hamilton. The entire extended family chipped in, and they got tickets as holiday gifts AND birthdays combined. They still talk about it… Take your family on a road trip, a cruise or an overseas trip.

Or, if you want to honor someone AND help those who really need it most, make a donation to a favorite charity in someone’s name.

Give Something that is Designed to Get Consumed or Used Up

This is a combination of traditional gifts and experiences. It involves giving a physical item, but one that will be consumed or used up, and which will therefore not add to the clutter in a recipient’s home. This category of gifts involves foods, drinks, and things like body care or living plants.

We all need to eat, and most of us enjoy it. There is something very basic and satisfying about eating together and sharing food. Like experiences, this is something that can be tailored to any budget.

Cook or bake something special for the people you care about. It’ll be great if you get to eat it together, but even just giving it will feel good. You can also buy some special foods, something that people don’t eat every day: a special bottle of wine; artisan-made chocolates; a local specialty from a place you visited. Or, you can take people out to a restaurant. You can choose how fancy you want it to be.

Things that get used up, like soaps, lotions, bath bombs and such, also provide a fun experience. They last for a while, giving ongoing pleasure, but don’t add to long-term stuff accumulation.

Living plants are a lasting gift. They don’t get used up, but they bring a piece of nature into homes, beautify gardens, and give back to the earth (not to mention help clean the air). When I was a pre-teen, a friend gave me a potted plant. Many decades later, it is still very much alive, in my parents’ home.

Make Your Own Gifts

When you make something yourself, you put a little part of your soul into it. Give it to the right people, and they will know to appreciate and cherish it. When I went to visit my family last year, for example, I got to bring a suitcase-full of my work with me. Giving my own art to the people I love was the best feeling in the world!

I know, not everyone likes to make things, and that’s OK. Many of us want to but don’t have the time. Especially not around the holidays, a busy season for us all. Even I don’t have time to make handmade holiday gifts. I make and give at other times of the year.

If you do chose to make your own gifts, be careful about WHO you give them to. Too many people don’t appreciate handmade, or the time and efforts you put into making your gift. Give such a precious thing only to someone you KNOW will appreciate it.

Buy Locally, From a Real Person

If you do want to buy physical gift items, consider buying from a real, local person.

It’s true that big-box Chinese imports are much cheaper. But they’re also made by people who aren’t paid well and who work in sub-optimal conditions. They’re made in factories that employ children and mistreat workers. They contribute to environmental pollution: to the poisoning of waterways and air. Shipping them thousands of miles is also costly in environmental terms. We should care about this even if this happens far away. We all share the same earth. Dirty air and water will eventually harm us, too. Micro plastics are already found in almost everyone’s guts. We ALL  feel the effects of climate change.

You will pay more if you buy from a real person in your community. BUT you will also make a difference in the life of a neighbor. You will be contributing to your local economy, something that will eventually benefit you in return. And you will probably get a better-quality item, something that will last longer and, in the long run, save you money.

You could buy a cheap mass-produced “reusable” shopping bag, for example. Just don’t be surprised if it fails you at the worst possible moment.

Or, you could spend more on a beautiful handcrafted bag that will last for years 🙂

  • Find a local artisan who uses upcycled materials and achieve a double goal.
  • Buy items directly from their makers.
  • Or, support a local mom-and-pop shop that sells manufactured goods. It’s in your interest to keep small shops open.

Buy Ethically

If you can’t find a local person who creates the things you want, make informed decisions about who else to buy from. Do some research about companies you consider. Learn which factories they produce their goods in, and how they treat their workers. Try to buy from ethical companies that treat workers well and care for the environment. Buy fair trade, recycled, socially-responsible.

 

Most importantly, don’t get caught up in the frenzy of shopping, and don’t let the burden of gift-giving stress you out. Holidays are all about spending time with the people you care about, after all. They’re about taking time off from the hurdles of life and about relaxing. Make sure you do all of that this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Two Really Big, Giant, Oversized Totes

You might already know that I draw much of my inspiration from the textiles I find. When I choose fabrics, I only pick ones that appeal to me. Those include textiles with pleasing colors, interesting designs, and, just as importantly–nice textures. The way a piece of fabric FEELS really matters to me because some fabrics are just … not that nice to handle…

I have a room-full of beautiful textiles (as you probably know if you’ve been following my uphill battles to keep them tidy). I like them all (or most of them, anyway), but every now and then I find a piece that is really extra ordinary. Sometimes I know what to make out of it right away. Other times it sits there, waiting, for months or even years.

This is what happened with these two beautiful pieces I purchased from FabMo over a year ago:

They seemed to have come from the same design line, so I knew I’d have to use them in similar ways, but I just wasn’t quite sure what to use them FOR. They were rather large: 18″ x 18″, had a Persian-art feel, and told the story of a hunt. As a vegetarian, I’m not a supporter of hunts, but as a historian I am just a sucker for stories… And I could still appreciate the aesthetics of the fabric…

So there they sat, in one of my piles, waiting patiently. Until I re-tidied my fabric cabinet last week, and re-discovered them once more. This time I had just spent a week sewing totes.  When I saw them again I just knew that the only way to show their true beauty would be by making them, too, into totes.

I didn’t have the heart to cut them up, though, because that would have cut parts of the story off. So I set out to sew the biggest totes I have ever made.

I first found complimenting fabrics to frame them with:

Then made sure the back would compliment the front:

I found matching linings in solid colors that would not compete with the center-pieces, and made sure to put in many pockets, thinking that whoever needs such big bags could probably use the pockets to organize their things in.

People have been asking me to add zippers as tote closures, so I did that with the first tote:

But the zipper didn’t allow the tote to fully open. Also, I found it made the inside, already pretty deep, look rather dark:

And so, even though I already made a top zipper for the second tote, I decided to leave it off, for now:

The result are two beautiful totes (in my opinion, at least :-)), but they are really, truly GINORMOUS. 14″ wide x 21″ high x 6″ deep, to be exact.

They will be great for people who need oversized totes. Whether such people will come to my next craft show remains to be seen 🙂

The Nagamachi Yuzen-kan Silk-Painting Museum in Kanazawa, Japan

During our summer trip to Japan we visited many of the country’s famous attractions. Every now and then, through, I dragged my kids a little off the beaten pass to see some textile-related wonders. This is how, during our visit to Kanazawa, we ended up in the Nagamachi Yuzen-kan Silk-Painting Museum.

Housed in a modern, indistinct building in the Nagamachi district, the museum was a bit hard to find. Although not big, it was very informative, and is a worthy stop for any textile-loving tourist. The first room in the museum depicts the process of silk painting, describing each stage of the process in both Japanese and English (!). The second room displays some spectacular samples. The museum also has a small gift shop that sells some hand-painted items.

Hand-dyed silk is a work of art that requires many hours of work by several highly-skilled artisans. Since I assume some of you might not be able to visit the museum, I thought I’d give you a virtual tour. All the explanations  below are based on the signs in the museum.

Room One: The Stages of Painting Silk

The Kaga Yuzen designs combine traditional design elements with the artist’s observations of nature. Each design starts with a pencil sketch on paper, in the same size it will eventually appear on the finished product.

Once finished, skilled artisans trace the design onto white silk. They do this with fine brushes and blue ink, and use a steady hand to draw flowing, evenly-thin and quick lines.

Then, artisans apply a thin line of rice paste onto the sketch. They put the paste into a Japanese paper tube with a brass tip, and squeeze it out (similar to how many of us decorate cakes). After they cover all the lines with paste, they spray the silk with water and then let the paste dry.

Once dry, specialized artisans paint the design with fine brushes. It takes seven years to learn the technique, ten years to refine it, and a hundred (!!) kimonos to practice it on…

When the design in all painted, artisans carefully cover it with rice paste before moving on to dye the background color. They have to do this with great precision, so that no white patches are left.

After they cover the design with paste, the artisans dip the silk into soy bean juice to prepare it for absorbing the background dye.

A day later they use large brushes made of deer hair to evenly apply the background color. They let the color dry slowly, and repeat the dyeing several time to achieve an even dye.

Then, they put the silk in a large steamer for about an hour to set the colors. This, too, requires skill and experience.

After steaming, people immerse the cloth in water to wash off the remaining paste and access dye.

And the fabric is finished!

Artisans use the painted silk to make screens or sew kimonos.

This first room had a little staging area for visitors to make-believe and take pictures. I couldn’t resist 🙂 My kids love it, too!

Room Two: Some Amazing Finished Examples

The second room in the museum, as I mentioned above, has some exquisite samples of both painted screens and kimonos.

Japanese buy a hand-painted kimono for several tens of thousands of dollars (!!), mostly for special occasions like weddings.

2018 Pacific International Quilt Festival

I love seeing exhibitions of quilts in museums, and enjoy visiting quilt museums. Those  usually provide contemplative, intimate experiences, by allowing the visitor to examine quilts up close while surrounded by a peaceful quiet.

Quilt shows, however, are an entirely different beast. Crowded, noisy, brightly-lit and packed-full with amazing works of art and an array of booths, quilt shows are a sensual overload.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the 2018 Pacific International Quilt Festival at the Santa Clara Conventions Center. I came out exhausted and energized at the same time. The show displays a huge array of quilts of many different kinds and techniques, made by people from all over the world. It gives a glimpse of human creativity that is truly inspiring!

I was awed by many quilts at this show, and wish I could shown you all of them. Sadly, I can only share a few here. Choosing which ones was not easy!

Some quilts had elaborate patterns and intricate quilting. This is “Majestic Mosaic” by Joyce Payment:

And this is “Marie’s Treasure” by Marilyn Badger:

And up close:

Karen Eaton Garth’s “Reborn” had truly impressive quilting as well:

“Exploring Colour” by Catherine McDonald had beautiful stitching with a different flavor:

And up close:

Sandi Stone’s “The Thread and Nothing but the Thread” was a very different kind of quilt. Hers was made not of patched fabric but .. of quilted thread!

As you can see up close:

Kimberly Lacy’s “Sunset on Coyote Buttes Mosaic” truly did look like a mosaic, and probably incorporated fabric paint:

Some quilts were magical. This is “Do Dragons Like Cookies” by Tanya Brown:

There were many impressive quilts of animals, such as Leigh Layton’s “Jag,” which included a lot of machine embroidery:

“Sisters/Best Friends” by Sandra L. Mollon:

“Keeping Up Appearances” by Jan Reed:

Or “Heron’s garden” by Susan Smith:

I also liked the shredded fabric that Hiroko Soeta used to create “Peacock:”

There were quilts that used traditional imagery from other parts of the world. This is “African Sunset” by Claire Wallace:

Some were modern, like Ziva Keidar’s “Movements Catalog:”

Pat Archibald’s “Hong Kong:”

Or Kristin Shields “Rhythm of the Rails:”

There were even political quilts made by high school students:

Some quilts were fun and whimsical, like “Strut Your Stuff” by Sheila Collins:

“Portrait: Holiday Relatives” by Lynn Dinelli (who was even there!):

“Face by Ahni” by Eleanor Balaban and Marina Baudoin:

And there was even a quilt of a quilt show: “Show Time!” by Cynthia England:

One of the quilts that impressed me most was “Reflections of Cape Town,” which took Cynthia England a year and 8,400 fabric pieces to make! This is me admiring this quilt:

And the quilt itself, which could be mistaken for a photo from afar:

And up close:

Even the back of this masterpiece was pretty!

Did I give you enough reasons to go? If not, perhaps mentioning the many vendor booths might help: quilt lovers, you can find everything here, from thread to fabric to patterns to machines to finished artworks, and even clothes and accessories!

The show runs through Sunday (Oct. 14th), so if you’re in the Bay Area and have time to spare this weekend, make sure to go!

Studio Life: Why I Can’t Just Finish All Those UFOs

I’ve been slow getting back into a sewing routine. Our summer was busy, and once it ended there was a lot to catch up on in the house and garden. I participated in two back-to-back craft shows (which are always a lot of work), and between my kids’ two schools, there was only one (!!) full week of school so far… And yet, I did manage to get back into my sewing room. I even started flexing my sewing muscles, by once more, tackling those never-ending piles of unfinished projects (also known as UFOs).

A few days ago a friend asked me why I can’t just finish one thing before moving on to the next. It is, after all, the logical thing to do. It would certainly clear a lot of studio space (as in remove the many piles from the chairs/bed/carpet), giving me more room to breath and move. Not to mention clearing the accumulating guilt…

Logic aside, however, I find that for me, following that advice is utterly impossible. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and–despite my wish to blame it all on sorcery–came to the conclusion that many different factors contribute to the accumulation of those UFO piles:

Distractions

This is probably the main reason, and it comes in many different forms. There are small distractions, like dinner burning on the stove. Or kids barging into my sewing room when I’m in the middle of sewing, wanting something. I usually stop whatever I’m doing, and when I get back to it, hours, days or weeks later, I sometimes move on to something else.

Every now and then I also need to sew things for family members. When school started, for example, my daughter got a new school laptop, and asked me to make a sleeve to keep it in. I gave this a priority, and ended up spending more time on it than I expected (as it took three different tries to get the laptop to fit through the zippered top).

There are also big distractions, like illnesses, trips, or summer vacations. These force me to stop whatever I’m working on for long periods of time. When I get back, I often find it hard to go back to the projects I was in the middle of.

And then there are huge distractions, like hosting house guests. Since I sew in our guest room, hosting means moving all of my sewing materials away. It takes me up to two weeks to move everything out, another week or so to move things back in, and then months to figure out what pile is which and where everything is (I’m still looking for items I can’t find after hosting family this summer…). Forget about finishing projects if you can’t even find them…

Design Concerns

Often, I find gorgeous pieces of textiles that I am really passionate about. Sometimes I’m not sure what to make them into. At other times I don’t have the exact fabrics I need to match them with. These go into separate piles. They wait patiently for weeks or even months, until I find all the other ingredients I need to make them into something spectacular.

I found this unusual piece, for example, over a year ago:

It took me many months to find just the right fabrics to go with it, ones that matched not only in color but also in texture. I completed this tote last week:

Yep, one less pile! (but there are already new ones in its stead…).

New Ideas

The biggest pile of unfinished projects is in my head. I constantly have ideas for new things to make, new quilts to sew, new bags to design and so on. Every now and then I just HAVE to try something completely different. It keeps me challenged and excited about my work.

I find inspiration everywhere, but especially on trips. There is something intense about going somewhere else, being exposed to new environments and new cultures, seeing lots of new things. After traveling I am especially eager to make new things. Like when I returned from Peru and made a troll.

Then there is a constant danger in sorting my fabrics, too. I really didn’t mean to start anything new before I finished those UFOs, but as I was putting things away I came across this amazing tapestry in my stack (so guess what?!):

And there are the scraps. My work results in many, colorful scraps of different sizes and textures, that happen to accumulate in my sewing room before I get to put them away. Often, seeing those scraps together gives me new ideas. Thus, even if I try to finish one thing, I can’t help but start another… Only yesterday I began working on this mini messenger bag, for example:

Seeing the leftover strip alongside other pieces made me think of a new artsy sling (I’ll get to it soon, I promise!):

Even putting those scraps away can be problematic. So far I sorted them into different boxes by approximate size. But a few weeks ago, when one scrap box started overflowing, I spilled them all out, and had the idea to sort them by color:

Which lead to some scrap playing:

Which ended up in this “Fall” mini quilt, that I love dearly:

Procrastination

Finally, there are the less-pleasant tasks. I’m sure you have those in your work, too. Every line of work has undertakings that are fun to do and activities that are … less so. Me, I love designing. Thinking of new items, matching fabrics, experimenting with colors and textures–these are the things that get me all excited. Ironing and sewing zipper pockets … not so much. And so, when I design Renaissance Totes for example, I really enjoy making the outer layer. Sewing the lining, however, with its zipper and many pockets, is a chore. And so there is currently a pile of outer layers of Renaissance Totes waiting for their linings. They’ve been waiting for a while. I’m ashamed to say how long. I will eventually force myself to finish them, but not this week…

When I shared my UFO predicament in a Facebook group I’m in, many creative members seemed to understand. One person quoted a known saying, about how, when you finish all your projects, it’s the end. I guess this, alone, is a great reason to keep going 🙂

 

Boro: The Japanese Art of Mending That is Hard to Find in Japan

On my recent trip to Japan, I found art where I didn’t expect it, yet didn’t find the art I expected to see everywhere.

Boro, the Japanese art of mending, and its twin art of Sashiko (decorative stitching), are very popular among textile artists in the West. Many non-Japanese artists throughout the world, myself included, now incorporate the art of patching and restorative hand-stitching into their work.

I made this journal cover, for example, using some simple Boro-style patching and stitching:

Nowadays, clothing using some elements of Boro and Sashiko are making a comeback into the world of high-end fashion. Boro-style items are selling for hundreds of dollars. Original antique Japanese pieces of patched cloth can go for thousands of dollars.

It was only natural, therefore, that, before going to Japan, I assumed I will see Boro everywhere. That did not turn out to be the case.

When we arrived in Japan, we had only one day in Tokyo before heading out to other destinations. I vaguely knew there was a museum dedicated to Boro in Tokyo, but assumed there would be many such museums in other parts of the country, too. We therefore used the few hours we had in the capital to visit other sites. I later realized, that one of them was painfully close to the museum…

Sadly, for the duration of our subsequent nearly month-long trip, I did not come across any other Boro museums, nor could I find any on the internet. Not only that, but I haven’t seen Boro anywhere. I didn’t see it in any of the numerous big and small museums we visited, including several crafts museums. Nor in gallerias, tourist shops or artisan villages. Certainly not on the streets, on any of the thousands of well-dressed Japanese we encountered.

Only in our very last stop, in the tourist-oriented part of the old capital of Nara, did I see a hint of Boro. It appeared on the outfits of two delightful Oni (=demons) that decorated (or maybe guarded?) a high-end clothing boutique:

(Despite what the sign says, I did ask–and received–explicit permission to take pictures of these dolls :-))

On the same street, by the way, I also found the only artist atelier that sold patterns and clothing using Sashiko:

So, why isn’t Boro more prominent in Japan, it’s birth place, despite being so popular in the West?

I believe the answer is that Boro was the child of poverty, and as such is still associated with destitution in Japan.

The imperial family and the upper classes never wore patched clothing. They cloaked themselves in expensive silks and exquisite textiles. The lower classes, on the other hand, not only could not afford silk, but, in the Edo Period (1600-1868) were actually banned from wearing it.

The poor could barely afford even the cheaper fabrics, which were still expensive. They had to make the rare garments they had last long. When clothes or blankets started wearing thin, they had no choice but to mend them with any bits and pieces they could put their hands on. Winters in Japan are cold. Poor families had to make do with what they had, passing valuable patched garments from one member of the family to another, sometimes from one generation to the next.

The people who created Boro didn’t use silks and high-end textiles. They used the cheaper hemp, linens and, later, cottons that were available to the working class and the poor. Most of the fabrics they had came in shades of indigo. This is why we now associate Boro with that color.

The word “Boro” itself means “tattered” or “ragged.” Wearing Boro-ed clothes wasn’t the result of aesthetics. It was a necessity. And as such it marked the wearer as a member of the lower, poor classes.

Japanese today don’t wear Boro (unless they can afford some of its high-end, modern-day manifestations). Museums don’t show it because it’s not a traditional art form that the culture is proud of. Modern artisans are more likely to practice Sashiko or Shibori (textile dyeing), which they see as more “artistic.” And so, although Boro is all the hype among textile artists and consumers in the West, it is mostly absent in its homeland.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t appreciate it. The authentic, old Boro clothing were made over a long period of time, and were often a collaborative effort. People added patches and stitches whenever they needed to fix something. Sometimes a garment passed through several hands and even several generations, with many people adding to it. And even the poor did their best to mend beautifully, resulting in artistic stitching. Many of these old garments are, indeed, works of art, even if their makers didn’t see them as such.

This jacket, which I found on pinterest, is but one example:

If you’re interested in Boro and are planning to visit Japan, do go to the only Boro museum in the country. If the rumors I heard are correct, you should hurry, as the museum might be shutting down soon… I now know that you can also find Boro in flee markets throughout the country. Regrettably, I didn’t get to visit any, but perhaps you will have better luck!

Street Art in Japan (And It’s Not What You Think!): Japanese Man Holes!

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I love finding street art wherever I go. I’ve discovered some pretty cool art in London, Quito, Bern, and Tel Aviv, to name some. So it was only natural that I kept an eye out for street art on our latest trip to Japan earlier this summer, too.

When we got to Japan, however, I quickly realized that we have arrived at the cleanest place I’ve ever seen. Yep. It was cleaner than Peru. And even cleaner than Switzerland, which is very hard to beat. Graffiti? Not in Japan! I can only imagine what would happen to anyone who dared try: the poor artistic soul would be attacked by civilized citizens and then fined or arrested by the police. A fleet of elderly ladies would immediately appear on the scene of the crime, armed with sponges and soap, to wipe the abomination right off the face of the earth…  Nope. No graffiti in Japan. Anywhere. Period. And we’ve been to many places…

But on our second day in the Land of the Rising Sun, while visiting the city of Matsumoto, I happened to look down, of all places, and realized that Japan had another kind of street art, one that I haven’t noticed anywhere else before.

It actually had art built right into the street!

Do you recall walking down a street and stepping over manholes? Did you ever even look at manholes covers, or notice them? No? Neither did I. Ever. Until I went to Japan.

Because, as I was walking down one of Matsumoto’s streets, I happened to step over the most beautiful manhole cover I have ever seen. It was elaborate and beautifully painted in many different color. This manhole cover had local symbols all over it. It certainly got my attention!

After that, I started looking. I noticed there were different kinds of manhole covers, for different utilities (water, electricity, sewer and so on), each with its own pattern. When we traveled from one place to the next, I noticed that manhole covers were different in each district or municipality. Someone, somewhere, has been paying a lot of attention to designing these manhole covers. Even the simplest among them were beautiful, symmetrical works of art. Manhole covers in Japan are aesthetic. They are meant to be noticed. They beautify the streets, and they are bursting with local pride.

I started taking pictures of manhole covers and collecting them wherever I went. The kids enjoyed helping me, and pointed them out whenever I missed one. It became a fun game for us all!

Here are some of the simpler ones, collected from all over the kingdom (and yes, some are upside down):

There were a few rectangular ones every now and then, too. Like this one. And they were no less beautiful:

Some were a little more elaborate, with a bit of color added:

Then there were the local declarations of pride, beautifully designed with local symbols, often local flora and fauna, and historic sites:

The most beautiful of all were the colored ones. Those must have had tourists in mind, because many of them included place names in English:

(You’d notice the bottom picture on the right is twisted. I couldn’t for the life of me get the computer to turn it, so just turn your head. It depicts a man rowing a boat).

So, start opening your eyes when you walk down a street! you never know what you’ll find. And if you happen to visit Japan, definitely look down at your feet. You’ll discover that Japanese civil engineers and city planner are actually artists, too!