Welcome to Cynthia Shaver Asian Art Appraiser Newsletter January 2023,
Happy New Year. Last year, 2022, I found several new homes for my cherished textiles.
The Rhode Island School of Design, RISD, was the recipient of a donation of a group of Japanese temari balls among other more valuable cloths. The temari silk thread balls, done with various geometric motifs, are quite visually pleasing and were always the most popular item on display in my home. They were purchased on a buying trip in 1977 in the quaint village of Kurashiki at the gift store of the Mingei-kan, or the Local Folk Art Museum. The balls are about 4” in diameter, with colors and shades of indigo, reds, and greens. The history of these balls goes back hundreds of years, and were simply a way to keep treasured silk threads from going to waste, maybe as a toy with a rock or bell inside. There are woodblock prints of mid 19th c showing elegantly dressed women playing with these balls. One can also find early balls that have one pictorial design, or maybe several flowers in embroidered designs. Although I was ready to gift all, for reasons of space, they chose five examples. The other fifteen plus balls now reside with my son that grew up with these on display every few years.
The International Quilt Museum in Lincoln Nebraska is the new home of my collection of six Japanese sashiko textiles. The two least valuable examples were two dust rags, two pieces of 6” x 8” rectangular cotton cloth, stitched together with hemp fiber, to make a dish rag or dust cloth. When I first encountered these cloths, in late 1970’s, they were in the corner, sometimes wet, and certainly not appreciated as something that could be sold. They ae called zukin in Japanese and today are frequently seen for sale. I also gifted two dark indigo cotton aprons that have blue stitching all over the dark indigo front panel. This style, blue stitching on blue cloth, comes from Shimokita Pennisula in Aomori, Northern Japan, that uses more indigo and thread in their textiles, thus more costly to produce. These aprons are not lined so the stitches are on full display on the back. The heavily stitched rectangular front panel has a waist band with two long ties for fastening in the back. Because of my ongoing interest and research into Edo firemen clothing, I also donated typical brick resist pattern, three fingered firemen gloves, two cloth layers stitched together. One of my all time favorite sashiko examples is a tool bag, an approximate 4’ rectangular bag, with a wide opening of 8” and side flap to allow easy opening of same. Some of the sashiko stitching is for reinforcement, even with added material overlapping the stitching. On the top of the bag with the opening, is a decorative hemp leaf stitched design on plaid. Attached to the side of this tool bag is a very sturdy twisted rope, used to wrap the tool bag and then tie onto a possible wood frame.
The Phoenix Art Museum also received my donation of Japanese textiles, two examples I had owned since 1979. On one of my first buying trips as a dealer of Japanese textiles, I found a four panel, all indigo plaid futon cover with hand tied cotton thread and hand woven. It was so simple and so remarkable. Over the years I pulled this fabric out of the baskets and would admire the simplicity of various shades of indigo with white plaid. I also donated a rag weave vest, reinforced at the back neck with an insert of sashiko stitched cloth. These vests were expensive at the source because of the amount of cotton fabric used, very precious and expensive in northern Aomori. Two years earlier I donated two of these vests to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. Dealers today mention they are difficult to sell because of condition and cost.
The Worcester Museum in Massachusetts received two items related to fires of Edo in anticipation of an exhibit of Firemen of Edo that did not take place. The fireman coat under garment or t-shirt equivalent, with sashiko stitched sleeves is an example of the layering the firemen did in protection from flames and embers. Also donated were three fingered, brick pattern with hand flap gloves, depicted in woodblock prints of the Edo firemen. Both items were collected specifically due to my research over decades of the firemen of Edo.
And my last donation, just completed, to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London of two cotton placemats made by the women’s collective Cape Folly of Massachusetts. The curator of Asian textiles Anna Jackson of the V&A has given me scholarly help for four decades, first as dealer of Japanese textiles, and then in 2002, as an appraiser of all Asian textiles. I wanted to give back. The Japanese textiles I had were already represented by type in the collection so I thought a perfect place for American textiles to be seen and represented. The Cape Folly placemats were made by cutting linoleum and using as a stencil.
I’m grateful these precious cloths have new homes. They all have enriched my life and time to pass on.