11ISS in Japan: Part 6 – Nagoya, Tokyo + beyond

Plenary Sessions were held at Nagoya Congress Center.

July 1, Day 3 of the 11th International Shibori Symposium involved Plenary Sessions, lectures and presentations at the Nagoya Congress Center. Notable to me were Jian Liu’s discussion of analysis of natural dye identifications in Qing Dynasty Silks. New technology is allowing for exciting discoveries of dye colors from Safflower, Sappan wood, Indigo, Pagoda tree, Amur Cork, Young fustic and Turmeric dye sources; their research is involved with developing a Japanese dye database. Prehistoric textiles from 500 BC were the first to use resist dye techniques. The first Biennale of Natural Dyes will take place in China in 2019.


Below, a monument oddly scaled to the architecture of the Center. I had to read more, and this is what the plaque said:  Sforza Monument (Reconstruction). Leonardo da Vinci… was commanded by Lord Ludovico of Milan to create the world’s largest statue, a work which was to depict General Francesco Sforza mounted on horseback. By November of 1493 Leonardo had completed a clay model of the horse alone which measured 7.2 meters in height. Unfortunately, war interrupted his work at that point; the planned bronze casting was discontinued, and the clay model was destroyed. The reconstruction of the “phantom statue” began with the construction of a two meter clay model based upon the study of Professor Tanaka of Madrid, manuscripts discovered in 1967 as well as a number of preparatory sketches. The model was enlarged using computer technology, and the final version of the statue molded in plastic (FRP), as the legs would not be able to support the weight of a bronze casting… Displayed in the Tokai Bank Pavilion at the World Design Expo ’89 and donated by the Tokai Bank, Ltd.

 Another interesting presentation by Juxin Zhen of the China Academy of Art showed the process and development of carved wooden blocks that served as clamp resists, but with holes inserted that could be plugged or open for direct spot dyeing.

A reception and celebration that evening provided ample food plus an exciting performance of puppets and music by an Arimatsu performance troupe, and a demonstration of imperial kimono dress from earlier times. The governor and mayor attended the event.

 Above, the puppetry curtains were drawn back so we could observe the inner workings, in which a puppet dips a brush in ink, then paints a character on paper.

On July 2, we traveled via bullet train and bus to Tokyo, making a stop at Shibori: Fusion and Diffusion, the ISS2018-organized contemporary shibori exhibition and reception at Tama Art University Museum. This was a stellar show of contemporary work featuring primarily Asian artists, but also work by Westerners. We also had lively mini-presentations, “Pecha-Kucha” style, by selected attendees. Then we traveled to Tokyo.

Although I found out later we were not encouraged to photograph the exhibition, I found the installation and lighting so compelling that I am including a few shots. A catalog is available. Shown: Nagai Hitomi, Iyanaga Yasuko and Tanaka Takaaki (foreground)
Ushio Takumi
Yashiro Rieko
Left to right: Jiang Kinor & Xu Rui, Bamba Masae, and Tsubaki Misao

Our final day in Tokyo allowed for individual exploration of exhibitions and shopping opportunities. Our group started with the Amuse Museum, where we viewed stunning Boro textiles from an impoverished area in northern Japan. We also visited PIGMENT, the wonderful store selling pigments, brushes and more in a beautifully articulated setting. Then we visited NUNO fabrics and stores for Issey Miyake and other designers. We crisscrossed the city via subway. The day ended with a buffet dinner for attendees, a way of welcoming attendees for the second half of the Symposium. It also offered those of us leaving the Symposium a chance to wrap up and say goodbye. Most attendees continued on to Yamagatsu in northern Japan. A number of us continued on home, including me.

Coming up to PIGMENT, the shop. 




 Our last impression was the upcoming Star Festival, set for July 7. We all wrote down our wishes on this bamboo structure.

It was all such a fabulous adventure. My thanks goes to everyone who spent time organizing and thinking through this stellar event.

11ISS in Japan: Part 5 – Shibori + Boro Fest!


Continuing my visit to Japan for the 11th International Shibori Symposium: on the start of a very hot day, we toured the popular Nagoya Castle, with its remodeled living quarters, screens and beautiful ornamentation. In it, we were able to visit an outstanding exhibition of traditional Japanese Kimono, in Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu – Narumi Shibori.

from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS from Nagoya Castle and Arimatsu - Narumi Shibori, 11ISS

We also visited Nagoya City Museum, where Arashi Master Hayakawa Kaei demonstrated how he creates arashi shibori using updated, automated tools. Again, he is another example of someone who attended art school in painting and returned to his family with its long dyeing tradition, to become a master dyer. And finally, we visited the Furukawa Museum, located in a beautiful Japanese home, displaying fragments of ancient fabrics. It was here that fifteen of us attended a lecture and showing of a 1630 book displaying textile patterns that included both dyeing and embroidery. Next to me sat Catherine Liu, who, it turns out, is from Iowa City, attending the Book Arts Program in University of Iowa’s Center for the Book. We both met for the first time at that lecture. Very small world.

And finally, in Tokyo, we visited the Amuse Museum, where we viewed stunning Boro textiles from an impoverished area in northern Japan. Also shown are boots made from salmon skin. The fins served as traction in icy conditions.

11ISS in Japan: Part 4 – Kyoto + Beyond

Again continuing my adventure at the International 11th International Shibori Symposium, 2018, on Monday June 25 we traveled to Kyoto via train, where we briefly explored the compelling contemporary architecture of the Kyoto train station. It seems that many contemporary architects take visual risks to create sculptural buildings in Japan. After that, we traveled by bus to Kitano Shrine monthly market on this very hot day. Some bought vintage kimono and other things. Others bought green tea ice cream and more than one bottle of water. Then, we visited the Nishijin Textile Center, where a kimono show showcased contemporary kimono made by the factory and a loom was in operation for visitors to see.

Kyoto Train Station

Contemporary Yukata for summer in the Kyoto Train Station 

at the Kitano Shrine Market, grower, gatherer, spinner, dyer and weaver of hemp
Kitano Shrine detail
Kitano Shrine visitors gathered dried grasses, decoration for a festival

Above and below: Nishijin Textile Center, with contemporary cloth shibori designed by Hosotsuji Ihee, hereditary owner of Eirakuya, Japan’s oldest cotton fabric business (400 years), who started its first storefront, and hosts solo exhibitions.

On Tuesday June 26, we started at Ryoanji Temple (above), with its famous Zen garden and other beautiful gardens. Arriving early allowed us to avoid crowds. The screens and other sumi screens were outstanding. We also visited the Ginkakuji Temple, a heritage site that’s archtypically Japanese for western eyes. Near “Philosophers Row”, with all its cherry trees, we ate a “monks lunch” at Daikakuji Temple, consisting of all vegetarian delicacies and taste treats served Japanese style at low tables. After that, we moved on to visiting whichever stores in Kyoto we were able to manage in 4 hours. Moving as a group via taxi proved challenging, but we visited galleries, supply stores as well as boutiques by the contemporary designer Sou Sou. A traditional dinner in Pontocho followed.

A man sketches, above. And a fashion shoot below.

The famous Philospher’s Walk, with its cherry blossoms in spring.

Above, Monk’s Food Lunch at Daikakuji Temple. Below, ancient trees at the Imperial Palace.


Wednesday June 27, we left Kyoto for the Miho Museum via the artist studio HeieDaira, a private home studio of a well-known textile designer whose home inspired us. The Miho Museum features antiquities from around the world in a monumental structure designed by I. M. Pei, housing the collection of the Shumato family. We had also started our day visiting a wonderful exhibition of weavings by Fukumoto Shihoko, a colleague of Yoshiko Wada’s from her days at design school and herself a very well respected artist. That evening we returned to Nagoya.

Stellar exhibition of weavings by Fukumoto Shihoko

Visiting the lovely HieieDaira artist studio. In the tradition of Japanese hospitality and welcome, she makes tea for all of us. We feel gratitude.


Miho Museum

On the road to Tokyo.

11ISS in Japan: Part 2 – Inland Sea

Continuing my adventure at the International 11th International Shibori Symposium, 2018, early Saturday morning we traveled by bus, then ferry, to the “art site” islands of Inujima, Teshima and Naoshima. The day was foggy and cloudy, making it perfect for photography. The mix of nature, sounds of sea and birds, smells and contemporary art was powerful. One could easily spend a full day on each of these islands. Inujima is the site of the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, set in a former copper smelting plant, one large art installation involving perceptual tricks from mirrors and shafts of light in low-light situations. The island also houses 5 Art House projects by leading architects, nestled in and around traditional village houses. Visiting them took you on well-marked trails through the villages, which became a visual experience in and of itself.

Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, exterior
Art House Projects on Inujima
Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, exterior
Art House Projects on Inujima
Art House Projects on Inujima


The next island, Teshima, is home to the Teshima Art Museum and other art houses. Like most of the larger museums, the Teshima did not allow photography, but it was a deeply felt experience in an amazing outdoor space. Some of the many island visitors rent bicycles to visit it and the other art spaces.

Benesse House

Finally, we traveled to Naoshima, where we stayed at the well known Benesse House for two nights. The Benesse is an upscale hotel within a museum. Naoshima has a host of other art sites: the more informal Art House Projects in the town of Honmura,  and the monumental Lee Ufan Museum and Benessee Art Museum up the hillside. I was particularly impressed with the Lee Ufan Museum, with its particular combination of art, video, sculptural stone. Installations at the sea along the road completed the experience, which for me also included some drawing and photography of one of my pieces on the pier. The smell of the sea along with the kelp beds and small fish was evocative. The plastic trash caught in the tides was sad. We ended up the evening with another really long, big meal at Benessee house.

This is actually a Shrine, an Art House project with thick cast glass steps
Lee Ufan Museum. Interior photos not permitted.
Cai Guo-Qiang, Cultural Melting Bath: Project for Naoshima 1990
Shinro Ohtake, Shipyard Works
Testing some of my own scrolls
More of my own work
Works by Karel Appel and Niki de Saint Phalle at the Benesse House
Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin, 1994

Another iconic pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, at the harbor

11ISS in Japan: Part 1 – Inland Sea

In June and early July, I attended the 2018 International Shibori Symposium or 11ISS, in Nagoya, Tokyo and Yamagatsu, Japan, sponsored by the World Shibori Network. The 11ISS itinerary was an ambitious and content-rich exploration of the robust dyeing traditions of Japan in the shibori village of Arimatsu and in the safflower dyeing of northern Japan, plus contemporary shibori exhibitions, workshops and studio visits. It also had options for 5- or 6-day pre-conference tours to the Inland (Seto) Sea and Kyoto, to view contemporary art and architecture, temples and shrines on the pilgrimage route, and heritage sites in Kyoto. With the scope of the itinerary, participants could choose to attend the full symposium, or either the first or second half. I feel so fortunate in that I was able to attend the Inland Sea Tour and the first half of the Symposium before returning home due to other commitments. Participants came from 125 international countries, with another equal number from Japan. Because of proximity to Asia, there was a heavy concentration of participants from that part of the world. With such a sensory-rich trip, I’ve divided my experience into 6 blog posts here on this website.

Flying over Alaska

With a 14-hour time difference, I arrived in Nagoya a day early to acclimate. My first adventure was to locate cash (7-11 stores are ubiquitous and were the suggested choice for ATMs with international options, but I discovered others as well. Where we would be traveling, credit cards were not an option.) Next, I scouted out the large AEON department store located opposite the large train station. AEON housed groceries in the basement, plus endless varieties of takeout at the street level, giving me time to look at and understand food options outside of scanning a restaurant menu. It was clear from breakfast that morning that fish and rice are staples three meals a day.

Breakfast view from the hotel’s 9th floor. The Kanayama Train Station is just below.

  Then, I visited the local Tokugawa Art Museum, showcasing the extensive artwork from this shogunate family which was centered in Nagoya. At the Tokugawa, I discovered their holding of the famous Tale of the Genji scrolls, one of three still extant in Japan. A facsimile was on display; I had studied it in college. Also on display were beautiful examples of Noh and Kyogen Costumes. Because of devastation from World War II, much of Japan is now large concrete apartment housing, not particularly pretty. Nagoya is the third largest city in Japan, with little green space. Visiting the Japanese Garden adjacent to the Art Museum was a welcome respite on a hot day.

Japanese Garden, on the grounds of the Tokugawa Art Museum. Also shown in first image.

That evening, I attended a Symposium welcome dinner at Oaje, a local restaurant that served us nine courses including sashimi, tempura, Japanese rice, salad and more. We had no idea that so many courses were coming and were blessed by an overabundance of food.

11ISS co-coordinator Yoshiko Wada worked tirelessly to make sure that her international guests had an authentic and quality experience of Japan. She introduced us to important rituals of greeting and leaving hosts, of entering a Shinto or Buddhist shrine, and of navigating the train system.

We departed Nagoya for the Inland Sea Tour on Friday, June 22 via local, then bullet train.According to our Guide, Japan has 7000 islands, 3000 of which are located in the Inland, or Seto, Sea. It was interesting to see things like rice paddies next to car dealerships. The Inland Sea has a strong sea current with a depth of 38 meters, making it very good for fishing and oyster farming. The climate is similar to the Mediterranean, with citrus and olives widely planted. Long ago, the area had pirates. On our ride, we saw tiny, rocky islands and jelly fish. We continued by bus and ferry to the island of Shodoshima, where we visited 4 out of 88 Buddhist Pilgrimage sites, as well as Yamaroku, a fifth generation artisanal soy sauce maker, who used decades-old wooden barrels encrusted with “starter” to ferment the soy beans. Only 1% of soy sauce is made this way. After the concrete of the city, I enjoyed seeing gardens and trees, with an explosion of green, abundance of summer vegetables and flowers and heavily pruned trees.

Docking in Shodoshima, Japan
One of the 88 pilgrimage sites on Shodoshima.
After Nagoya, vegetable gardens were a welcome site.

Yamaroku, the artisanal soy sauce brewer that has been in existence since the Meiji Era.
These medallions located on the ceiling actually depict donors to the temple.


We stayed at Hotel Green Plaza Shodoshima, a traditional Japanese hotel that looked like it was built in the 1970s. I slept in a room with traditional tatami mats and no shower. We showered in the hotel’s women’s bath/spa, soaking in the bath that was located outside with an awesome view of the sea.  After that, we dressed in Yukata, the summer kimono provided by the restaurant and sat down to a huge meal featuring traditional Japanese food. Visual effects were important: tempura vegetables resembled a flying bird. A small whole fish was curved on the plate, garnished by some of the abundant hydrangea flowers and small red sprouts.

Continue reading the other 11ISS 5 blog posts here.

11ISS in Japan: Part 3 – Nagoya + Arimatsu

The Symposium started with a reception of the stunning Takeda Collection of Kimono in its headquarters in Narumi (see photo above). The next two days, we all traveled the 30 minutes to Arimatsu by train, to tour this historic center for shibori production, attend 3-hour workshops, shop and dine. Arimatsu is home to shibori practitioners still in production, with approaches to shibori and clothing designs ranging from traditional to more contemporary. Many use indigo and other natural dyes; others use chemical dyes.

Our workshops often involved 3 languages. Shown here, our Japanese to English, Chinese and our Japanese master, Kaiichiro Okamoto, far right

My first workshop was Kaki-shibu (Persimmon Tannin) shibori dyeing with Kaiichiro Okamoto, a master dyer who also packages the persimmon compound for sale. I wanted to explore its use for paper and fabric as a natural alternative to polymer medium. According to what we were told, persimmon is more of a coating than a dye, but in a dilute state, can be used to dye silk with a color that develops and deepens over three months and is darker depending on the number of dippings. We used it in a thickened state for shibori-tied washi paper, which was then dried and ironed. There is an ancient history of this in Japan. With 500 kinds of persimmons available, the ones that have the most tannins are used. In Japan, up to 60% of green persimmons are taken off the tree in a green state to preserve the remaining 40% as the best fruit. The paste is made from these green persimmons, which are crushed, then naturally fermented for 1-3 years. No heat is needed, and no water is added. The paste does smell strongly while fermenting; it was not so while using it in class.

working on tying shibori knots on washi paper
Concentrated persimmon paste ready to brush on our shibori-tied washi paper
We were given silk scarves with these lovely shibori ties, ready for dipping into the persimmon dye solution. Below, washi paper has been coated. Right, using fans to dry the silk scarves following dipping, on a humid day. Below that, examining samples dyed with persimmon by the family
My samples of washi paper and silk scarf will darken over the next few months.

  Then it was time for a luscious looking bento box. The perforated vegetable is thinly sliced lotus.


Fantastic contemporary indigo-dyed shibori examples by the Yuusokai.

Typical traditional buildings devoted to shibori production or now, as restaurants, in Arimatsu. Clockwise from upper right below, examples from the History of Japanese Shibori at the Tamesaburo Furukawa Memorial Hall in Arimatsu,  a woman demonstrates shobori knot tying, and another great little shop.

Below: even the grates have shibori patterns. Flower arrangement and shadow on tent of pop-up sale. Australian artist Barbara Rogers sells her clamp resist silk scarves at the pop up sale.


Sylvia Riley, from Australia, exhibits her hand-printed Yukata garment in Kimono Inspiration Challenge: Yukata from Abroad exhibition. Detail shown below.

My second workshop was Itajime (clamped board resist) Shibori with Masatsugu Hamajima. This technique is one I was already familiar with, although the workshop taught me some additional tips and provided ideas for more elaborate clamp designs. It was interesting to learn that boards made from wood ended up superior to plexiglass, as they can float in the dye bath when dipping the bundled packet. Plexiglass tends to make the bundles sink, not allowing for multiple dippings. It was enlightening to see more complex wooden clamps that were also described in our later plenary presentations. It was also interesting to learn that this family had supplied dyed indigo shibori to Africa after World War II, a project developed under the Marshall Plan, designed to assist the Japanese economies ravaged by war. In addition to the War, shibori villages had also been affected by changes in the feudal system, which had created more infusion of funds into local villages than what came later.  In Arimatsu, dyers had developed shortcuts and technological improvements to make the process faster and more consistent. And contemporary approaches to shibori textural alterations also made use of the physical transformations of the cloth, creating expandable garments, bags and other items.

Selection of clamps used two sided by Matsatsugu Hamajima.
More elaborate clamp resist by Masatsugu Hamajima.


Artist Amy Nyugen (right) and husband and business partner Ky, and Kim Eichler-Messmer all explore the foundational roots of shibori as they relate to their own work.

Below: the train is always an experience, but they are clean, punctual and well run. Plus, images of Nagoya Castle, which has recently been restored. The large white tower will come next; it was once restored in concrete and will now feature original materials.



Blast from the Past: Teaching Macrame in a UAW chapter, 1977

Recently I came across a folder of images that I didn’t even know was in my possession. At age 24, I was one of nearly 30 artists in the Bloomington (IN) Artists’ Project, a CETA-funded program to help develop economic opportunities in the area. At that time, Indiana University was the driver of significant cultural events. But the local community was more of a desert for contemporary art. The banks did not display art, unlike Iowa City, where I moved in 1978.

I was part of the team that formulated workshops- drawing, dance, weaving, and in the UAW local in the sprawling auto factory in Indy. My friend Tom McAnulty showed up to teach drawing in his Datsun pickup. They were not amused. But he quickly charmed them with his own artistic abilities and his background in growing up in a family of 9 in Philly, sheet metal workers. My students wanted to make macrame owl plant hangers, and some of the other guys were inspired by the thought of skill screening on cars.

Our year long project was a practical graduate school for me.  At 24, I didn’t have a lot of courage to engage community leaders in radical shifts in thinking. We did a lot of “research” using microfilm records at the library, talking, drinking coffee and eating freshly made biscuits with honey in the Chinese restaurant across the street. The power of art education was being embraced and art became a populist endeavor. I felt a bit guilty for being part of a government program, but only a little. My CETA training formed the basis of much of the other arts administration and community outreach I’ve done since then. I’ve been paying it forward. These images- what a blast from the past!

Screenprinting and the dance of improvisation

Screenprints & monoprints
Two screens over monoprinted, handpainted fabrics. Fiber reactive dyes. Created by Astrid Hilger Bennett

Recently, I was invited to contribute images to a updated revision of Jane Dunnewold’s book, Improvisational Screenprinting, currently underway. Jane is a well known teacher and artist who has found ways to explore approaches to creativity and playing as a way of developing as an artist. I looked through my image files and found these samples, which all include a mixed technique approach to making fabrics. You’ll see registered screen printing in regularized patterns, and multiple screen overlays used for generating texture and layering in conjunction with monoprinting. Also included are screen prints over vintage and repurposed linens.

Tools screen on monoprinted fabrics
“Tools” screenprint over monoprinted, handpainted fabrics. Fiber reactive dyes. Created by Astrid Hilger Bennett
“Tools” screenprint over handpainted fabrics using leftover fiber reactive dyes. Created by Astrid Hilger Bennett

Screenprinting has always been exciting and inspiring to me. Now, with photo emulsion techniques, we can translate drawings to screens in ways that were not possible in the 1970s and 1980s. In those days, really toxic chemicals were used to adhere screens. I gave it up for a couple of decades. Now, I choose from more than 40 screens in my studio, and I’m always adding more. I use them for creating richly texture fabrics, and also simple functional textiles for the artful home.

screenprints, monoprints
Two screens over monoprinted, handpainted fabrics. Fiber reactive dyes. Created by Astrid Hilger Bennett
“Artists’ Hands” screenprint and one more, with monoprinting and handpainting, fiber reactive dyes, by Astrid Bennett
Leaf screenprint plus handpainting and monoprinting.
Empty screens overprinted using fiber reactive dyes, by Astrid Bennett
vintage linens
Screenprinting using ProFab textile inks on vintage and repurposed linens, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
vintage linens
Screenprinting using ProFab textile inks on vintage and repurposed linens, by Astrid Hilger Bennett

art + business: giving back

Recently, I met Clara Nartey online after contacting her about an article about her art marketing  business that I read about in Studio Art Quilt Associates’ (SAQA) quarterly journal. Having managed and co-owned a gallery for many years, I was impressed by her website and, in a good way, how marketing-focused it is. That’s not a common approach used by many artists. She asked me to contribute a piece on the business of textile art from my perspective as a gallery owner. I also bring to the table my observations from serving as President of Surface Design Association and from my own studio work. I share that knowledge in the first of two blog posts on her website. Lots of pictures, too!

So, enjoy this first post and look for the second on May 3, 2018. There’s even a video!




Two Weeks in March, Two Weeks in April

Two Weeks in March, Two Weeks in April

Two Weeks in March, Two Weeks in April

Last year at this time, I was channeling worry and frustration about our political scene into my artwork, a thematic departure from my usual work. An avid consumer of print and digital news in the form of the Sunday New York Times and other media, I found myself cleaning ink brushes on home page sections and suddenly, a new idea took root. Using ink and brush work on important stories in the first section of the newspaper, I accumulated papers from two weeks in March and two weeks in April, generating the name for this piece.

These were mounted on white or my own patterned fabric using polymer medium, then stitched. Because I wanted to be able to ship these large scale works to an exhibition, I made sure they folded in accordion style. Back and front are reversible. The whole project was cathartic.

Two Weeks in March, Two Weeks in April, Detail

Two Weeks in March and April is three reversible sections. Each section measures 84”h x 23”. They may be hung against a wall, or from the ceiling in center of room

My artist statement submitted to International Fiber Arts VIII, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Summer 2017, to which the piece was accepted, says the following: As artists, many of us are asking the question, how can I continue doing creative work with the upheaval of the latest election cycle? Normally, my own work is not narrative, but on Inauguration Day, I tempered my nervousness with painting, with flinging dye paint at the fabric. I incorporated the most iconic New York Times pages from two weeks in March and April into altered, stitched works. Then I did my usual “thing”, altering the surfaces by painting, monoprinting and more. Creating while monitoring, acknowledging, celebrating when we can- this is the mindful creative life.

Ironically, this approach led me to an entirely new body of work, my Tarp series that had components in the making for several years. Sometimes discomfort leads to creativity and movement.