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The carps that appear here belong to those motifs which, despite reflecting Japanese symbols, seem familiar to the Europeans as well. According to the tradition brought to Japan from China, carps swim upstream so as to transform themselves into dragons, having first proven their strength and perseverance. Due to those features, they are also patrons of boys on their own day which used to be celebrated in Japan on 5 May (at present, this is Children's Day in Japan).

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Ise-katagami stencils, cut from katajigami paper infused with persimmon juice, have been created in the area of the contemporary city of Suzuki, in Mie prefecture, since the Muromachi period (1337–1573). They have been used to decorate fabrics, in particular those intended for traditional dresses, as well as to cover ceramics, leather, and even patterned sweets. At present, they are also used to create paintings and designs on screens and lanterns.
In 1952, Ise-katagami was recognised as part of the Intangible Cultural Properties of Japan, and because of this fact, Ise-katagami handicraft may be supported by the Japanese state and it may still be developed.
The carps that appear here belong to those motifs which, despite reflecting Japanese symbols, seem familiar to the Europeans as well. According to the tradition brought to Japan from China, carps swim upstream so as to transform themselves into dragons, having first proven their strength and perseverance. Due to those features, they are also patrons of boys on their own day which used to be celebrated in Japan on 5 May (at present, this is Children's Day in Japan). The motif of carps on the presented stencil is quite large; therefore, it could be used as a design on a yukata cotton kimono which was worn on warm, summer days. Traditionally, patterns of fish and sea animals are put on boys' yukatas, whereas yukatas of girls and women are decorated with floral elements. However, the final decision with respect to the design is always down to the client.
Traces of paint visible on one side of the stencil suggest that this stencil has already been used. It is worth mentioning that such patterns do not have to be used in their entirety — one of the elements may be chosen. Japanese signs visible on the other side of the stencil remind us that because of its properties this kind of old handmade paper with long fibres could be used for both private (letters, notes) and "industrial" purposes (newspapers, stencils).
During the exhibition A Disappearing Tradition: Ise-katagami and Kimono, where the stencil with the motif of carps was displayed, workshops were organised that were conducted by Ishimi Ōsugi, a master of the art of cutting stencils. On the first day, each participant received a sheet of katajigami paper, a knife and a few rather easy patterns to choose from. After a short presentation of some cutting techniques, they began their work. Soon, it became apparent that to cut out a long line, one requires a sharp knife, as well as immense concentration. Each action also requires a steady touch. To prepare a stencil of a rather simple pattern, the participants required about two hours. Skilled craftsmen are able to cut out several sheets of paper in the same time, but it requires a lot of strength and proficiency. In the Japanese language, a craftsman who creates stencils is called horishi — a sculptor.
The next day, the workshop participants brought T-shirts, scarves and other fabrics they intended to dye using the stencils they had created. Master Ōsugi showed them how to mix a base with paints and dyes, and then, how to apply them with a sponge. Stencils infused with persimmon juice are waterproof; thus they can be washed and re-used with other colours. The Japanese paint, which was used on that day, is so durable that it may be washed at a temperature of 60°C and the colours can last for years.
A lot of clothes, tablecloths and scarves were decorated by the participants during the workshop. At the beginning, they dyed their fabrics precisely according to the instructions, but over time they started mixing colours and creating blends and new shades. There can be no doubt that the traditional methods of dying fabrics are still very attractive and they will not disappear.

Elaborated by Aleksandra Görlich (The Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology), editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

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“Ise-katagami” dyeing stencil with a carp motif

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