Books on Sheila Hicks

Sheila Hicks is in the news, this fall, showing work at the Whitney, at the Drawing Center, and with the reworking of her tapestries for the Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation tapestries were designed in 1967 and consist of over 1000 honey colored medallions of yarn that had deteriorated over the years. The tapestries, which she agreed to reconstruct, were done in her Paris studio. Taking over a year to construct, the tapestries were unveiled in October of this year.


Happily there are some wonderful books that show the amazing extent of her work. There is the beautiful book designed by Irma Boom, Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor showing Hick’s miniature weavings done (over 50 years) on a homemade picture-frame loom. She constructed over a thousand of these weavings and 195 are reproduced in this book. This book is like visiting a small gallery that is held in the viewer’s hands. The essay “Frames of Reference” by Joan Simon explains how the frames for these pieces were constructed and the importance of the work over the years.


There is a wonderful little catalogue produced by the New York Drawing Center for the show “Thread Lines” which encompasses work by 16 contemporary textile artists; Sheila Hicks is one of them. Drawing Papers 118 has an essay by curator Joanna Kleinberg Romanow exploring the connection between textile artists and line.

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The comprehensive monograph, Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, by Joan Simon and Susan C. Faxon, accompanies the first major retrospective of Hicks’s work, organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art. This book explores the full spectrum of the artist’s work. Particularly interesting is the book’s exploration of the cultural and historical origins of her weavings/sculptures. This book is lavishly illustrated with 174 color and 76 black-and-white illustrations.

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One of the best new books is called The Peruvian Four-Selvaged Cloth: Ancient Threads/New Directions by Elena Phipps.

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This book, by the Fowler Museum, explores the history of this cloth showing plates of antique fragments. But the book also shows, in full-page plates, contemporary use of the technique by Sheila Hicks and James Bassler. Both Hicks and Bassler were greatly influenced by seeing historical examples of the Peruvian cloth. Hicks’s and Bassler’s work are stunning examples of the Andean weaving technique. While other books discuss the early travel and study done by Sheila Hicks, this book includes the influence of Andean textiles on James Bassler. More about Bassler’s work can be found in magazine articles and smaller catalogues. How could you not love an artist who creates a “Trader Joe’s Bag” (shown in this book) made out of twisted paper, silk, woven embroidered, all-selvaged? Hopefully there will be a book produced on his life and work. Another wonderful example of one of his tapestries is featured on the back of this important book.

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maeda junko


An artist that combines a variety of techniques is Junko Maeda: the subject of an exhibition at the La Conner Quilt Museum from July 2nd to October 5th, 2014. Forgotten and discarded textile pieces are the focus of her artwork. Junko Maeda has collected Japanese textiles for over forty-five years. Her collection of Japanese natural fibers, such as silk, linen and cotton, are combined with Sashiko, boro and pojagi techniques, to create unusual textile pieces. Of particular interest were hangings made from old banners and diapers. Beautiful examples of her work were seen in her colorful/string drawn bags. Maeda has written several excellent books: Wa no Nuno Tsunagi and Nuno Wo Tsunagu Hibi. Wa no Nuno Tsunagi is written in Japanese but has vivid illustrations and directions for the techniques used in her pieces. Besides the combination of boro and pogaji techniques, the book offers step-by-step instructions on making objects. Of particular interest are directions to make the small bags; the beautiful offerings seen in her exhibition.

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Books on Boro

After seeing a few exhibits on the Japanese textile/art form known as boro, I have embarked on a hunt for good books on the technique. Boro which means “ragged” was used by the rural population of Japan to patch together clothing and household articles using a baste running stitch. The utilitarian patchwork, from the sewing of valuable scraps of plant fabrics and cotton, results in beautiful, spontaneous designs and colors. There are several good books that I have found showing examples of boro and offering historical information. Most of the books are difficult to find.


One of the best is “Boro, Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan” by Yukiko Koide and Kyoichi Tsuzuki. This “boro” book is small and charming: a lovely book to hold in one’s hands. The book is filled with examples of how the stitchery was used in jackets, mittens, bedcovers, and pants showing details of the technique and colors in exquisite plates. The authors explain that the book is the result of 40 years of fieldwork by Aomori’s researcher Chuzaburo Tanaka. The text explains the use of boro in Aomori and why the rags were so valuable to the inhabitants of the region.

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Another beautiful book is by David Sorgato and Nuzio Crisa. The book, entitled “Boro”, is printed in Milan and features futon covers from the collections of David Sorgato. This book offers a history of the development of Japan’s cotton culture and is an excellent introduction to boro textiles. With stunning full-page plates of the antique fabrics (front and back), this book is 95 pages, includes English and Italian text.


One of the recent Boro exhibits was held in the Pacific Northwest at the Japanese Garden in Portland in 2011. This exhibit was called Mottainai: The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan. Montainai means “waste nothing!” The exhibition featured examples of boro from the collections of Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto and Stephen Szczepanak of Sri in Brooklyn. The catalogue has excellent essays on fibers used in the creation of textiles and information about the subsequent cotton industry in Japan. Both essays, by Kei Kawasaki and Stephen Szczepanak are interesting and informative with excellent examples of Boro.


230 X Tadashi Morita (Japanese Edition). This small book shows examples of the unique collection of Tadashi Morita, vintage dealer, of recycled and stitched Japanese fabrics.

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A book with many examples of Boro is another Japanese publication called Tsugaru kogin to Sashiko: Hatarakigi wa utsukushi. The subject is listed as koginzashi and shows examples of sashiko stitching and boro The viewer does not need to know Japanese to appreciate the many examples of sashiko stitching and boro fabrics.


The contemporary use of boro textiles can be seen in a book published by the Nuno Corporation of Japan called “Boro Boro”. The Nuno designers were inspired by the subtle beauty of things “falling apart with age” so they have intentionally decayed fabric to achieve the feeling of worn and tattered clothing. The Nuno designers feel Boro fabrics have character and beauty. They define their treatment of Boro Boro as the “cruel and unusual treatment of fabric”. Sections include: Burnt Out Fabrics, Feltwork, Slit Yarn, Unstructuring, Velvet, Chemical Lacework, Non-Woven. Text is by Kazuyoshi Sudo and Alfred Birnbaum.

Art Cars

Maiwa Textile symposium is held on Granville Island in Vancouver. Granville Island is also home to the Emily Carr School of Design. A visitor can wander through the extensive Emily Carr Library. One of the workshop participants spent time going through surface design magazines.


She was amazed that the library had all the old issues. Across the street from the library is the Emily Carr Bookstore: READ (attached to the Charles A Scott Gallery).


The bookstore has a great selection of contemporary art and artist’s books.

Spotted on the street outside the bookstore was this design painted on an “art car”: a Lamborgini.


This reminded me of the BMW Art Car collection; miniature BMW Collectible cars painted by outstanding contemporary artists: Calder, Stella, Rauschenberg, A.R. Penck, Hockney, et al. The beautiful catalogue shows each car and includes a description of the artist.

POP at SAM Cabrera

Speaking of art cars and textiles, the Seattle Art Museum opens it’s POP Departures show on Oct 8. One of the exhibition pieces is Marita Cabrera’s mixed-media piece of hand-stitched vinyl, batting, thread and car parts depicting a VW bug.

Maiwa Handprints Limited

Every fall, for the last ten years, Maiwa Handprints Limited, of Vancouver B.C., coordinates a textile symposium where surface design artists from all over the world come to teach in the beautiful studio/library. Tilleke Schwarz, from the Netherlands, offered a workshop “Telling Your own Story” from Oct 1 to Oct 3.   Tilleke had the students explore aspects of their lives, likes and dislikes, making a collage. She taught the stitches that she chooses to work with: couching, running stitch, and cross-stitch. Slide shows offered students a visual exploration of works by artists from the Netherlands and examples of textures. Ample time was available for each student’s creative work.

tilleke at workThis is her current piece of work that she shared with the students. Tilleke cautioned that the piece transforms as she works on it and will look entirely different when finished. Besides the stitches, she dyed the cloth yellow, and uses found embroidery pieces and lace that fit into the piece.  Extensive photographs of her work can be seen in her first book Tilleke Schwartz: New Potatoes with text in English and Dutch. Her second book will be published shortly. The Maiwa loft is an exciting visual space, filled with ethnic textile books and fabrics that inspire.   Students are free to explore the amazing collection of books on color, design, quilting, weaving and ethnic textile arts from all over the world.