Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Art by Accident or by Design

Boro is a Japanese word meaning "tattered rags" - used to describe patched clothes and bedding.
Because the clothing has been patched over and over, they look like wearable quilts. For a long time they were an embarrassment, due to the extreme poverty of the country people who created them. Now they are considered National treasures.

The book BORO: Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan by Yukiko Koida and Kyoichi Tsuzuki is based on the tireless search by Chuzaburo Tanaka for these cultural folk craft. He trekked over mountains and seacoast for 40 years collecting these Boro pieces. You can find this book for a reasonable price at the Trocadero website here.

Without Tanaka's efforts we would never have known of the art and beauty of Boro. For the people who created them, each small scrap of cloth and thread was precious. You can find actual Boro items at Kimono Boy, srithreads, and Shibui Home.

Below is one of my paintings in which I used hand-painted rice papers as collage. My hope in creating these hand painted papers was to make them resemble pieces of fabric in the style of Boro. The title is Asian Quilt.

Between 1741 and 1760, more than 4000 babies were left at the Foundling Hospital in London, England. When these impoverished mothers left their babies, they also left a small token, which was usually a piece of fabric. The fabric was either provided by the mother or cut from the child's clothing by nurses.

This piece of fabric was attached to registration forms and bound up in ledgers, in order to 'identify' the baby and keep identifying records. The hope by both the mothers and the nurses was that they would be able to reclaim their baby when their lives improved.

These pieces of fabric represent the sad moments of parting. Below, the piece of fabric has been cut into the shape of a heart. These pieces of fabric also form the largest collection of every day textiles serving Britain from the 18th century. Earlier this year, the Foundling Museum in London showcased an exhibit called Threads of Feeling. You can find out more about this exhibit at the Foundling Museum website here.

Between his age of 80 to 95, for 15 years until his death, Kouzaki Hiromu spent his days creating small simple 'works of paper'. When asked, he would say that he was making envelopes. He cut up, folded and pasted pieces of found papers.

His granddaughter, Fujii Sakuko, put over 100 of these envelopes into a book simply titled
GRANDFATHER'S ENVELOPES.

In his work, Hiromu created simple edge, line and surface texture.

Isn't it interesting how art imitates life, and life imitates art. Over time, these objects today take on qualities of collage, objects of history, and objects with life and soul.


Envelopes I found at a temple flea market in Kyoto in 2009.

43 comments:

Jackie Gardener said...

Each of these three concepts of accidental or incidental art holds such power and simplicity, especially when viewed all these years later. I wonder if we have such accidents of ritual favored now by some unknown group that will be discovered and revered many years from now.

NuminosityBeads said...

What a captivating and informative post, I'm fascinated by those London ledger pieces. I really like the point that Jackie has made.
I lucked into a treasure trove of old Japanese business envelopes from a stamp show. Come to think of it maybe it was you that commented on them before.
Anyway, thanks for your presentation on your blog here, It's inspiring me at this moment to do some sort of piecing of my many coveted components that I am hoarding!
xoxo Kim

iNd!@nA said...

oh Donna I have both of these books too and they are a huge source of inspiration. but i didn't know about the foundlings...and your words and images brought tears to my eyes
thank you so much, once again,for casting these delicious and bittersweet crumbs into the forest

Birdsong said...

Those pieces from the London orphanage ledger are just heartbreaking. Thank you for this beautiful post, discussing the art of our everyday lives.

Brenna said...

Wow, this is such an inspiring post, and blog. Glad to have found you. Those envelopes are just beautiful. I have been collecting old envelopes for years for the infinite number of security patterns to be found on the inside. Put together they remind me of a Boro cloth. Threads of Feeling was such a moving exhibition wasn't it.

liniecat said...

Gosh Id gladly wear that Boro jacket today! Tho my kids would probably walk on the other side of the road to me lol..........but what the hell!
A smashing post and very touching

Gardener in the Distance said...

Donna, this lovely post reminds me that creative work is often private or virtually unknown. There's also something noble and trusting in work that seeks to hold life together or keep its dignity.

Velma said...

all these books are with me (yes, i'm a book glutton) and go to them again and again for inspiration.

r.bohnenkamp said...

a great story and wonderful new work from you!
congratulations Donna!

Leslie Avon Miller said...

My great grandmother was adopted, but the records were forever lost when the orphanage burned down. The title Threads of Feeling speaks volumes. To have anything tangible to leave with one's baby...how touching. And those envelopes...thanks for the introductions Donna to these pieces of art and meaning. Your piece is a superb tribute to the idea and image of boro as a national treasure.

Jo Reimer said...

this is such an interesting post, Donna. Being a former quilter and embroiderer I had heard of Boro. Didn't shishako develop from the stitches of boro?
And the information about the foundlings is amazing. The bits of fabric are certainly the threads of connections.

collage whirl said...

Been wanting this book for a long time! I love how you have translated the boro feel into paper. The foundling exhibit is so moving--I just hope some of the mothers were able to return for their children.

ZenDotStudio said...

I have seen "boro" pieces but didn't know they had a name. I love how they are like collage and I love your collage based on boro. Wonderful other tidbits too. Great envelope finds. A temple flea market! Sounds like fun.

Carole said...

Donna, this is such an interesting and touching story. My heart skipped when I read about the fabric pieces the mothers left with their babies. I wonder how often they were reunited?

Sue said...

what a wonderful and heartbreaking collection of quilts and collages. The meaning beneath gives these (and your) artworks a special depth. Very moving indeed.

grrl + dog said...

A post about three
fabulous things -

and one thing -

ephemeral items. Things with history, things with a story..

Love the envelopes.

ArtPropelled said...

A post I will return to. Thinking of those poor mothers who had to leave their babies.... Heartbreaking. I'm glad Kouzaki's granddaughter thought to create a book with his carefully crafted envelopes otherwise we would probably never have heard about them. Very touching.
Your Boro inspired collages are beautiful Donna.

lyle baxter said...

donna, you know how I love the boro story and your collage is lovely. had read about the babies long ago. what a sad time. but the best is "grandfathers envelopes" love it! I'll be back to visit these pages again.

Cynthia Monica said...

Those envelopes by Kouzaki Hiromu just touched my soul. They are so beautiful. Amazing how the Boro "rags and tatters" seem to carry the spiritual essence of their makers...they are so touching and exquisite. You succeeded in capturing the Boro spirit in your collage Donna, it is lovely.

Art at Chesterbrook Academy Elementary School said...

Interesting post, amazing compositions.
One can feel the spirituality in your work.

Ruth Armitage said...

Your new blog design looks wonderful! I think these time-worn objects that speak about hardships are so touching because we think about the lives of those who suffered, those who loved.

Sharmon Davidson said...

The boro pieces are a treasure; I'm glad someone took the trouble to preserve them. Your lovely collage does indeed resemble them.
They remind me in some ways of the Appalachian quilts made by poor women from whatever little scraps they could find.

The story of the fabric pieces given with the babies' identifying papers is so touching, and the exhibit must be heartbreaking; I had never heard about this before.

And the envelopes, another container of memories... thank you for enlightening me.

Ginny Huber said...

I am glad to have discovered your blog and this beautiful posting. Thanks.

Jann Gougeon said...

I love boro cloth and I love your work. Touching post.
I'd also like to be "a fly on the wall" when you create your papers to resemble boro cloth!

lynda Howells said...

I have been reading layers for as long as l can remember but this piece really got to me. A beautiful piece of writing as well as Art. I visited the exhibition `Foundlings"..must admit l did loose a few tears. When l was a young teenager l worked as a Nursery Nurse in a Church of England Children's Home in York. Some of the children were left there while their foreign parents finished their education..but there were many different reasons.
I was also fasinated by the stories of the patching cloths and envolopes.ust so much to take in.x thank you for posting thisxx lynda.ps..forgot to say your work here is fantastic..anyone would be so proud to own a piece of your workxxlynda

Noela Mills said...

I have the Boro book - makes my hearl race every time I pick it up, and the sad foundling stories - it is amazing how scraps of cloth hold so many memories and emotions xoxo

Barry said...

D- Great title for the post - there is so much accidental art out there both in nature and human existence. The patching of clothing or swatches that were taken from the children all are about layers of history and existence. Thank you for reminding us that as clever as we might be in out art and collages this is happening in human filled ways naturally around us and is so full of beauty and texture. B

Fiona Dempster said...

Donna - so many lovely thoughts and sad thoughts to touch upon here. I find the poignancy of those fabric remnants left with the babies heartbreaking; yet love the simplicity of both the boro and the envelopes...so many ways to honour beauty in the day to day ...thank you

Liz Davidson / Artist Notebook said...

Donna thanks so much for this post, the words and works are so beautiful and touching and especially thanks for the books to add to my list.

Lynn said...

I've returned to this post a few times. So much to see and think about. And your paintings - so beautiful.

The "Threads of Feeling" exhibition was an amazing, moving experience. I'm thankful for the opportunity to have seen it.

annell said...

Such a beautiful post! Thank you!

Di said...

Beautiful and emotional.

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

The concept of art created through chance is of great interest to me. I found the examples you presented here to be poignant and beautiful.

Seth said...

What a fascinating post. I am going to follow your links to get more of the stories. Your collages here are sensational.

nancy neva gagliano said...

since you came "walking" with me
i had to come stroll through another
heartfelt piece from you...
would have been very touching to experience the threads of feeling exhibit...
and
your Asian Quilt, luv!
will take
steps to
look for BORO!

Teri said...

Donna---you always post the most interesting things on your blog. I love learning about all these new things...things I have never heard of. I bought the book Etcetera based on a recommendation by you. I just might have to purchase this new one on Boro. How sad for the mothers. Was there any information regarding if any of them were reunited in the end?

Teo said...

It's incredible how some fabric swatches can mean so much... makes my hair raise when I think. Your Boro collage is marvelous! Thank you so much for sharing these stories.

Amish Stories said...

I was passing through different blogs and thought id just say hello. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon,Pa.

petras kunstblog said...

Hallo Donna,
Thank you for this very interesting post
I'll try if I can get the book here in Germany.
Your work with the stamp is again very beautiful.
very best wishes and a nice weekend

Art at Chesterbrook Academy Elementary School said...

Thank you for commenting on my post because this brought me to yours.

Your compositions are absolutely beautiful.

I see a sentimentality and calmness in the way you organize you materials.

I love mixed media projects and your blog is an inspiration.

iNd!@nA said...

seen this?

http://www.douglashydegallery.com/exhibition.php?intProjectID=156

by land by air by sea said...

beautiful post.
all things close to my heart
b

Denise said...

I just found your blog post this morning as I was researching boro. Everything about the tattered, mended, quilted rags speaks to me. and now, finding out about the babies, their sad mothers, and the fabric scraps is just making my heart burst. Very inspiring post - thank you.