Abstract Design in American Quilts at 50: Journey to Japan

Abstract Design in American Quilts at 50: Journey to Japan

Immediately after Abstract Design in American Quilts closed in October 1971, venues around the world requested to borrow the exhibition from collector-curators Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof. The quilts’ most distant trip was to Japan in 1975-1976. It was a journey that would produce reverberations for the next several decades.

Japan has its own long history of textile art, and American-style quilts were not completely unknown there. However, Holstein and van der Hoof’s exhibitions introduced quilts to the Japanese public in a big and splashy way, appearing at major Tokyo and Kyoto galleries as well as in smaller ones across the country. Thousands flocked to the exhibitions, which helped spark widespread interest in quiltmaking. Budding Japanese quiltmakers honed their skills quickly and by the 1980s began to enter—and win—major U.S. and international competitions. They mastered American-style quilts and also developed a uniquely Japanese (wa) quilt style. In the process, they helped expand and diversify the global quilt landscape.

For Journey to Japan, the International Quilt Museum commissioned quilts from ten of today’s top Japanese quilt artists and teachers, some of whom saw the Holstein/van der Hoof quilts in the 1970s. Each artist selected a piece from the original Abstract Design in American Quilts and responded to it using her own techniques, materials, and aesthetic approach.

The quilts in this exhibition are from the International Quilt Museum’s Permanent Collection.

Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

Untitled
Kumiko Fujita
Tokyo, Japan, 2020
Cotton; machine pieced and quilted, hand appliquéd
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2020.058.0001

Kumiko Fujita’s training as a graphic designer is evident in her bold, crisply executed shapes and simple color palette. Fujita usually prefers to work with abstract designs, but for Journey to Japan, she says, “I intentionally chose the House pattern, which is representational, because I like the combination of red, black, and white, inspired by the black roof and red walls of the classic American schoolhouse.” She sees the schoolhouse as a world of imagination, with children studying and playing in and around the building.

View the reference quilt

My Rob Peter to Pay Paul II
Keiko Goke
Sendai, Japan, 2020
Cotton; machine pieced and quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2020.052.0002

Keiko Goke’s meditation on the original Rob Peter to Pay Paul quilt creates an updated, richly-colored and spontaneous version of the traditional pattern. When Goke first began quiltmaking fifty years ago, she focused on what she calls “picture quilts” made with figurative appliqué because, she says, “I didn’t want my quilts to look similar to other quiltmakers’ work.” Later, she embraced traditional pieced patterns, but only by approaching them extemporaneously, without templates and by cutting and placing hand-dyed fabrics directly as she works.

View the reference quilt

Untitled
Shoko Hatano
Tokyo, Japan, 2020
Cotton, silk, cotton/polyester; machine appliquéd, pieced, and quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation 
IQM 2020.057.0001

Without simply imitating her chosen inspiration piece, Shoko Hatano captures the spirit of the Crazy quilt and adds her distinctly personal stamp to the composition. Just like the block-style original, Hatano’s piece is haphazard yet structured, both following and breaking free from a grid. She adds further complexity through the use of overprinted fabrics and abundant, textural quilting. Hatano’s abstract imagery often includes a gestural quality reminiscent of calligraphic brushstrokes.

View the reference quilt

Mother – La Mère
Yoshiko Katagiri
Nara, Japan, 2020
Cotton, silk; hand pieced, appliquéd, and quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2020.051.0001

In this diptych, Yoshiko Katagiri combines her fondness for Log Cabin blocks with her love of appliqué and intricate handwork. She says, “It was challenging to blend together the linear, geometric pattern with the curved, organic shapes of the jellyfish motif.” She titled the piece “Mother – La Mère (the Sea)” in reference to the fact that the Japanese kanji for “sea” (海) contains the kanji for “mother” (母) and also to how the Holstein/van der Hoof Collection can be seen as the “mother” of Japanese quilt culture.

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Halu #5
Harue Konishi
Tokyo, Japan, 2020
Silk; machine pieced and quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2020.059.0001

In Halu #5, Harue Konishi visually references the original red and white Bars quilt with columns of red squares separated and surrounded by quirky, off-kilter black and white infill patterns. The quilt’s fabrics are largely recycled from pre-WWII garments: an embroidered red wedding kimono and her mother-in-law’s white kimono. About the quilt’s metaphorical theme, she says, “I created this piece hoping an unknown world—a special dimension—would unfold by rearranging a single, repetitive pattern."

View the reference quilt

Untitled
Suzuko Koseki
Tokyo, Japan, 2020
Cotton, polyester; machine pieced and quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2020.054.0001

Suzuko Koseki is known for using fabrics with printed words. Although she primarily sees them as simply another pattern to work with, sometimes the words appear in interesting combinations. About her process, she says, “I end up with a lot of small scrap fabrics as I make quilts. I find it most pleasing to use the scraps to come up with unexpectedly beautiful and fun color matches. This time, I approached the project playfully by freely composing the quilt on paper foundation blocks and not using a template.”

View the reference quilt

Chic
Shizuko Kuroha
Tokyo, Japan, 2020
Cotton; machine pieced, hand quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2020.060.0001

Shizuko Kuroha cleverly references the original Nine Patch quilt’s varying degrees of value contrast (lights vs. darks) by emphasizing one light Shoo Fly block in the lower left. Kuroha is well known for her use of antique Japanese indigo-dyed fabrics, though in this piece they are mostly plain rather than decorated with resist-dyed designs, as is more usual for her work. Traces of sumi ink calligraphy are still visible on some of the lighter fabrics.

View the reference quilt

Depart Again
Emiko Toda Loeb
Kyoto, Japan, 2020
Silk, cotton; machine and hand pieced, hand quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2020.056.0001

Although Emiko Toda Loeb’s inspiration quilt was Kaleidoscope, which you can see referenced in the far left strip of Depart Again, Toda Loeb drew ideas from many of the other Holstein/van der Hoof quilts as well. See if you can spot her versions of the Nine Patch, Thousand Pyramids, Log Cabin, and Wild Goose Chase quilt patterns.

View the reference quilt

It’s a Beautiful Day, Vol. 16
Eiko Okano
Tokyo, Japan, 2020
Silk, polyester; machine pieced, hand quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2020.053.0001

This uchikake (wedding kimono)-shaped quilt is the latest in Eiko Okano’s It’s a Beautiful Day series, three others of which are part of the International Quilt Museum collection. Echoing the diagonal stripes in the original Log Cabin quilt, Okano leaves out the upper left shoulder stripe in order to emphasize the subtle beauty of the white fabrics. Okano felt like her quilt selection was foreordained, noting while she was constructing her version: “Making my own quilt inspired by a Holstein/van der Hoof quilt that I admired like the Bible—this seems like my fate. I am working on my quilt as if it was decided a long time ago.”

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Movement #89
Yasuko Saito
Tokyo, Japan, 2020
Silk, cotton, linen, Japanese hand-made paper (washi); machine pieced and quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2020.055.0001

Yasuko Saito’s quilts are often characterized by intricate patchwork contained within wide, sweeping arcs of color. Another unique quality of her work is her use of washi, hand-made paper, along with hand- and custom-dyed fabrics. About this quilt Saito says, “The year 2020 is in a state of emergency because of the coronavirus disease . . . With what’s going on right now, I worked with the theme of “rainbow” in order to express my hope for [the return of] dreams, happy and fulfilling life, and fun.”

View the reference quilt

Works in the Exhibition

History of Textiles in Japan

History of Textiles in Japan
History of Textiles in Japan

Japan has an illustrious history of textile art, often centered on high-end materials and complex techniques. In pre-modern times, silk, embroidery, and woven brocades graced the clothing and furnishings of aristocrats, merchants, and priests and were considered forms of high art. For the working classes, humbler fabrics and methods such as ramie, cotton, patchwork, and quilting provided protection and decoration in everyday life.

Antique Quilts

Antique Quilts

Buddhist priest’s robe (kesa)
Maker unidentified
Probably made in Japan, 1800 – 1850
Silk; hand pieced and appliquéd
Permanent loan from UNL Lentz Center of Asian Art
IQM 2014.024.0003

In many Asian cultures, particularly those with strong Buddhist influence, patchwork is viewed as an expression of poverty and humility. Patchwork robes worn by Buddhist priests were intended to reflect the wearer’s rejection of material wealth. In actuality, the robes were frequently made from expensive silk brocade fabrics, donated by wealthy benefactors to gain favor with powerful Buddhist temples.

Because they were often constructed of pieces cut almost entirely from a single fabric, the patchwork columns in kesa robes can be extremely subtle. Can you find all the seams?

Half under-kimono (han juban)
Maker unidentified
Made in Japan, 1850-1870
Silk; hand pieced
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2009.043.0001

Patchwork in Japan often bore a connotation of frugality—a highly honored quality in Buddhism and in Japanese society, generally. It often was used to make bags for carrying rice offerings to temples and shrines (komebukuro) and to construct under-kimono (juban), like this one.

Firefighter’s Coat (hikeshi hanten)
Makers unidentified
Japan, Meiji period (1868-1912)
Cotton; hand pieced and quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2009.016.0001, 2015.058.0008

Quilting was a traditional Japanese textile technique, perhaps most famously used to make protective wear such as firemen’s jackets. In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Edo (now Tokyo), fires were an ever-present danger. Firefighters soaked their heavily sashiko-stitched (quilted) jackets and helmets with water for protection. They frequently also marked the indigo-dyed jackets’ outer panels with crests and writing to identify their unit and rank.

Firefighter’s Helmet
Makers unidentified
Japan, Meiji period (1868-1912)
Cotton; hand pieced and quilted
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
IQM 2009.016.0001, 2015.058.0008

Quilting was a traditional Japanese textile technique, perhaps most famously used to make protective wear such as firemen’s jackets. In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Edo (now Tokyo), fires were an ever-present danger. Firefighters soaked their heavily sashiko-stitched (quilted) jackets and helmets with water for protection. They frequently also marked the indigo-dyed jackets’ outer panels with crests and writing to identify their unit and rank.

Antique Quilts

Gallery Photos

Gallery Photos
Gallery Photos

Virtual Gallery Walkthrough

Virtual Gallery Walkthrough
Virtual Gallery Walkthrough
Support for this exhibition has been provided by contributions from visitors like you and by the following sponsors Robert & Ardis James Foundation, Lincoln Modern Quilt Guild, Anonymous, Nebraska Arts Council/Nebraska Cultural Endowment and Friends of the International Quilt Museum. The Nebraska Arts Council, a state agency, has supported this exhibition through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Visit www.artscouncil.nebraska.gov for more information.
Event Date
Friday, February 26, 2021 to Saturday, August 7, 2021