Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Silk Road from Japan to Georgia.

The doubtful rickety barn I live and work in was a silk farming house until the mid-1960s like every other house in the village.

No one moves anywhere.

 The same ten families for the past 600 years it seems. Scratching out a living in this nondescript crease in the mountains. The winters were spent making charcoal to sell and to give the illusion of heat in a brazier under a table. In the spring and summer and autumn they raised silkworms. There was no electricity. Typhoons like the two we have had over the past few days drench the place. A dreary mess to mop up with drearier rags and scrappy bamboo brooms.....

When I moved in this place 22 years ago, the second and third floor was littered with abandoned funereal silk farming equipment. Bamboo trays and linen nets, fuzz removing boxes and wooden pulleys for getting the mulberry up to the top of the house. There was more equipment for reeling the silk and skeining it. There was still more weaving equipment. Looms and warping wheels and reeds.

Food, clothing and shelter self-sufficiency.

The old guy who was born in this house is in the hospital now. I take his wife there a few times a week for a short visit.  His sister was there today and we briefly sat with him. He is so small grey and fragile.

It was just yesterday we were climbing the mountain and collecting bamboo and falling trees.

My head spun a little at the human/time dynamics at the table. I dump fix up money into their old house. (A place full of harsh memories of poverty and mosquitoes and cold for them. ) An antique carpet here and some other unnecessary sarty-afrtsy-something-or-other object there. Ornamental grasses and a dozen kinds of lilies from the local home centre to improve the view out the bathroom window.

I put in flush toilets a few years back. A few of the neighbouring houses still have outhouses and paper walls and doors instead of glass ones. I think my neighbours thought I was needling them on purpose by flushing the toilet to trot out it actually flushed. They came over to look at it (them actually, I put in three at once...)  enviously... in 2012.

I took me a few years but eventually I knew what all the silk and charcoal tools were used for. In neighbouring villages that were wealthier than this one you could find the same tools only of higher quality and cleverer design. Deeper in the mountains there were more meager houses where the equipment was shabbier.

Working in Laos I saw similar old silk industry tools and could discern their purpose at a glance. The branches off the silk road. I figured at first that the tools were developed to fulfil a function and that is why they looked similar. The Japanese tools were slightly different as there is no chair culture and tools were made to use while sitting on the floor. The eye-level is decided in traditional Japanese houses. Windows and furniture and even dishes are based on this single eye level.

After Russia I flew to Tbilisi, Georgia for a week. Georgia was formerly called, The Georgian Soviet Republic. After the Soviet Union collapsed it declared independence and became an independent country in 1991. It sits on the Black Sea.

I flew down there with Anna for a few reasons. To eat/drink the famously delicious food and wine, experience the Georgians legendary hospitality and see the notoriously beautiful people. (Three checks and five stars to all three of the above.) Anna's brother Vanya came along with his finance and we had a small wedding in a remote romantic town.

I didn't expect any textile related experiences except looking for some carpets to drag home to the farmhouse....Iran and Azerbaijan are close by. They were hard to resist.

I had two great unexpected textile experiences in Georgia. We had an excellent guide who cracked our brains with her extensive knowledge of her country. Linguistics. Ancient history. Legends. Religious oddities. Wine. Food. Soviet Era economics.  My god.....

She asked what I do in Japan and then spoke to the taxi driver and he took us to the State Silk Museum. It seemed slightly LSD 35 years after the facts...
A silk museum in the middle of Georgia.

Ahh..Georgia was on one of the silk roads...

Inside it was a little Tara-after-the-civil-war-scene. 

The capitals and keystone decorations were gilded silk moths and silkworms on mulberry leaves.

You gotta smile a Soviet smile for those silk moth antennas.

I growled a bit on thinking of the dumb-ass silk museum in Yokohama in the typical Japanese imagination-free idiotic fuck-you-school-of-civic-architecture.

It was a party. We loved it.

 The director was surprised to see our crew so enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. If only we had a bottle of vodka in there! We could have proposed a full bottle worth of toasts in Georgian emotional style to the ingenuity of humans in thousands of years of silk production.

The similarity of the silk producing machines left me road...
(As a silk farmer in Japan, I more or less cringe when I see or hear the words silk road....)

In Japan:

In Georgia:

In Japan:

In Georgia:

In Japan:

In Georgia:

In Japan:

In Georgia:

In Japan:

In Georgia: 

and so on and so forth...

During the Soviet Era almost every home in some areas raised silkworms. Half of the production went to Russia and the other half was sold or used locally in Georgia. 

When the Soviet Union fell apart so did the silk industry. Factories and tools were uprooted and taken to the Turkish border and sold. There are rumblings of an effort to start the silk industry again. I was  generously offered some land and some government assistance to lend a hand in its revival. The temptation was there. If I was ten years younger I would have jumped on it. 

There are mulberry trees left. There are stories left. Just like Japan. A deceased silk industry and it's lonely remnants.

I spotted this old Soviet Silk farm by the side of the road and stopped to take pictures.

After looking for a place to hold the wedding we decided to do it at home. (Our rented house.) The local band played (and cooked our food on a grill outside) and the locals had a feast waiting for us when we got home.  We ate and drank and danced and smiled and wished Vanya and Olya the best for their future lives together.

(Looks like I am marrying one of them.) (The justice of the peace didn't laugh when we asked her to perform the first gay wedding in Russian Orthodox Georgia.)

And the band was  more than handsome. They sat at the table next to us. Small beautiful wedding on that old silk road.


Monday, 22 August 2016

Indigo in the Russian Ethnography Museum

I have been back in Japan for a while. There are so many great pictures of textiles in Russia that no one will see unless I blog them. There are a few more blogs to come.

There is a lot going on at the house. I had a genki group of students here for ten days. The weather was pretty hot but they were all good sports.

Johanna, Tina, Shawn, Gloria, Shannah, Claire and Ann. We needed a time stop machine for a few extra weeks.  We still see you sitting in your own territories around the house and yard. Whiteboots is checking you all out. I hope you all made it home safely. Many thanks and hugs from Hiro and me.

Thread is being dyed by the ton to be made into indigo t-shirts. We are reeling  and spinning this springs silk cocoons day by day.....and indigo.........Was it that smart of an idea to plant three new indigo fields this year? The second harvest is finished and we start the third soon. A ton of indigo. How on earth is it going to be used???? it is so much work to produce. The projects to be dyed have to be worthy of the indigo.
There is plenty of textile excitement going on.

Whiteboots loves to help with the chores....indigo harvesting etc.

Back to Russia......
The Russian Museum of Ethnography in St Petersburg houses a collection of 500 000 items relating to the ethnography, or cultural anthropology, of peoples of the former Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. The museum was set up in 1902. Tsar Nicholas had opened the state coffers to fund it.

The museums first exhibits were the gifts received by the Russian Tsars from peoples of Imperial Russia. These were supplemented by regular expeditions to various parts of the Russian Empire which began in 1901. 

I had a tummy ache the entire time I was there...I was so excited. How could you not get a tummy ache when you find an indigo dyeing studio from the Caucasus circa 1900 transported 'as is' to the museum???

(Anna and I were practically dancing in front of it. We kept our clothes on but it was a Doukhobor  moment.)

Madder and Indigo.....speechless.

We were looking for clothing in the museum that held some elements that could be worked into contemporary design from a denim/madder standpoint. There was no shortage of them. Shaman clothes....perfect. 

Villagers processing linen.

This linen loom was remarkable in its design. 

The shuttles were folksy and friendly.

There is no place like home. And home was extra beautiful when I arrived home to find the lotus blooming at the front door.

And mountains lilles outside my bedroom.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Indigo Russian Textiles at the Russian Museum

It may be the "white nights" of St. Petersburg (the sun doesn't really set and it is light all night. ) playing with my head or perhaps the size of the palaces or the length of Russian novels.....something is exciting me enough to write a 700 page blog entry on two days spent at the Russian museum. 

Not far from the Hermitage is The State Russian Museum.  It is the largest depository of Russian fine art in St Petersburg. The museum was established in 1895 when Tsar Nicholas was enthroned. Its original collection was composed of artworks taken from the Hermitage Museum, Alexander Palace, and the Imperial Academy of Arts. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 many private collections were nationalised and relocated to the Russian Museum. 

The main purpose in visiting was to see the icon collection and headed straight there from the entrance.
 The radar was on the lookout for Russian traditional design motifs in icon paintings that could possibly be reproduced with Russian traditional wood block printing on cloth or even stencilled with Japanese stencil techniques. The museum was not busy so you could quietly take iPhone pictures  without annoying anyone.  

Of course there were beautiful wall tapestries.  The colours the Russians got from their indigo (woad sourced) and rose madder was interesting to see. The themes of the tapestries were not interesting but thinking of the plant-dye logistics triggers imaginations.  The red madder dyed horse was a bit surreal.

This Bible cover was warmly crafted with a Russian Orthodox Patriarch embellished in folk-like detail.

The Museum is too big.  It is a good idea to leave after a few hours to respect and protect from overloading.

 The second day's goal was to look at the Russian Folk Craft section. It was a little like Christmas sleep and up early walking to the museum and getting here before it opened. The Pushkin statue keeps the early arrivals company.

The museum rooms have been restored to perfection. (Mr Putin in putting some of that oil revenue to good cause. )  Hundreds of years of Russian treasures on display. There are long hallways dedicated with photographs to what had been lost in the Revolution, the Nazi Terror and the Soviet Era. Agony. 

The Russian Folk Art area is breathtaking. With economic sanctions on right now it is a good time to visit Russia as prices are low. (The people of the Crimea would welcome your contribution to the Russian economy.) If you can get there it is a fascinating destination. It is only a matter of time before  these museums are going to be over run with tour buses. 

The woodwork, ceramics, metalwork bone carving were all interesting. 

The collection of Upper Volga Distaffs was well displayed. You could sense the pride they makers of the distaff had and the importance the place in the household these objects held. 

As a noun, a distaff (/ˈdɪstɑːf/, also called a rock) is a tool used in spinning. It is designed to hold the unspun fibers, keeping them untangled and thus easing the spinning process. It is most commonly used to hold flax, and sometimes wool, but can be used for any type of fiber.

One room was full of Russian wood block indigo dyed textiles....BINGO!

So beautiful. Textiles have so much information in them. More to share.... in a few days.