July 4th, 2012 / posted by paularath

Akihiko Izukura and Anna Tomita with new dye experiments. Left to right: Waianae indigo, hibiscus and blueberries.

International textile artist Akihiko Izukura returns to Japan today after a week of experimenting with Hawaii flora and foodstuffs to create new natural dyes. He spends one week of each month here in Hawaii and his cadre of local assistants grows each time he’s here.

As you may remember, Izukura-san uses our home as his atelier, so Jerry and I have joined his entourage of helpers. In fact, Jerry is learning to be the keeper of the silk worms. We are growing nine mulberry trees in our backyard so Jerry can feed the little worms. And if our trees don’t produce enough leaves to feed the hungry critters (they eat nonstop, apparently) we will have to import mulberry leaves from Howard Takata in Hilo. Here are the worms right now:

The worms are those tiny little black things.

It’s a bit of pressure for poor Jerry, as during his last trip Izukura-san brought silk worms to Oahu. He placed them in three different locations around the island to see where they would thrive. None thrived; they all died.

So many people step in to help with Izukura-san’s projects. We all want Hawaii to make a good showing as a place to gather natural dye stuffs. Izukura-san’s project involves creating dyes from materials collected in Japan, Hawaii and China. Next year he will hold a huge exhibition in China’s Silk Museum. It will be much bigger than the shows he put on here at U.H. Manoa and the Honolulu Museum of Art School. The fabrics he creates in Hawaii will play a critical role in the show.

During his June/July visit he experimented with Okinawan sweet potato, Waianae indigo, hibiscus, ginger, blueberries and some stuff I’m not sure of. I absolutely adore the shade of his indigo. It’s a soft turquoise. He has given me permission to use his dyes to create some fresh new colors for my fabric paintings. Can’t wait to try them! To achieve this beautiful turquoise color, he simply puts the leaves (lovingly collected by kapa artist Bernice Akamine, who had t o hike a mile into the Waianae mountains to find indigo) in a lingerie bag and lets them ferment in water. The indigo dye pieces you see below were immersed for only one hour.

Anna Tomita, a recent U.H. Manoa fashion graduate, was Izukura-san’s assistant throughout this trip. She did everything from ironing, to driving, to translating, to providing us with her mother’s fabulous bentos. Anna is building a really great fashion portfolio. She took a semester in Florence, Italy, then worked for a design firm in Milan for a summer. Now she’s learning the Japanese way of creating natural wearable art.

Izukura-san will be teaching a course in natrual dyeing, using Hawaii materials, at the Honolulu Museum of Art School. If you’re interested, you can register at http://www.honoluluacademy.org/11984-academy_art_center

– Paula Rath


One of the pots of indigo dye. We'll see how it changes in a month.

The mulberry trees, grown to feed the silk worms.

Silk ribbons dyed in, left to right, blueberries, hibiscus and indigo.

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