Friday, 26 February 2016

How do you visit a studio fairly?

Three of us decided our budget before we flew to the other side of the Japan to visit the studios of three textile craftspeople in advance. We phoned and made appointments and asked them for two hours of their time and we would pay for their time directly or by purchasing their work. We were going to interrupt their work day in their homes and ask questions about techniques and just generally interrupt their lives. We know well that the house gets a tidying up and our thoughts are on other things besides our work before guests arrive. We would be interrupting our hosts life for a few more hours that the ones we spend there.

How do you manage this fairly?

We brought the obligatory Japanese visiting presents of some specialty from our town. We show up on time with our heads low and voices quiet and respectful.

Our first stop at the weavers house was wonderful. We were given a brief tour of the studio and we asked plenty of questions and fought over the wonderful weavings she had at the studio. We all had tea together, laughed a little and left with a good feeling.

The next stop didn't go so smoothly. The work was not very good and our host seemed tired of receiving guests but was very very kind to us. We headed quickly for the shop area and tried to be enthusiastic about buying $500 worth of stuff we didn't want. We left yawning and cold footed into a wet directionless wind. The bottom of the stream in front of the studio seemed muddier than it had an hour earlier.

We went out for drinks that evening and debriefed on the days activities. Japanese craft masters who were producing work that was far far beneath their skill and knowledge level because they had to make a living. (?) Tourist shop stuff. It was painful to witness. Cheap cloth with bad motifs dyed with precious indigo with hundreds of years of technique development behind.....a crappy placemat.... I tried not to be negative... I was the non-Japanese and I try to keep my critical tongue in my mouth. It is hard to not sound like you are criticizing all Japanese and not just the particular craftsman. A few beer later we were shaking our heads and trying to get somewhere in a discussion about what was so wrong.

You don't know whether to cry or scream or hang your head and walk away.

The next day we visited an indigo dyer in a remote small town. We were not very enthusiastic about the whole thing. We were in for a surprise. Amano san was animated and passionate and skilled, charming and intelligent. (and drop dead handsome)

His knowledge is broad and deep and he tries new things. He was open-minded and civic-minded. He shared his knowledge and his time making humans look very good.  He was busy and although we would have liked to spend longer with him we left him to get some work done.

I've had an endless flow of visitors through my house/life to look at the silkworms and indigo and the old house itself. (I have felt like a panda in a zoo a few times. Look at how the foreigner lives.) I let visitors know in advance that I have nothing to sell from the house. Nothing. (That takes care of many problems.) I take cues from how they behave in my place. (Respectful, funny, warm and brief go a long way.)

It is tricky visiting the studios of  'makers'. I am interested to hear other's experiences and attitudes.

The indigo posers...


  1. Visiting makers is a very big part of my work. There are definitely rules that I stand by. The most important one for me is respect for their time. I never visit without a specific goal, that I talk about and explain upon arranging my visit to disturb the less possible and make sure that they are pleased to have me and understand and find my purpose worthy. I always try to find a way to pay back for the time: either acquiring some of their work, helping them out some way (I have gather enough contacts and information to make myself very useful for them as well) or actually starting a good business relationship.
    I try to be very respectful of their space and stay only if I feel I'm welcome and not a nuissance. Most of my visits are not a one time thing and the relationship tends to strengthen.
    I always make a point of explaining how grateful I am for their time and especially for the sharing of their expertise: true makers are very generous towards people that have sincere interest and respect for their work, according to my personal experience.
    I have had a few bad experiences like the one you describe, but I realize that it was always with people that didn't have their heart in the craft and that got bitter and disillusioned with time, because being a maker is hard!

  2. Alice san! Well said. I found it hard to be hard on the guy who was making such bad stuff. He explained to us how the quality of this and that is not what it used to be. But why not find a weaver to make better quality cloth? And why not visit museums and antique stores and look carefully at the quality of the good stuff? Is it ever right to just flatly say..."WTF are you thinking?" I guess not.

  3. This is a really lovely post Bryan san. You have shown your students what good quality is and continue to inspire us to do and be better. Thank you so much!

  4. IMO it is difficult to make a living off your craft and still keep the production up there and's a life science.i can relate to your frustration and sadness.

  5. the recent posts are all so interesting, seeing more traditional makers, or the ones that have taken on traditional making. i'm glad you asked about this, the last time two college students came to my place i gave them a mini workshop, just because they were so very interested and were learning and loving that learning. they had nothing to give except respect, attention, and excellent hand skills. oh, and deep thanks. it was the best of visits!

  6. Hi Brian) Thank you for such an interesting post! A few days ago I found out the name of shibori master Motushiko Katano and I absolutely love his art too! Today I bought my first real indigo kit and I can't wait to make my first shibori.
    I agree with you, pride of quality is everything for real master.

  7. so nice, so it is a lot like that, search on a money focus and no more quality or real heart beauty.I feel often like an alien in Brussels...thank for your nice posts!