Sunday, May 8, 2011


Late at night I hear owls hooting in the nearby forest--a marvel being so close to Paris. It's not likely that I'll be out in the woods after dark to capture our nocturnal serenader numerically, so this vintage Japanese katagami of flying owls will be my illustration.

Poster from an exposition at the
Maison de la Culture du Japon, Paris.
An exceptional decorative art
Katagamis are highly collectable Japanese dyeing stencils used to pattern silks for kimonos. Hand-cut from mulberry bark paper, the innumerable katagami patterns vary in delicacy and design. The one above is simple and bold, but chouette. Note the repetition of the smaller abstract owls to form a vertiginous background.

Although most of the katagamis available on the international art market today were produced in the 19th century or later, the traditional "Ise-Katagami" technique dates to the 13th century, if not earlier.

In 1955 the technique was officially recognized as an important intangible cultural property of Japan. Katagami stencils are still being produced by a small group of ageing artisans who keep the tradition alive in the city of Suzuka, where a museum is dedicated to this exacting art.

For a taste of the exquisite contemporary katagami culture as well as explanation of the stencil carving techniques:

une chouette:  an owl
chouette:  great, nice
un pochoir:  a stencil
le japonisme:  a French term to describe the influence of Japanese arts on French and western artists, especially during the second half of the 19th and early 2Oth centuries--notably the Art Nouveau as well as Impressionism and Cubism movements

©2011 P.B. Lecron

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