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Design Notes

A Rare Catch: Japanese Fishermen's Coats

April 12, 2001|CANDACE A. WEDLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A rare collection of 22 Japanese fishermen's coats is on display through May 20 in the University Art Museum at UC Santa Barbara.

The handmade coats, called donza, were traditionally worn by fishermen on the island of Awaji, which is in the Inland Sea between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku.

The coats, usually sewn by women, were made of quilted layers of indigo-dyed cotton cloth. The ones on display, sashiko no donza, are the more elaborate versions decorated with intricately stitched patterns called sashiko. The knee- to mid-shin-length coats were worn by fishermen of status, such as a captain of a boat.

The coats, which are believed to date back to the late 19th century, stopped being made in the 1930s when the younger generation of fishermen preferred to wear factory-made Japanese or Western attire. From photographs and videos, visitors will learn about the garments in the context of local fishing history, before early 20th century mechanization transformed the industry.

All but two of the coats are on loan from the Hokudan Town Historical and Ethnographic Museum on Awaji. The other two coats, on loan from the Iwaya Shrine in the town of Awaji, are used once a year during the Bountiful Fishing Festival for a theatrical performance about two fishermen. That reenactment can be seen on video at the museum.

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Running simultaneously at the museum is "Tradition and Innovation: Contemporary Textiles from the NUNO Studio, Tokyo." Panels of fabric, hung from ceiling to floor, are made with conventional materials, such as polyester, silk, cotton and wool, and unconventional ones such as stainless steel, copper and aluminum.

The urban landscape is the inspiration for the work of Reiko Sudo, director and textile designer of NUNO Studio. You can hear it in the names she gives her pieces: "Stainless Steel Gloss," "Scrapyard" and "Asphalt." Sudo's textiles are held in permanent collections at New York City's Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, as well as London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

A tunnel of shimmering translucent cloth leads museum-goers to a gallery where panels of fabrics are suspended from ceiling to floor. Do not worry about the urge to feel the fabric. A "touching room," where the textiles can be handled, has been set up for that purpose.

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On May 11, the Los Angeles Conservancy, which helps preserve the city's architectural resources, will benefit from a preview gala of the "Los Angeles Modernism Show." The display of modern furniture and home decorations will be held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium May 12-13. Tickets for the gala, which are $50 per person, include hors d'oeuvres, wine, beer and admission to the show during the weekend. Proceeds will go to the Los Angeles Conservancy. Call (310) 455-2886 for details.

Candace A. Wedlan can be reached at candace.wedlan@latimes.com

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