The beauty of a single color is celebrated in dramatic waves of indigo-dyed cloth, enveloping your sense of space upon entering the Barbara Conrad Gallery at the Durango Arts Center.
Viewers of the 2012 DAC exhibit TEXTILES TODAY – Redefining the Medium, were first introduced to the work of Rowland Ricketts by curator and textile artist Ilze Aviks. A series of felt stones in varying hues of indigo extended from the wall surface on the tips of metal rods. The new installation by Ricketts, titled “work time,” is an unexpected, yet powerful presentation of textiles billowing from above.
Assistant professor of Textiles at Indiana University, Rowland and his wife, Chinami, a weaver of cloth for obi and kimono, were both featured in American Craft Magazine’s Dirt to Dye by Diane Daniel in April/ May 2015. After apprenticing and years of practical experience in Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, the couple adapted the centuries-old traditional Japanese method of indigo dyeing on their six-acre farm in Indiana. The dye originates in its purest form, from annual seeding of Polygonum tinctorium in spring.
The title “work time” appropriately captures the intricacy and patience required throughout the process of producing indigo dye. Once the seedlings are established and subsequently transplanted to the field, they are carefully nurtured until the mature leaves are harvested and dried. The yield, over 400 pounds of dried leaves, is piled inside an earthen-floored structure, where composting begins. Water is added, the composting pile raked and covered with mats. When 100 days have passed, the process results in sukumo – compacted, decomposed leaf matter. After the sukumo is tested for concentration of dye, fermentation begins by placing it in a vat with the addition of alkaline liquid made from wood ash and limestone.
Once the vat is prepared, the creative process takes precedent. Before dyeing, lengths of cloth may be altered through resist techniques such as shibori – stitched, bound, clamped – or by applying paste through a stencil. Dyeing the cloth/fiber is an active balance of repetitive immersion in the vat and removal to oxidize, causing the cloth to magically transform from green to blue. With each immersion, the indigo hues transition from light blue to virtually black. Like the plant itself and the indigo vat, the finished cloth seems to have a life of its own, retaining the earthy aroma of the fermented indigo.
Durango Arts Center is proud to continue in its mission of providing community “opportunities to create, to promote, and to participate in diverse arts experiences” through presenting internationally recognized artists like Ricketts. As your August/September calendars fill, don’t hesitate to see “work time.” One visit may not be enough to linger beneath the installation. The show runs through Sept. 18. To learn more, visit Ricketts’ website: http://www.rickettsindigo.com
In addition, intriguing combinations of contemporary art and traditional Japanese techniques will continue in the fall when instructor/artist Akemi Nagano Cohn returns to Durango on Oct. 6 for the opening reception of her work, Trace/Memory in the Fort Lewis College Art Gallery, on view through Nov. 4.
email@example.com. Leesa Zarinelli Gawlik is a textile artist and a Durango transplant after living abroad for 17 years. She is an artist/member of the Friends of the Art Library, which curates six exhibits per year in the Durango Arts Center’s Art Library.