‘Washi Transformed’ at Longmont Museum features 30 pieces by 9 Japanese artists

In 2016, Longmont Museum spotlighted the intricate and eye-catching work of international contemporary origami artists with the exhibit “Above The Fold” — curated by Los Angeles-based historian of Japanese art, Meher McArthur.

The show, that included 60 hand-folded koi fish, proved to be a favorite among visitors.

“That exhibit was so gorgeous and so popular with the community, so we were interested in having another one of hers on display,” said Joan Harrold, marketing and development manager for Longmont Museum.

“Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper,” a traveling exhibit also curated by McArthur, opens Saturday at Longmont Museum and shows the amazingly eclectic forms the ancient material can take.

With over 30 incredibly diverse pieces by nine Japanese artists, the wide-ranging collection offers large-scale installations, sculptures, 2-D works and more.

“It is very exciting to hear how people from diverse parts of the country respond to works of art from Japan, especially areas where Japanese art is rarely shown,” McArthur said. “It is always fun when friends who live thousands of miles away tell me they visited an exhibition I’ve curated and enjoyed it, especially when I have yet to see it myself.”

Previously displayed in Allentown, Pa., the Longmont Museum is just the second location the dazzling collection has landed.

Jared Thompson, curator of exhibits at Longmont Museum, is excited to offer guests “exposure to another culture’s art.”

“Washi has been around for over a thousand years,” Thompson said. “These artists are pushing it to a new level.”

The delicate and awe-inspiring creations of Hina Aoyama are a testament to the power of a steady hand and plenty of patience. Her lace-like paper cuttings– done with scissors, not an exacto knife — exude a tranquil essence.

From highly detailed butterflies to a geisha-like silhouette, Aoyama’s subject matter delights the eye, with nods to her culture and the harmony of nature.

Executed with precision, the framed pieces draw onlookers in for further reflection.

Among the whimsical creations, some of her work features script that has an ancient feel. At first glance, one could presume it to be a love letter dating back centuries. She immortalizes the words of philosopher Voltaire with a fine paper cut of his writings.

In the past, she’s also taken the workings of poet Baudelaire and cut them out of origami paper. The musings of these iconic figures, reflected in pin-width calligraphy, takes on new meaning when displayed in such detailed cursive.

According to Aoyama’s Wikipedia page, her desire to incorporate them into her art “is not because she is interested in their works or poetry, but because she is attracted to their personality and their lives.”

Regardless, her nod to deep thinkers of the past is a thoughtful way to honor those who came before her.

Some of her work takes months to finish, but for Aoyama, who considers her labored technique a meditative practice, it’s all worth it.

In Japanese culture, many gifts are adorned with mizuhiki, colorful rice paper cords that wrap around packages, similar to ribbon.

Certain knots made with the material are meant to signify an unwavering bond between the gift-giver and recipient.

The material is also used to create sculptures and Kakuko Ishii, a revered Japanese fiber artist, is bringing the artform to new abstract heights.

In a section of Longmont Museum, 20 of her crimson-colored offerings — part of “Japanese Paper Strings” — are placed on pedestals that dart off from the wall.

Seeing them all together, one may feel the urge to imagine a stroll through an otherworldly garden, or perhaps under the sea.

Bold, almost mimicking coral, they create a definite mood. Their freewheeling form also has a Dr. Seuss quality — or “Fraggle Rock” mystique — hard to ignore.

Her black-and-white nest-like vessels — also made from mizuhiki that she stretches by hand — have an incredibly organic quality and almost seem to offer movement.

“The pieces looked nice in pictures, but they’re even better in person,” Thompson said.

Eriko Horiki — another artist featured in the exhibit — left a career in banking to create breathtaking designs out of mulberry paper.

Her works — from room dividers to stunning lights — are often used in lobbies and eateries to elevate the architecture and ambiance to a whole other tier of luxury and sophistication.

She designed the stage backdrop art for Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s “Silk Road” tour.

Another piece that impresses with its scope and size is “Blessed Rain” by Ayomi Yoshida.

A striking 24 sheets of washi, featuring woodblock designs printed on indigo dye, hang from the ceiling. Ever-so-subtle circles and dashes can be found on the paper, that really has a look of fabric.

The dramatic presentation — almost in a semi-circle — invites viewers to stand within for a moment of meditation.

From pieces that utilize worn pages of old Japanese books to those that take on a look of petrified wood, the variety of work is vast.

While an opening reception, originally set to take place Friday, has been postponed to a date not yet revealed, organizers are hoping to eventually host an opening that will include a karaoke lounge at a nearby atrium and a musician playing the Koko — a Japanese plucked half-tube zither instrument.

Although a date for that event hasn’t yet been scheduled, the museum is offering a slew of activities in conjunction with the exhibit that will be onsite through May 15.

On Feb. 17, as part of the museum’s Voices of Change series, organizers will host members of the Mayeda, Kanemoto and Tanaka families to offer further reflection about Longmont’s Japanese American experience.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which led to the imprisonment of 120,000 American citizens of Japanese descent.

“It’s important to work with the community and try to co-create as much as possible, especially when it’s someone else’s culture” Harrold said.

Folks will have the opportunity to explore various Japanese-inspired creative traditions through Thursday Night Sip and Stays — adult classes that allow folks to gather, enjoy a cocktail and try their hand at a new activity for $35.

Folks can paint the Kanemoto Tower (Feb. 24), dive into Japanese book binding (April 7), create cherry blossom stationary printmaking (April 21), Shibori tie-dye (April 28) and more.

Films, from “Kusama: Infinity” to 1954’s “Godzilla” are also part of the layered programming.

Staff anticipates “Washi Transformed” will be a draw for those living in the Front Range and beyond.

“We want to expose people to world-class art without having to drive to Denver,” Harrold said.

In addition to being mindful of showcasing a variety of international work, Longmont Museum is dedicated to making admission accessible to all, regardless of income.

Anyone with an EBT or Snap Card can get into the museum for 25 cents. There are also museum passes available to check out at Longmont Library.

Exhibit admission is $8 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, free for children ages 3 and under and free for museum members.

As part of the touring exhibit, Brack Lee, Museum of Longmont’s exhibitions technician, is inviting guests to peruse a portal gallery that will offer more of a tactile experience.

“They will be able to feel finished paper samples from Gampi, Kozo and Mitsumata tree fibers,” Lee said. “We will also have samples of the raw bark strips, but those will be in a case.”

Paper-making tools and a video will also be a part of the interactive section.

“I hope that visitors are as impressed at the many different ways that these artists are working with paper, which is typically two-dimensional and considered a surface for artwork, like painting or calligraphy, and transforming it into often dynamic, three-dimensional and spectacular works of art,” McArthur said.

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