Art & Fashion: 33 posts

The Colorful World of Japanese Kutani Ceramics

The first time I made my own clay pot, I must have been six or seven years old. My mother’s family comes from Poltava, the central region of Ukraine famous for its arts and crafts, and ceramics in the town of Opishnya have a long tradition. My great-grandmother Asya visited the town every summer to select new dishes and pots and she must have taken me along. My memories of that visit are fragmentary, but I recall the softness of the clay, the brilliance of the green glaze, and a slight disappointment that my pot didn’t come out as symmetrical as I thought it should have been. However, that experience made me fascinated with ceramics and the way rough soil can assume the most exquisite of forms.

I rekindled my passion for ceramics while working and traveling in Asia. In Japan, the ceramic arts have a strong reputation and many different styles of pottery and porcelain exist, from the natural-looking Bizen ware to the ornate Imari ware. One could travel from the north of the country to the south and discover ceramics studios in every region, each showcasing a specific style of pottery. During one such trip, I discovered the colorful charm of Kutani ware.

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5 Books about Dance and Resilience

Dance, like all arts, is about making a connection with others. I was thinking lately about Gelsey Kirkland, a dancer with whom I was fortunate to study when she gave her much beloved classes at Steps in NYC. Kirkland was one of George Balanchine’s star dancers and an American ballerina with a striking style. I will never forget how she told us that when dancing, we should remember that we are holding our beating hearts in our hands. That image solved the problem of dropping the wrist even during the most complicated movements, but it stayed with me even when I changed into street clothes and put my pointe shoes away.

These days I also think about Kirkland’s comment often, whether I dance or write. Making a connection with others is much more difficult in this time of Zoom and social distancing, but being genuine and honest and not being afraid of being vulnerable towards others is still important. My ballet training has influenced my attitude to life and shaped my personality. I admit that not all  such influences have been entirely positive–the relentless push for perfection comes with a price, ballet taught me what resilience means. Reading about other dancers and dance has always inspired me, and I would like to share my list of favorite books with you.

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Postcard from Brussels : Flemish Chiaroscuro

Among the things I missed the most during the lockdown was going to a museum. The soft light in the exhibition halls, the scent of wood polish, and the silence add as much to my experience of the museums as the art itself–and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels has plenty of it to admire. So when the restrictions were lifted, I headed to the museum and stood in front of my favorite paintings, greeting them like old friends. It was reassuring, a reminder that despite it all beauty will claim its own space.

The reason I feel this way rather acutely at museums is because they are testaments to historical events and traumas. Positioned though they are as shrines to art, wars, conquests, and colonialism have had their role to play in the riches that famous museums exhibit. It’s enough to make one ambivalent about the whole enterprise, and yet I still like museums. I still feel comforted by their ambiance. Art still inspires me to think differently, to push my boundaries, and to seek something new. The awakening of our curiosity is one of the greatest values of art, and deriving pleasure from finding things out is part of happiness as I see it.

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Crafts as Cure

In Ukraine, there is an old tradition of embroidering a rushnyk, a hand towel, during dark periods of one’s life. It matters less what’s embroidered than the process of doing so. Once the rushnyk is done, it’s tied to a tree branch and allowed to decay. This way, people say, one’s worries and dark thoughts become scattered.

I don’t know if my great-grandmother Asya followed this tradition consciously–at any rate, she was far too practical to hang perfectly good fabric in the garden, but she wove her own cloth and embroidered. Even the most ubiquitous items in the house like newspaper holders and bread bags were embellished. Her most beautiful embroideries, however, weren’t meant to be seen. They were her undergarments.

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How a French Perfume Company Influenced Ukrainian Embroideries

One of the most quintessentially Ukrainian embroideries is called rushnyk (pl, rushnyky), richly decorated hand towels that accompany a person from birth to death. In two videos that I recorded, I would like to show you rushnyky embroidered by my great-great grandmother. I discovered them by accident when I was cleaning out our shed and spotted a large chest hidden under old rugs. The drawers were jammed, but I persevered and opened them only to discover decaying paper and mouse droppings. I rummaged in it–no, I’m not even one bit squeamish–and I found the embroideries. I cleaned and restored them and it’s a pleasure to share them with you.

My great-great grandmother Pasha wove the cloth on a hand-loom, and she then decorated it. These embroideries are at least 70 years old, and yet they are remarkably resilient.

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