In Decemeber 2011, my husband and I spent a month in Hiroshima. I have to admit my ignorance: when our son first told us he was going to be living there, I asked "but doesn't it still glow in the dark?" He assured me that it was totally safe, and when we learned that he was going to marry a woman he had met there, we came to meet her and spend some time getting to know our wonderful daughter-in-law, Erina.
Hiroshima is a beautiful city. After the bomb, other Japanese cities sent some of their trolley cars to help replace the lost city transportation system. So Hiroshima still has a great system of trolley cars that will get you all over the city, quickly and cheaply. And while many are new, some are still great post-war models with wooden floors.
Well before we went, I planned a map project. I consulted several different maps, some of them old ones that I had seen, and photographed, on previous trips.
Hiroshima has a number of rivers running through it. Each of these is contained within old stone walls, with stone steps leading from street level down to water level. bridges and roads run across the rivers. Here you can see one river wall, and the stone steps. At low tide, there are small patches of ground along the walls.
I took a section of the city, simplified it, and made a paper pattern of it. Each small city section was given a piece of woolen backing, and dyed cloth, and placed in a ziplock back with the pattern piece. This was my sewing kit for the trip.
Each day in Hiroshima, I would go 'beachcombing' in the river beds at low tide. Although the streets and sidewalks are spotlessly clean, the river held all sorts of objects: many ceramic shards, game pieces, small toys, coins....and glass that had been fused in the blast.
I went to the memorial library, and asked about my project. Were people allowed to find and take these bits of history? An answer came back that yes, they had finished their archaeological search, and I could keep what I found. So I searched, and brought my findings back to our hotel room and washed and scrubbed and then sewed the pieces into the cloth of the map sections. Back at home, I continued sewing (I only finished about a quarter of the map sections while in Hiroshima).
A detail of the map, showing pieces of ceramic, metal and glass sewn onto fabric sections. . When all the sections were complete, I pinned them onto the white cotton pattern (traced from the paper pattern, which I had cut up), laid over a heavy black woolen backing. Then they all were stitched together. I had originally planned to remove all of the white cloth when it was finished. But I liked the crisp contrasting edge, so I left a little bit around each section, and enough to act as the roads going across.
On this detail, you can see my rough stitching on the roads, and a piece of the fused glass.
My son was living in Japan when the tsunami struck in 2011. After seeing aerial views of the tsunami damage, I opened my collection of Japanese textiles. Japan has a very polite culture: everything is neatly wrapped. In this piece, objects (including ceramic shards which I dug out of the mud at low tide at the Mayajima Gate) are tightly wrapped, too, each in separate bundles. The blackened sections have been ripped open, representing the emotional devastation to a rigidly structured society. Part of the border is made from an old saki bag, found at a Koyoto temple flea market. On the right side, you can see where the tsunami has broken through the saki bag border.
Almost all materials in the top layer are natural textiles found in Japan (even the ‘streets’ are made from old Japanese textile bundles). The light sections are natural color; the dark sections are the same materials, but dyed. There is heavy felt batting to hold all this, and a cotton backing. The top layer was entirely hand sewn (some machine sewing on back).
Each section is a separately constructed package: a piece of felt, wrapped in cloth, with a found object, all carefully sewn into a tight bundle. All the packages were arranged, and sewn to the top and felt layers. The edges have been left raw; the hanging rod has been sewn into the back.
I’m aware that my art has a too-tight, severe aspect. Perhaps, like Japanese gardens, I try to create miniature controlled worlds.
This is an aerial map showing the tsunami damage (the dark areas). I used Photoshop to get more contrast, then drew white lines to help me visually grasp the layout of the roads. This was the starting point for my design.
In this detail, you can see the individually wrapped 'packages'. Some of the tsunami-damaged ones (dyed black) have been cut open, with the wrapped item removed. In the undamaged, lighter section, I wrapped keys, coins and ceramic shards. In the damaged area, I used (and cut out) old key-plates and keys (not from Japan) to denote the homes that were lost.
Almost all the fabric in this quilt came from a tiny shop in a small town, found on a previous visit (the rest came from temple flea markets).
If you're reading this, I can assume you have some interest in textiles. So you can imagine how I felt walking through a low wooden doorway into this quiet sanctuary of cloth. Every piece was undyed, natural materials. Not the 36" and 45" wide rolls we have here - most of these were the metric equivalent of about 18" wide. The owner didn't speak English, but I've always had a knack for charades, and I bought a lot of cloth. This was the stock I used when I started my tsunami quilt.
This is the back of the piece. It has photos of the textile shop, the saki bags, the aerial map, a cloth bundle* found at a temple flea market, the Mayajima Gate and some of the shards I found there.
* In the past, parts of Japan experienced severe poverty. Women would mend any torn clothing, and save every scrap of handmade fabric. The bundle I found had the sort of scraps that would be saved, including 8" pieces which had been stitched together from other, even smaller pieces.