Eternal Paper

Unknown Artist, Taishō-era Chiyogami, ca: 1912-26, courtesy The World of Chiyogami

The art-book collection at the San Francisco Public Library never ceases to amaze me. Many days, I’ll just go to a random spot in the stacks (usually DDC=700s), pull titles that look interesting, and check out the books.   I’ve rarely been disappointed.  In this felicitous way  I was introduced to The World of Chiyogami. Of course no student of art goes for very long without an introduction to the enchantments of Japanese paper. But with my discovery of this venerable printed art form my appreciation for the Japanese aesthetic soared to a higher plane.

Chiyogami first appeared in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868). I guess they were right to name it from root words chiyo, meaning “a thousand years” or “through eternity”), and kami/gami (i.e. paper), knowing that as an art form it would be around forever. Chiyogami refers to the brightly-colored patterns, which are hand-screened or block printed onto hand-made paper. (Now machine printed.)   Originally chiyogami designs were developed by papermakers for use as home decorating schemes (early Japanese wallpaper possibly?). But, as the designs were largely based on popular kimono fabrics,  it is no surprise that paper doll stylists honed in on them, as well as fans of the other Edo-legacy art form origami (from oru – folded; kami – paper). To this day, chiyogami remains popular with both groups and has been adapted for use in the paper doll-making world.

Is it the simple repeat square, the pleasing color combination (love that chartreuse!) or the spidery calligraphic element that caused me to present this design to you?  Regardless, in its wholeness I think I see one early-20th century Japanese designer caught between the influences of Arts Nouveau and Deco.

Bonus: See this fabulous resource on Contemporary Chiyogami.

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