November 08, 2018

Masterwork kimono unveiled: ‘We’ve never really done a major international art show of this nature so we believe that people will be coming from west, north, south and all points east.’

The Art Gallery of Grande Prairie offered a sneak peek of its upcoming Japanese art exhibit with the unveiling of textile artist Itchiku Kubota’s masterwork kimono. When East Comes West: A Celebration of Japanese Culture took place Tuesday evening at Four Points by Sheraton Grande Prairie.

Jeff Erbach, executive director of the gallery, explained the history behind the unveiled kimono, titled San or “Burning Sun” “Itchiku was interned in a prisoner-of-war camp in 1944 during the Second World War in Siberia,” Erbach said. “The thing that he talks about in his work that helped him endure that suffering was the way the sun would set in Siberia.”

“The setting sun has been an important and powerful motif in his work,” he added. “And so this piece is considered one of the pinnacle pieces of a setting Siberian sun.”

The special event included Japanese fusion cuisine, Booming Tree Taiko Drummers and information about the gallery’s exhibitions and programs for 2019.

“By the priceless-ness and irreplaceable-ness of the pieces, we decided to a special event for them, almost a special opening but instead it’s an unveiling,” said Campbell Davis, youth ambassador for the gallery. “We’ll have a separate opening as well [for the exhibit].”

The exhibit itself – known as What do the Mountain Spirits Ponder? – features 45 silk kimonos by Kubota and is normally housed in the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum in Japan.

“This is a super-special exhibition,” Erbach said. “It only tours every several years and, when it does tour, it will only land in three or four locations each time and then it has to return and rest in Japan.”

The gallery has been working with the International Chodiev Foundation to secure the exhibition as it makes its way back to Japan from Upstate New York. Erbach said this marks the first time the exhibit has visited Western Canada.

Known as one of the great textile master of the 20th Century, Kubota (1917-2003) has received international recognition for his unconventional designs, distinctive use of colour and intense commitment to his art and craft, according to the gallery.

“The most striking thing about the kimonos would be just the quality and care that is evidently put into them through the intense and very fine needle work and the way they are just so vibrant in colours and so striking as massive pieces of art that somebody took hours and hours, days to create,” Davis said. “Now the fact that they’re irreplaceable and well-known all over Japan is just fantastic.”

Kubota is also credited for reviving and modernizing a textile art form from the 16th Century known as “tsujigahana.”

“It’s a style uniquely all his own because he was modifying it in a western and contemporary context,” Erbach said.

He estimated that it likely took more than a year for Kubota to create each kimono.

“They’re all decorative kimonos so it’s not a fashion kimono,” Erbach said. “It’s not something anyone puts on. You can tell from looking at the size of it you couldn’t find a person large enough to wear it.”

Erbach expressed his high expectations for the exhibit.

“We’re anticipating people coming from all over Peace Region for this – It’s a pretty extraordinary thing for us to have,” he said. “We’ve never really done a major international art show of this nature so we believe that people will be coming from west, north, south and all points east to see the show.”

The gallery will feature the exhibit from Nov. 22-Feb. 20, 2019. For more information, visit

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