If you’re in the Seattle area, please join me for a wabi-sabi workshop at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, this coming weekend. (The Fair will be a ton of fun.)
Since my book was released a couple weeks ago, I’ve had a few opportunities to talk to people about the wabi-sabi philosophy, its roots in sixteenth-century Japan and its relevance in today’s world. These workshops really come alive, I’ve found, when we start focusing on objects that emody the wabi-sabi spirit and aesthetic. The following are three of my favorite wabi-sabi things, made by artists who get it. Enjoy!
Photo courtesy of Alabama Chanin
Using Depression-era techniques, artists at Alabama Chanin hand-stitch recycled scraps and organic cotton (grown in Texas and knit in South Carolina) into scrumptious fabrics and impeccable couture. Their highly esteemed work has rekindled national interest in the rich Southern textile traditions, a huge boost to a region left destitute by the demise of American mills. If you can’t afford a pricey Alabama Chanin original, she’ll show you how to make one yourself through her books, Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Style, and DIY kits sold on her website. Chanin’s an advocate for open sourcing and also believes that people find more value in things they make themselves. After making her patterns, she says, “many people finally understood why our garments are worth so much.”
Photo courtesy of Rough Edges Design
Mona Hoffman makes her Rough Edges Design lamps out of concrete because she admires this ordinary material’s warmth and irregularity. "I have always been drawn to the imperfect,” she says. “When I see a worn surface, I see a person, a story and a beauty in the pattern created by the passage of time." Mona sees flaws as an artifact of the human touch, to be embraced as part of the product's charm. She handcasts each piece in precise molds and inlays each piece with an insignia of a small rusty washer, signed and dated. “As I craft their piece I always try to imagine the person I am making it for,” Mona says. “When I box it up and ship it out, it gets sent with care and the hope that they will be delighted with their purchase. That’s how I try to find meaning in my work.”
Photo courtesy of Shiho Kanzaki
Artist and Zen master Shiho Kanzaki’s pottery is fired in a wood-fueled anagama kiln for 10 days, giving it a strong, beautiful natural ash deposit. Kanzaki’s pieces are technically brilliant, but the care and intention that he puts into his work make it shine. “The making of ceramics and our attitude toward living are closely related,” he says. “An attitude of disarray toward living can cause us to make works that have a ‘wrong spirit’ or are without soul.”