Japan – Jorie Johnson

How were you first introduced to felt?

In the cold winter of 1978 (with the coldest stint yet to follow, six weeks of -40C), I was an exchange student in Kuopio, Finland at the Institute of Home and Industrial Design (KOTO.) As a participant in a three-day course for traditional Scandinavian felt boot-making I really got in deep, fast. We started from carding the washed fleece. Mid-way through the grind I got called to the Director’s office asking if I would join her, the American Consulate General, and the Cultural Attache for afternoon coffee in the office. I was in a dilemma should I go home and change from my sweaty, felt making garb or submit to the role of artist?! In any way, I mark this as the “tag-off” event in the international felt making relay. Looking back on this day, I believe this is when I became an Ambassador of Wool and Felt Making

What are you favorite wools with which to work?

Depending on the intended project I work with wool from around the world. Examples are Karakul from So. Africa (carpets), Walliser from Switzerland (clothing and interior textiles), Finnrace from Finland and USA (clothing and interior works), classic Australian Merino and Merino blends for clothing, small farm breeds of special crosses of Wensleydale and Lincoln (Fleece Lace Shawls) and other animal fibers like dog undercoat, mink, silver fox blended with well fulling wool like Merino, etc.

From what do you get your inspiration?

My inspiration gets spark by things like the surfaces of ceramic pots, Japanese and Italian fashion designs, Sumie ink paintings and calligraphy, contemporary expressionist painters use of color, but mostly the brilliant capability of the migrating fibers themselves, the matrix of the object. I am a contemporary nomad and create for personal contemporary needs.

What is your background? (feel free to discuss family, education, prior artistic experience, whatever you care to share…)

Textiles, especially those created of wool, is in the family DNA as my father was a broker for the wool and “new” fiber industries in New England until the mid-1970’s when the USA textile industry, and their off shoots, drastically started to change and move to new locations. I attended Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and majored in Textile Design (for Industry) and took several years abroad in Finland to study with the aid of national scholarships in both the Textile and Interior Design departments of two institutions there. I was accepted as a student intern at the Marimekko Company under the watchful eye of mentor and designer Fujiwo Ishimoto.

At an early age I learned hand-knitting from my grandmother and now realize that it was my first introduction to a “second language.” I was given insight into how an object, such as rainbow-dyed variegated yarn (remember Red Heart?) as a medium, changes form and expression through manipulation.
I am constantly learning, in fact my new signature address includes F.B.I. after the name of my studio, Joi Rae Textiles, F.B.I., because I am feeling this is the Felting Bureau of Investigation, each and every day.
I should like to mention here that one of the most important mentors I have had within the felt making field is Inge Evers of The Netherlands. Since our first smash encounter in Budapest and further on the Hungarian Puszta in 1986 I have always been enamored of her work and inspirational approaches to advancing the medium.

What are you favorite materials to combine with felt? 

I am always interested in color and color theory with textiles (I studied under Professor Vaino Kola, Wheaton College, MA, who was a Yale graduate under the famous German colorist and Bauhaus Professor Josef Albers.)
As industry pushes to remove the foreign vegetable matter from the wool to upgrade it’s quality I wanted to put the “weeds” back in by inlaying skeletal leaves, kudzu and flax fiber, plant burrs, etc in the base wool. After that I decided, especially for harmonious interior pieces, that I would apply vegetable dyes to the wool, as well as, the collaborative effects of the addition of Japanese lacquer (Clifton Monteith, USA) applied to the surface of the vessels. In essence, I was reverting the somewhat processed materials back to their original environment, i.e. the paddock or field. The reason was simply because the individual materials all basically came from the same natural source so their vibration resonated with each other, producing beautiful and calming affects which co-ordinate well with ceramic, glass and wooden vessels and make the winter home interior a warmer environment. I like the conversation that the materials have with each other.

What would you like to try that you have not done before? (installation art, books, wearable’s, teaching, dyeing, raising your own sheep..or even a new artistic field or media…)

Finally, I got to shearing a sheep last spring and will attempt this again as it surely brings one closer to the wool source.
My wish list includes more of the same practice of felt making for a deeper immersion into the medium. Also, Central Asian research expeditions to isolated traditional sheep herding areas (wish they could resolve this current Iranian conflict as it is killing the positive cultural aspects such as the traditional use of wool and felt making in those parts) coupled with writing new publications on insight to the history and contemporary capabilities of this No-mad and Mad medium. Please keep my name in mind if anyone is organizing research trips in the future.

Are you currently working on a special project that you would like to share?

The notebooks are full and the phone rings in invitations for which I hope to keep my website updated.

Can you share with us 5 names of inspiring artists or work, not necessarily in the textile field.

Raku Kichizaemon XV (potter), Pat Metheny (guitarist), Romeo Gigli (designer), Japanese papermaking and the Central Asian nomads I have met have all made my head turn for a variety of creative living and art supportive reasons.

If you could set up an exhibit (group or solo), where would you do it and what would it look like?

I just co-curated the selected works show called Animal Fibers: Art Informs Shibori (8ISS, Dec. 13, 2011-Jan. 14, 2012) at the Hong Kong Design Institute HKDI Gallery. I would like to see a second enlarged show at a foreign venue to follow that. I think this was just the spring board for much more experimentation in the field of felt making coupled with shaped-dyeing techniques. Europe and North and South America should be the next location where an appreciation of the wonders of animal fibers are still recognized.

anything else you would like to add?

Please keep me in the loop as living here at the end of the Silk Road to the Far East in Kyoto leaves me feeling somewhat isolated.

And remember, personally I do not think it takes much to be creative you just need to listen to the medium and BE creating.

Link to Jorie’s website: www.JoiRae.com

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4 Comments on “Japan – Jorie Johnson”

  1. Val Ghosen.
    February 24, 2012 at 01:18 #

    I never thought, during the times when I was visited Kyoto to study its Japanese gardens , that there was an amazing felter living nearby. But I didnt know about felt then, isnt the world a wonderful place?!

  2. February 12, 2012 at 16:19 #

    Wonderful insights, Jorie. I tell all my students about my “Ah ha” moment I had upon seeing your work. I always try my best to achieve technical excellence and you inspire me to continue to strive for that and demand it of myself. I look forward to seeing you again sometime soon.

  3. February 12, 2012 at 15:05 #

    Jorie’s work is as special as she is. She has much to be prideful on yet remains humble. I love her personage in the felt world, she’s a class act!

  4. February 12, 2012 at 15:04 #

    Fantastic interview, Jorie. Wonderful concluding sentence, ‘And remember, personally I do not think it takes much to be creative you just need to listen to the medium and BE creating.’ That will be my thought for the day. Sometimes forget that all we need is to put forth the effort to get started and really ‘BE’ creating. That philosophy certainly shows in your amazing work…You are such a talent!!!

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