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Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune 11 September 2005

Sharon Kilfoyle's Wearable Art

Some artists paint.  Some sculpt.  Artists who practice the Japanese art of shibori do a combination of both, but with cloth.

What is shibori?  From the World Shibori Network website:  "Shibori is the collective term in Japanese for tie-dye, stitch-dye, fold-dye, pole wrap-dye, etc.  It is translated into English as shaped-resist dyeing, because no comparable embracing term exists in English."

In Columbia we have a shibori artist who not only practices this ancient art (it dates back to at least the eighth century), but who teaches it - in Japan.  That artist is Sharon Kilfoyle, and she has a new two-person show at the St. Louis Artist's Guild as part of the annual Innovations in Textiles Symposium.  The show is titled "Parallel Dreams" and is a collaboration with painter Reiko Hamada Murai.  The show will run through October 8, with Kilfoyle giving a short lecture in conjunction with the symposium on September 17.  Her lecture will focus on the meeting of two cultures, American and Japanese, as seen in the "Parallel Dreams" show, and how she and Murai draw inspiration from nature in relation to their respective traditions.

She's in a position to make such comparisons.  Following the death of her husband several years ago, Sharon took an opportunity to go to Japan to further her studies of shibori, while teaching English at Shinonome College in Matsuyama, Shikoku.  When those at the college saw her shibori work, they asked her to teach a class on the art.

I asked her whether it wasn't a little odd, an American teaching shibori there in Japan?  Says Kilfoyle:  "Yes, it was confusing for some people to understand why an American woman would be teaching a traditional Japanese art form, especially since there are not that many young people taking it up in Japan - it's just too difficult to make a living at it, and it's a lot of work to do it the traditional way.  But as an American I am not doing shibori in the traditional manner and many fiber artists want to learn a new and different way of using traditional shibori techniques in a contemporary manner."

Kilfoyle returned to Columbia in April, and has since been busy preparing for the St. Louis show, which consists of a series of Murai's paintings and Kilfoyle's interpretation of them into wearable works.  She is also planning on participating in a show next year, titled "Shapeshifters," in Joplin with other area artists.

But in the meantime she needs to prepare to return to Japan in November, in order to teach another five week course for Shinonome College on shibori, and is planning on also offering workshops in felting and other methods of dyeing to the community there.  She is caught between these two places:  "I love having the space and working here in the woods, but I miss the availability of mass transit and the excitement and inspiration of city life in Japan."

Kilfoyle hopes to set up a kind of exchange between artists here and in Japan, making connections from the fiber art realm she's come to know in both countries.  With the help of friends she's hoping to convert an old barn on her property into a Japanese guest house, creating a center where artists from Japan and the U.S. can share aesthetic viewpoints, teach workshops, etc.

In addition to the St. Louis show, you can find some of Kilfoyle's work at Bluestem in downtown Columbia.  She also has a modest website (www.sharonkilfoyle.com) which she is planning on expanding with more information on the workshops she teaches and additional images of her work.  She is the process of seeking out additional gallery representation here in the U.S.

While some people collect her work only for display, "Other people like to buy my garments and accessories because they feel good when they wear them, even if they don't wear them often, and the color is a pleasure to look at, the fabrics feel great in your hands and on your body.  It's something different from the normal fare, and it can make you feel good about yourself to indulge in them for yourself or others."

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all work © James T. Downey, 1993-present
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