Off the Cuff: The Woven Glass Kimono

Charles Shepard, President & CEO

One of the true pleasures of my work at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art is that I get so many opportunities to see – either in person or virtually – a lot of good art in the private residences of a wide range of collectors, of late particularly glass collectors. That said, none of these past experiences prepared me for my encounter, several months ago now, with one of the most amazing works in glass I have ever seen! I was visiting a collector and we walked into her beautifully appointed living room—past a nested Chihuly Seaform, a whimsical Dan Dailey lamp, and a handsome piece of Chris Ries’ clear, optical glass sculptures—when my eye was immediately drawn past these beautiful pieces to a tall piece on the other side of the room. A life-sized, vividly colored kimono, it sparkled throughout its complex patterns making me, at first, think it was woven with some kind of metallic thread or beading in the fabric. Closer inspection caught my breath: no cloth was involved. This five-foot-five kimono was constructed of woven glass!

Markow & Norris, American, b. 1970; American, b. 1966. Spring Dawn Kimono. Woven glass, gold and silver foil, applied glass beads, wooden and fabric geta shoes, 2012. Gift of Patricia Schaefer, 2023.83. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

The collector urged me to touch it to confirm what my eyes were experiencing: thousands of small, shiny, multicolored pieces of glass that were somehow woven into an altogether new and hyper-complex “fabric” with which the artist made a sculptural garment. This woven glass kimono was the work of the artistic team of Eric Markow and Thom Norris, who spent years inventing and refining the processes that enabled them to weave glass. Early on in their careers the pair worked only in stained glass; however, during a 1996 visit to an Itchiku Kubota exhibition of the famed textile artist’s handcrafted kimonos at the Smithsonian Museum they were struck by how perfect the “architecture” of the traditional kimono would be for the woven glass they dreamed of inventing. Like Kubota’s kimonos, Markow and Norris wanted their glass kimonos to feature elaborate scenes that played out across the surface in an almost impressionistic manner. Unlike the more ethereal effects of Kubota’s historically influenced “illusionary dyeing”, which was popular in Japan during the 14th and 16th centuries, Markow and Norris theorized that due to the relationship between glass and light, their woven glass kimonos would immediately have a more jewel-like appearance. Perfecting their process of weaving glass, by their own admission, involved a great deal of experimentation, as did painstakingly creating hundreds of different glass colors for each kimono iteration (there are four in all, one for each season). Once they mastered the science of it and infused the process with their already well tuned aesthetic senses, the resulting sculptures were breathtaking to behold.

The sculpture that I was looking at was their Spring Dawn Kimono and it was, indeed, mesmerizing. Scenes of cherry blossoms, lush fields, and northern lights are grounded by the monumental backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro to form the kimono’s “embroidery”. Gold, silver leaf, and gem-like glass beads add another layer of texture to the already incredible woven effect. Composed of 19 separate pieces and weighing over 125 pounds, she was commanding. As you might have already guessed, this story doesn’t end with my simply being transfixed by this glorious glass figure. No; I was convinced that this aesthetically transformative masterpiece needed to come to the Museum to be shared with the world! I knew that my job was to convince the collector that it would be a great and generous deed to gift this tour de force in glass to the Museum for display in our new Glass Wing for all to enjoy!

A request this bold, and for such a beautiful and expensive work of art, seldom results in a quick and affirmative decision. Generally, a quick response is decidedly negative. That said, as three months went by without a response, I became cautiously optimistic that my wish would be granted. Just a few weeks ago, as the sun coaxed the flowers out in our garden beds and the sky shifted from grey to evermore blue, I received a call. My collector friend had decided that I was right: Spring Dawn Kimono was too wonderful to remain in private hands. It deserved to be in the public eye where its beauty could inspire everyone.

Just this week the artists, Eric and Thom, flew to Indiana and, with the help of our Technical Team, carefully installed Spring Dawn Kimono in the Glass Wing.

FWMoA President and CEO Charles Shepard (R) leads a champagne toast in the gallery with artists Eric Markow and Thom Norris (L). Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Be sure to visit FWMoA this weekend to see Spring Dawn Kimono glittering amongst the glass sculptures in our contemporary Glass Wing.

2 Replies to “Off the Cuff: The Woven Glass Kimono”

  1. This really is an exceptional piece. So glad to see this added to the FW public art scene!

    1. We’re beyond excited to have it in the collection! So happy to hear others are as excited about it as we are.

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