Katagami Findings

Mamiko Markham travelled to Japan in July and August 2017, to do more research on the origins of the katagami stencils in MoDA’s collections.

Makers’ marks

Mamiko used the information she had found from the calligraphy marks and stamps on some of the katagami, which had been revealed using infrared photography.

She was able to identify seventeen stamps which indicate merchants’ names.  These appear on over a hundred of the Silver Studio Collection katagami.  Merchants bought katagami from makers who were nameless farmers. These farmers produced katagami to make money during the less busy farming seasons. The katagami merchants from Shiroko, Ise prefecture, sold katagami to indigo dyers all over Japan.  These date from the Bunka Bunsei (translated as “the cultural and administrative years”), late Edo period 1804 to 1867.

Almost two hundred of the katagami in the Silver Studio Collection have strong similarities with the same kimono patterns in Ukiyoe paintings of that time. Ukiyoe artists, such as Hokusai and Kunisada were sometime involved with Kimono pattern design.  This is a potential area for future research.

Recycled paper

Over two hundred of the katagami in MoDA’s collection have no merchant name stamps.  Many incorporate re-used papers, on which people had previously written letters and shopping lists.  Analysis of some of the calligraphy on these papers enabled Mamiko to date these to the Meiji period (1868-1911).

It seems likely that many of the katagami produced in this period were intended for export to the West.
The apprentices of Ise’s carving craftsmen made Tenugui-hand towels, embroidery, men’s obi belt and Export Katagami. Ise Katagami merchants sent young artisans to Tokyo to produce them. The cutting techniques in these is nowhere near as good as those produced by the artisans.

‘Export Katagami’

There are about 35 sheets of ‘Export Katagami’ in the Silver Studio collection.  These were produced only in the Meiji Period, and were never intended to be used for the purpose of dyeing fabrics in Japan. Their sole purpose was to be sold on the export market as decorative items. They are distinctly different in design and style to the traditional Japanese katagami.  Many have a border and consequently are not capable of repeat pattern dyeing, but are  suitable for framing as decorative items.

According to the curator of Edo Tokyo Museum and Fukagawa Edo Museum and other specialists, these designs mixed together patterns of Japan and China, so are not traditional Japanese design. Again this is a potential area for future research, as it is clear that the katagami in many European collections are not purely Japanese, but are the result of cross-cultural trade and dialogue.

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