Kimono: The 20th century masterworks of Itchiku Kubota

Laura Lofgren

Intricate Japanese garments on display at Canton Museum of Art

Shimmering ever so slightly underneath the warm lights of the Canton Museum of Art, Itchiku Kubota’s beautiful, gigantic kimonos are on display for the public eye.

Colors ranging from the palest white to the brightest orange are seen on each individual piece. Made of silk crepe, the kimonos produced by the artist are fragile and magnificent.

Robb Hankins, president and CEO of ArtsinStark, the County Arts Council in Canton, Ohio, said each kimono done by Kubota takes about one year to create.

“They’re not meant to be worn,” Hankins said of the delicate pieces.

Itchiku Kubota was born in 1917 in Tokyo, Japan. Since the age of 14, Kubota trained as a professional kimono dyer in the “yuzen” technique, a pictorial style of rice paste resist dyeing. At the age of 20, Kubota first saw a fragment of a textile in the tsujigahana style at the Tokyo National Museum and decided to devote his life to recreating it. Tsujigahana, literally translating to “flowers at the crossroads,” is characterized by designs executed in stitch-resist areas (outlined in stitches with a plastic thread) and pulled tight to protect the fabric in the center from the dye, forming little puffs of fabric throughout the kimono. There are no instructions on how to create the Tsujigahana textiles, so Kubota was forced to experiment until he finally created his own form. The silk fabric, nerinuki, is no longer created; therefore, Kubota developed his own version using silk crepe fabric and synthetic dyes.

Finding inspiration from Mount Fuji, Kubota studied the light effects on color and the emotional response that was both “quintessentially Japanese and deeply personal,” according to a plaque in the museum. Kubota was also inspired by Claude Monet and the Impressionist art movement of the 19th century. At the end of World War II, Kubota was imprisoned by the Russians in Siberia, where he remained for six years. During his time as a prisoner of war, Kubota was able to find solace in the “simple pleasures of nature that were still perceptible in the stark surroundings of the Siberian prison camp: the sun, the sky and the mountains.”

Kubota’s experiences in the camp would later resonate in his artwork. His most famous pieces are displayed as “Symphony of Light,” a grandiose homage to nature. Kubota finished 30 out of the 80 kimonos he was to originally produce. It was first displayed in a traveling exhibit held at 26 venues in 21 cities across Japan.

Some embellished with gold leaf, some with embroidery, some with ink painting and some with all three, the kimonos curve around the large room in the museum, hanging from wires. The display takes the viewer through landscapes of the autumn and winter seasons, capturing a single fall moment on Mount Fuji with bright greens and pinks to a snowy branch of a tree with silver stitching. Even the names for each kimono are impressive: “Beni,” meaning “combustion”; “Hi,” meaning “incandescence” and “Ai,” meaning “obliteration” are just a few.

The awe-inspiring designs and intricate needlework portrayed on the kimonos are breath-taking and unbelievable. For 40 years, Itchiku Kubota worked to master the kimono dyeing art form. In 2003, at the age of 85, Kubota passed away, leaving his work and atelier under the supervision of his sons.

A truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the Canton Museum of Art will continue the exhibit until April 26. ArtsinStark and the Canton Museum of Art have partnered up to display the works of art. This will be the last time to see the beautiful kimonos in the United States for some time. Daily events such as Japanese calligraphy workshops, origami seminars and a concert here or there will continue throughout the exhibit time.

“It’s big,” Hankins said of the event. “I feel sorry for the procrastinators.”

Hankins said about 34,000 people have come to see the show so far. He is expecting to reach about 60,000 by the display’s end.

Visit for more information on the exhibit from Itchiku Kubota.

Contact all reporter Laura Lofgren at [email protected].