‘More than just an art object’

Leslie Cusano

Indigo dyer spoke at the Museum

Functional textile artist Rowland Ricketts answers questions about indigo dyeing after his lecture in the Museum last night. LESLIE CUSANO | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

While Rowland Ricketts was in the process of figuring out what he wanted to do with his life, his father offered him a job at a large insurance firm in Japan. But Ricketts wanted to take his life in a completely different direction.

He wanted to become an indigo dyer.

Ricketts, now a renowned expert on the process and the visiting assistant professor of textiles at Indiana University, presented a lecture on indigo dye to an attentive audience last night at the Murphy Auditorium in the Kent State Museum.

The lecture, coordinated by Janice Lessman-Moss, head of textile art, was presented in conjunction with the “Mood Indigo” exhibit at the Kent State University Museum.

“He’s a wonderful artist, and I’m so happy to welcome him to Kent State,” said Lessman-Moss in her speech introducing him.

Ricketts took the stage to enthusiastic applause from the audience.

“We’re going to do something tonight that’s kind of the artist-lecture equivalent of cooking a recipe for the first time when you’re having guests over,” Ricketts said with a laugh.

He started his lecture with a brief history of indigo dyeing in Japan with an example of a traditional Japanese cloth used to dry a newborn baby after its first bath. The indigo dye used on the cloth was believed to have medicinal advantages.

“For me as a maker, materials and processes do matter for how they speak to me for what they contribute to or deplete from our world and how I interact and transform them through intentional process,” Ricketts said.

He then explained how he worked for three years on a farm in Japan learning how to grow, harvest and process indigo dye.

“This is all done by hand. John Deere doesn’t make indigo combines,” Ricketts said, as the audience chuckled.

Ricketts showed photos of the geometric, swirling blue textiles he dyed with this Japanese indigo as he explained how involved making the dye can be.

“The process is not about taking the materials and putting them together,” he said, “but rather it’s about gathering, growing and transforming plants with all their fascinating histories of human interaction into color.

“It’s not just blue dye. It’s something much more profound.”

Alexis Jones, sophomore interior design major, said she attended the lecture because it’s rare for textile artists of Ricketts’ caliber to visit the school.

“When they come, it’s very important to learn their experiences and see if they coincide with ours,” she said.

Jones said Ricketts’ work is “fascinating,” and she likes how he got so inspired by his Japanese surroundings.

Katie Rothacher, junior textiles major, also attended the lecture. She said she tries to go to all artist lectures with an open mind in hopes of learning something.

“It’s good to hear another artist’s opinion,” she said, adding that she was impressed by the way Ricketts achieved the rich colors on his textiles.

“His range of color is absolutely incredible,” Rothacher said. “Knowing how much time it takes to do that, it makes me appreciate it even more.”

Contact School of Art reporter Leslie Cusano at [email protected].