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Kimonos add fashion, statement to summer art exhibits

A kimono means so much more than a robe.

More than its value as an artwork, it symbolizes various statements not only for women, but for men as well.

Myrtle Beach’s art museum has gotten dressed up this summer with Japanese-themed displays of elaborate garments and three-dimensional paper carvings. The summer has heated up with an array of exhibits across the Grand Strand, from Calabash, N.C., to Pawleys Island.

Susanna Brooks LaVallee, guest curator, walked through “Kimono: Art, Fashion and Society” upon its opening earlier this month at the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach. Visiting from the collection’s home base at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Fla., LaVallee said Myrtle Beach marks its only tour, continuing through Sept. 23.

She said to look at kimonos as a “matter of manners,” and emblems of a culture from more than 10 centuries ago. A woman dons a robe at a formal occasion or feast to help express her identity, and the arms can tell it all in one regard. Long sleeves and more decorative designs designate an unmarried lady, and short sleeves, with more neutral colors, reflect her wedded standing.

Standing by some bridal overgarments for kimonos, LaVallee said they often bears cranes and an abundance of flowers from all seasons, to signify a long life and fertility, respectively.

LaVallee said when looking at 15 kimonos on display, to notice how the type of fabric, dye technique, weaving and painting of designs give each outfit its own personality.

Kimonos convey different social customs from the West in how a woman seeks to stand out individually. The garments all give a padded waistline, for a common, covered, cylindrical figure, LaVallee said, so that no woman looks too thin or large. A man will have to look for the “sexy and feminine” body characteristics by how the woman’s hair is tied up and exposing her neck, from the kimono as a work of art, with each wearer’s chosen colors, textures, patterns and motifs.

“This is the focus,” LaVallee said, “not the shape or the body. … The garment calls attention to the garment itself, not the person.”

Tying an obi, or sash, around the waist several times into a bow in back also hides the body curves. A courtesan, or high-ranking entertainer of men, would tie the obi in front, though, and wear a louder lacquer and comb in her hair, LaVallee said.

Even little girls like to make their mark simply with fashion statements in their kimonos, bringing embroidered butterflies to flutter in their fabrics.

Similar to “Sweet 16” celebrations for girls in the West, turning 13 merits a nationwide celebration every May 13, for every girl reaching that lucky age that year. The family of such a teen might receive a hagoita, or hand paddle, as a decoration to display. Pointing to one example with plum blossoms and a sunrise, LaVallee said the article “signifies the beginning of spring.”

Washing a kimono entails an art in its own right; it’s a delicate process to preserve its artistic accoutrement, requiring removal of the lining, LaVallee said.

Even the footwear, underneath one’s kimono, shifts depending on the occasion, LaVallee said, showing tabi, or thin socks, worn with zori, or thin sandals, for formal needs. For summer or more causal times, the women wear geta without socks.

Another exhibit in the museum, upstairs through Sept. 16, “At First Light: The Katagami Sculpture of Jennifer Falck Linssen,” dives into the details of stencils with colorful cut paper.

A wall card for a work called “Wind Swept” reflects Linssen’s global take of air currents: “The wind is a continual marker of the world in flux.”

“Written in the Stars” covers a whole wall in a line, like little links loosening as the viewer scans it from left to right. Linssen’s statement nearby reads that knots bind and connect, but “loosened, they reveal ... a snapshot” of progress in humans’ “self-actualization.”

Using paper with other elements such as indigo, waxed linen, and aluminum, Linssen aims to make connections “by freezing a moment in time, immortalizing it in pattern, light and shadow.”

Patricia Goodwin, executive director of the art museum, both exhibits complement each other.

She called the “Kimono” show “simultaneously full of color and serenity,” and said two Coastal Carolina University Theatre Department designers, Tim Hartwig and Matt McCormick, helped with its design “that enhances the beauty of the kimono, obi, woodblock prints and other objects while also speaking to the delicate, serene beauty of the culture.”

“At First Light,” she said, “continues the mood and feel of the main-floor exhibition, providing the viewer with a different way of seeing old and new art forms threaded together.”

Goodwin said the art museum’s 15th anniversary year also will simmer this summer with “Andrea Baldeck: Sea Treasures.” The collection comprises 25 black-and-white photographs such as “Fractured Sea Biscuit,” “Field of Stars,” with nine sea stars placed on pictures of other starfish, and “Horseshoe Crabs,” showing all sorts of those creatures’ shells and skeletons, in full and in fragments.

“Our lovely art museum is one of the very few museums with an ocean view,” Goodwin said, “and what could be more appropriate than to present ‘Sea Treasures’ – a nod to what our beautiful ocean gives us? Allowing time for reflection and to take in all that is around us – inside the museum and out.”