Exhibit: Kay Sekimachi at BAMPFA

Years ago, wandering in the San Francisco Airport International Terminal, I stumbled upon an exhibition of Kay Sekimachi, a fiber artist and weaver, and her husband Bob Stocksdale, a woodturner. It was one of those shows that filled me with wonder; the wooden bowls were beautiful and intriguing, but I had never seen anything like Sekimachi's woven containers and her leaf bowls, which had been molded over some of Stocksdale's forms. Although I don't remember the specific works, I've thought about that exhibit a lot over the years. So I was pleased to see that Berkeley Art Museum, which just reopened, was showing Sekimachi's work. Stocksdale passed away in 2003, but Sekimachi, a Berkeley resident, is 94. She was born in San Francisco, California, but during World War II, the family was forced to live in the internment camp at Topaz, Utah. Eventually she was able to return to the Bay Area.

Sekimachi's monofilament sculptures; black dyed with RIT dye.

In the current exhibition I learned that her woven books were made by transferring images to the warp threads before weaving and that she had made many handmade books. Only two are presented in the show; Wave I do remember from the other show. The structure, which she uses for all her woven books, is a back-to-back accordion that lends itself well to the minimal landscapes she prefers. 

100 Views of Mt. Fuji, 1981

Wave, 1980

I had to see more, and online I found and ordered a small portfolio of accordion folded pages describing and showing the books titled, Intimate Views, a catalogue from the 2000 show at the former San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum. She apparently began making books in 1980, and the subjects she contemplates in the woven books are Point Reyes, Grand Tetons, Hayden Valley, the sun and moon, water, Mt. Fuji in Japan, and Mauna Kea in Hawaii, where she and her husband spent time. The color palette is soft and natural. The books are calm, serene, meditative.

She also made a series of what the catalogue calls "The Other Work," work made for oneself, sometimes as a way to work out ideas, or as "a respite," and this work often encompasses different materials and approaches. Sekimachi's "other work" features shells she has collected that are glued to watercolor paper as natural collages. The catalogue, the folded envelope echoing her shell book covers, includes a photo of her shell collection in a wooden box with compartmented drawers.

But back to the exhibition, Geometries, at BAMPFA. Books, containers, text and textile, all woven together, folded, stitched, and dyed; all of it is rooted in the same place, and Sekimachi has worked fluidly across the materials and methods.

Washi Vessel, 1980s (created, like origami, from a single square of paper)

a vessel made in the 1990s from kiri wood paper, the wall text says, "typically used for chests, boxes, and geta (clogs).

scroll, "inspired by vintage Japanese silk obis," woven and created in 2007

1990s "Takarabako" (treasure chest) vessels. The catalogue I bought says, "Ruth Asawa showed her how to make a special fold for a lidded box," which led to this box series.

Ikat boxes, 1980s

The warp painting intrigues me. And I am in awe, not only of the simple beauty Sekimachi presents, but how she weaves patience into her work.

Kay Sekimachi: Geometries is at BAMPFA until October 24, 2021.