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Asian Straw: Spirit and Symbols
Defining the nature of straw art in Asia is like trying to define the distance between Joy and Sorrow. Each are at one end of the scale, yet they are part of one continuous emotion in life. So, too, can Asian straw be thus defined. It is at once spiritual and ethereal and yet it is earthly and practical. It marks the boundaries of the spirit of the heavens and the symbols of life on earth. Thus, Asian straw art is of spirit and symbol.

Aspects of Asian straw traditions include a vast array of customs. Sacred straw rope such as those created in Japan are known as Shimenawa. They are demarcations of the holy from the profane. An area denoted by straw rope is often a dividing point between what is earthly and what is heavenly. These Shimenawa come in such a variety of shapes and have so different a design that they are among the most beautiful folk arts of Japan.

Headgear has always held customs for both the religious and the secular. Some hats created from rice-straw are seen in hundreds of farms around the countryside of many Asian countries, while some specific designs are made for religious observances. In addition, straw has been used in practical terms to cover the back and feet of a farmer in many parts of Asia. Straw snow boots are common in both China, Korea, and Japan, though not similar in design in each country. A rare and wonderful folk art is done in the Northern Prefectures of Japan where rain capes are made to help keep the water off the farmers back.

Straw baskets have been used for centuries to hold a variety of different items, while the folk art of straw wrapped eggs as a carrier have all but disappeared. The export trade has created everything from straw hats to straw boxes in their effort to expand a folk custom into a need around the world.

As you explore this exhibition of straw art customs take an opportunity to notice the grace of simply design as well as the texture of practical everyday use. You will see some of the people's work in straw as this cultural art unfolds to define for you what is symbol and what is spiritual in the straw arts of Asia.



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