This quillo was selected by Alison because of her father's interest in Japanese art and culture. Creating quillo designs is all about telling a story with fabric. I wanted to weave her story into the symbolism of the fabric. Seeing these images and hearing her story gave me a connection to her father and her family as this quillo came to life.
This one of a kind quillo showcases Japanese Koi and Hawaiian Tiki Masks. In Japan, Koi are symbols of strength and perseverance. Tiki masks were carved to look like gods, spirits and mythological beings. Each tiki mask was hand carved with the purpose of containing a unique spirit.
“My father spent time in Japan during the Korean war and he was intrigued by Japanese culture and art. I think he was drawn to the fine elegance of the woodblock prints and the grace of the line quality. The fabrics in the quillo suggest all of that and the soft palette seems slightly faded or mellow, like a memory.
When I was growing up my parents had a big wooden carved chest in the living room. My mom stored silver and china in it. My dad had a white kimono and a pair of those wooden thong-type clogs (the thong part was maroon velvet!) On the rare occasion that the trunk was opened, my siblings and I would walk around the house in those clogs - so wobbly and uncomfortable!
I never realized how much my father treasured those things or really understood why they were so important. I recently found several small, old books about Japanese art & culture tucked into Dad’s bookshelf. I thought they were beautiful but I don’t remember having seen them when I was growing up.
I also found a box of photos of his time during the service in Japan. I think it was one of the most meaningful times of his life - before he was married with four kids!
This picture was painted by my Dad at about age 75. As you can see, it is some sort of Samurai Warrior that my Dad titled “Weekend Warrior.” I think he was pleased with his depiction of the detail in the warrior’s costume and his proud stance, because when he brought this painting home from the frame shop, he insisted it hang in the entryway of their home.
"Weekend Warrior by Joseph Britt" (courtesy of Alison Kaczmarek)
I plan to keep these little books safe. I love looking through them and seeing my Dad’s signature. Leafing through the pages, I try to imagine what he thought about it all.”
The Symbolism of the Fabrics in the Quillo
The Koi and the Dragon Gate
According to Chinese mythology, the Dragon’s Gate is located at the top of a waterfall cascading from a legendary mountain. Many koi swim upstream against the river’s strong current, but few are capable or brave enough for the final leap over the waterfall. If a koi successfully makes the jump, it is transformed into a powerful dragon. Because of their perseverance, koi are often associated with the Samurai Warrior known for their courage, integrity and high sense of character.
The Tiki and Ancestor Worship
Ancestor worship was the dominant form of religion in the Pacific Islands and Tiki was the half-man, half-god figure that filled the role of the first man, like the Biblical Adam. Eventually, all carved religious totems came to be called “tikis.” You can see four separate tikis here in the fabric. They represent the 4 gods of Hawaiian religion and also represent the 4 elements:
Kane: Father of living creatures. (Air), Ku: God of war. (Fire), Kanaloa: Ruler of the ocean. (Water) Lono: God of agriculture. (Earth)
Fish on Batik
The quillo is united by the fish on batik that depicts the importance of fishing in the island cultures of Japan and Hawaii. The many proverbs, prayers, tales and artwork attest to the importance of fishing in each culture. A successful fisherman was a highly valued asset for his entire community.
Mahalo to Alison Kaczmarek for sharing her story with me and helping to create a very personal Maui Medicine blanket for her father, Joseph Britt on Father's Day, 2017. (All images courtesy of Alison Kaczmarek)
"Thank you so much. It will be perfect - he wears sweaters in the summer in Georgia! But this will allow him to sit on the screened porched in comfort and style!"