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    Traditionally the lion represents valour, strength and courage, as well as defenders of the law. The peony, being the grandest of all flowers evokes images of grandeur coupled with beauty and delicate grace. Combined, they represent the Emperor and Empress of the realm of nature. This certainly has to be one of my favorite motifs. I often use the subject matter in my own work. The piece to the right is one of mine, as is the last piece on the next page.
    In Japanese the lion is called “karajishi” (Chinese lion) or “komainu” (Korean lion). The two look a bit different but the terms are commonly used interchangeably. The fact of the matter is, the Japanese have adapted and altered the design into what is now simply called “shishi”.
    Shishi are depicted with flowing manes and tails and are often shown in frolicking positions. You will often see them while traveling in Japan as guardians in front of Buddhist statues and temples. Please keep in mind that the distinction between various religions in Japan is not as clearly marked as in the West. It is not uncommon to see karajishi and komainu in front of Shinto shrines as well.
    Botan (tree peonies) don’t die back all the way to the ground as do the herbacious variety. It is not unusual to see blossoms as large as dinner plates, in all range of colors - some with a simple ring of petals, and some with massive clusters of delicate membranes. The trunk gives it a sturdy appearance, balancing the bloom precariously at the end of short stems, allowing the petals to softly flutter in any passing breeze. Peonies also have a very delicate scent, of a very refined and subtle nature. It is any reason it inspires so many artists?
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Small lions in a peony garden dyed using indigo and barberry on silk crinkle chiffon by John Marshall.
    This spectacular piece below is a futon cover. No harm will come to anyone slumbering while this lion is on duty!
    The incredible skill and refinement of line practiced in the Kyoto style of tsutsugaki (kyoyuuzen) needs no defending. However, when contrasted to a lively piece such as this, it can seem a bit sterile.
    While from a technical point of view, the lines created by the artist with the rice paste may seem a bit crude, they certainly add to the spontaneity and life so infused in the drama of this garden scene. The lion is ferociously snapping as the peony, in indifference, gracefully lifts it face heavenward.
    Dyed on silk for a very wealthy household, the colors are from rich natural dyes.
Gardenia fruit and indigo have been used to dye the background; indigo and cobalt for the blue peonies, soot for the black and cinnabar for the red. A little iron oxide (bengara) and soot for the lion and you have a very color piece of art.

The lines have been created using mochiko (rice flour) and nuka (bran) in a process called tsutsugaki.
You may need to use your imagination, or switch to your reading glasses, but can you see how this detail has a bit of a “crusty” nature in the red areas? Try comparing the white (blank) area to the red and it may be easier to discern. This is one of the indications of a natural pigment dye verses a “juice” dye. When this type of pigment dye is present in a piece, it is a good indication the textile has been hand dyed. (However, if it is absent, it doesn’t mean the piece has not been hand dyed!)
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with John Marshall
Welcome new friends and old! I've often been asked to write about a variety of Japanese textile and culture related subjects. This page allows me the opportunity to address your requests and to ramble off on side subjects wherever my whim and imagination lead.
Ichiroya has graciously allowed me to use images from their site to illustrate my ramblings. This is not a financial arrangement I have made - I simply believe them to be wonderful people with whom I enjoy doing business, and wish to support their endeavors. Ichiroya is a web based treasure trove of Japanese textiles, antiques, and information. If you haven't visited them in the past, just click on the icon to the left! Or, click on any of the images below to be taken directly to their page for more images and information.