works in fabric
dyer, artist, author, teacher
John Marshall is an internationally recognized textile artist specializing in traditional Japanese paste-resist dyeing techniques and natural dyes. He produces a wide range of sophisticated and colorful designs, many of which show the influence of his years of study in Japan.
I grew up in the small town of Florin, just outside of Sacramento, California. Growing up in this largely Japanese-American community, John was heavily influenced by his friends and neighbors. It’s amazing how happenstance can play such a large role in the development of anyone’s life.
When I was entering fifth grade, I was fortunate enough to wind up in a class taught by Mary Tsukamoto. That year we had two older students from Japan move into our community. Not speaking English, they were placed in our class so that Mrs. Tsukamoto could help them transition into their new environment. At the same time, she decided to take a chance and teach our class Japanese. Take a chance?
Keep in mind that not much time had passed since the Internment Centers of WWII. As a child, Mrs. Tsukamoto attended a segregated grammar school in Florin and suffered various forms of discrimination in high school. While away in the camps, many of her friends and neighbors lost their property to the unscrupulous business dealing of community members, and many of the community were not keen on having the Japanese return to their homes after the war. With this background, it was with some trepidation that she approached her school principal for permission to teach a Japanese culture and language class.
Our community was also home to a welcoming Jodoshinshu Buddhist Church. Buddhist churches in California were known for offering Japanese language classes and cultural programs. I was quite fortunate in having the Tanaka Sisters, as they were known in the community, take me under their wings, in particular Myrtle Furukawa. Mrs. Furukawa was my first real Japanese language teacher and has continued to inspire me as a role model all these years later.
Shortly after arriving in Japan, I was able to secure a position with Kunio Ekiguchi as his assitant. He is best known in this country for his books on Japanese wrapping techniques, published in English through Kodansha, International. He, in turn, introduced me to the teachers I needed in a variety of disciplines centered upon traditional doll making techniques. Matsuyou Hayashi, my bingata teacher, was one such person.
Matsuyou Hayashi had entered a pivotal point in her life when I arrived on her doorstep. She dismissed all of her apprentices just prior to taking me on as an apprentice. For the next several years she concentrated all of her energies on sharing her knowledge of bingata dyeing with me. Through her kindness and careful instruction, I became truly fascinated with this ancient art form. She died five years into my studies, and it was at that point that I returned to the States.
Not long afterward, I discovered she had willed much of her lifetime collection of work, supplies, and equipment to me. Mme. Hayashi had long dreamed of sowing the seeds of her art abroad. I was determined to fulfill her wishes by bringing her techniques to the West.
Continuing my research into ancient cultures and dye techniques, I’ve sought to interpret the sensibilities and aesthetics of the ancient and ethnic world through the Japanese paste-resist process, using the actual plants and insects employed in making the original dyes. My research has taken me to beyond Japan, to Thailand, Indonesia, Italy, and the Yucatan. Through the generosity of clients and collectors, I’ve had the opportunity to view first-hand a wide range of ancient and ethnic textiles and artifacts, which have served to influence my fabric designs.
fashion show in Fukuoka,, Japan
sponsored by Nishitetsu Solaria Hotel and the Nishitetsu Zaibatsu
Groups have often toured my studios, wherever I have lived – these have included, among others, tours sponsored by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Oakland Museum, and the International Society of Interior Designers.
I have taught internationally for a variety of museums and universities, including UC Berkeley Extension Services, Seattle Art Museum, Newark Museum, and the Tokyo Institute for Kimono Design, to name just a few, as well as a thirty-five year long association with the Golden Door in Escondito, CA. My work was carried by Obiko in San Francisco for nearly twenty years, and Bergdorf Goodman in New York for twelve.
I’ve been featured repeatedly in such periodicals as Ornament, Threads, Surface Design, and Turkey Red Journal. Publications in Japan include KateiZenka, Shufu-no-Tomo, and Sophia Magazines, a whole host of newspapers, and appearances on NHK broadcasts.
My work is collected internationally. I’ve been commissioned to dye traditional kimono in Japan and have also produced pieces for stockbrokers, professors, art collectors, as well as many international figures including European royalty. I’ve traveled extensively to share my work, showing to my private clients throughout the US and Japan. I’ve presented exhibitions of my art-to-wear internationally, with solo shows in Japan sponsored by the US State Department, Kodansha, and the Western Mafia of Japan.
Specializing in one-of-a-kind works of art, I enjoy new challenges. Over the decades, I have primarily produced large interior hangings and luxurious clothing. All of my work is designed, dyed, and constructed for actual use. All hues are colorfast to repeated washings and to light. Personally executing all stages going into the creation of each piece is one of my great joys.
It has always been my goal to share all that I was entrusted with at such an early age through teaching and publications. My first book, Make Your Own Japanese Clothes–Patterns and Ideas for a Modern Wear, was published by Kodansha International, 1988, on the subject of Japanese sewing techniques and is still in print. This was followed not long afterward by A/zo Productions release of the video JAPANESE TEXTILE DYEING: Introduction to Paste-Resist Techniques, which covers the basics of using natural dyes with Japanese paste-resist methods.
Since the mid-1990s, I have lived in the most remote corner of Mendocino County, California, where I’ve converted an 1880s flourmill into a luxurious and commodious studio. I use my studio to display the full range of my work intermixed with art pieces collected at home and abroad. My sun-filled space is also used to host lectures and as a classroom for teaching a wide range of Japanese subjects centered on textiles and doll making.
Since the pandemic, I’ve cut back on my travels, focusing instead on online teaching and finally publishing more texts. In addition to Singing the Blues–Soulful Dyeing for All Eternity, 2018, I have released several other books on natural dyes and Japanese traditional textiles. Advances in printing technology have allowed be to self-publish at my own rate, with my own quirks, while incorporating personal touches such as hand-tipped textile samples of the topic at hand.
Please check out the link to my current list of publications.
The ability to teach online has opened up so many possibilities for me–allowing me to reach students all around the globe without the added burden of travel expenses. Toward this end, I’ve been able to create quite a library of topics–from cultural themes, to dolls, to textiles, and of course, dyeing. It has allowed be to present programs to specialized groups such as guilds, museums, and even just groups of friends who share similar interests.
As I approach my seventies, I’m so glad to be able to look back and appreciate all that has gone into this very satisfying period of my life, and all the generous souls who have helped to make it happen.