Sunday, June 23, 2013

Week 25: The Court of the Heavenly Empress

   Happy Summer Solstice! Having such an old, old ritualistic festival occur this week has me thinking of other cultures' favorite celebrations... specifically the Japanese Tanabata Festival ... which I like to call the Festival of Wishes.  This week's book-of-the-week is titled The Court of the Heavenly Empress. The three-page accordion book is based on the chinese folk tale, "The Cowherd and the Weaving Girl" which is the basis of the Tanabata Festival. You can read one rendition of The Weaving Girl and the Cowherd at

Back cover of pastepaper
   The original Chinese fairy tale dates back over 2600 years to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE -220 CE) and is detailed in the ancient poem "Far in the Skies Is the Cowherd Star". This legend is said to be one of the four most important folk tales of Chinese literature.  It is celebrated each year in China as the Qixi Festival.  The festival spread to Korea as the Chilseok celebration and as Tanabata in Japan. Regardless of the name, the festival is always celebrated on the the seventh day of the seventh month and includes the tale of two star-crossed lovers, family, industriousness, and wishes. Historically, it was a special day for girls... to wish for luck in getting married, starting a family and excellence in handicrafts... all their life goals in ancient times. Now, the wishes are written on strips of paper and, on Tanabata, are hung from the branches of nearby trees, archways, doorways, and roof eaves.

Celebrating Tanabata in Japan

   The Court of the Heavenly Empress is a collage piece showing the Heavenly Empress sitting on her golden throne surrounded by five of her fairy princesses in a lively dance. The paper bits which make the court ladies are an assortment of pastepapers, marbled papers, Japanese chiyogami paper and Italian printed papers. This sort of cut-paper collage was also used in Week 24's book, Seeing Red. I love the patterned appearance of this type of collage painting. There will be more books about this folk tale in the future... and much more cut-paper collage! Imagine a series of cut-paper collage paperdolls...  hummm...

The Heavenly Empress and her court...
   One book that has me thinking about new ways to express narrative in artist books is Margaret Cogswell's new book, Book Play: Creative Adventures in Handmade Books. Margaret has done a fantastic job writing a book that is well organized, full of useful details, and wonderfully inspiring. She has expanded the definition of book to include story-telling with non-bound structures, as well as the use of unusual materials.... like tin cans and pencils! You will love this book! 

Margaret Cogswell's delightful book on making books
July 7th is coming up in a couple weeks... Don't forget  the Tanabata Festival of Wishes.  What would you wish for?