A fading artform—the exquisite Japanese stencil dyeing known as katazome—is alive and well in Oregon, thanks to Karen Miller. The Corvallis, Ore., fabric artist creates stunning katazome textiles, such as Tide Pool 3 (right), but infuses her fabrics with distinctly Northwest imagery. “The Japanese stencilmakers depicted nature in their stencils,” says Miller. “I put my plants and animals into my designs: maidenhair ferns, trilliums, tide pool animals.”
Miller has a lot to draw inspiration from: The daughter of an artist-mother and an organic chemist-father, she earned a Ph.D. in zoology from Oregon State University and worked for 20 years at the school researching octopus and intertidal animals. “I chose the field of marine biology because the beauty of it satisfied the artist in me,” she says. Twelve years ago, Miller enrolled in a stencil dying class that a Japanese katazome master was teaching and realized she had found her calling. When she retired in 2001 she took up the craft fulltime.
To create her fabrics, Miller, 60, first cuts intricate stencil designs into mulberry-fiber paper that’s been treated with persimmon juice (traditional katazome paper), then lays down the stencil on silk, linen or cotton and uses it to apply relief paste. She then paints the fabric with mineral pigment dyes or dips it in indigo dye. After the fabric is dry, she removes the paste to reveal the intricate designs. Miller’s art quilts cost $350 to $3,000; her unquilted linen panels, $125 to $375. Tide Pool 3 costs $1,200.
Contact artist Karen Miller via her website, nautilus-fiberarts.com. Her studio is open the first weekend of each month or by appointment. You can also see her work at the Contemporary Crafts Museum & Gallery (3934 S.W. Corbett Ave.; 503-223-2654) in Portland.