July 7th is the day of the Tanabata festival in Japan. On this day, children and some adults write their wishes on a piece of colored paper, and hang it on a bamboo tree. Bamboo trees are also decorated with cable link chains, net-like objects that signify Milky Way, and other forms of ornaments, usually all made with origami paper. After the festival, the bamboo trees are tossed just like western Christmas trees.
Tanabata festival is based on a Chinese tale of a couple, Orihime and Hikoboshi who live in space. Each of them represents a star in one of the constellations in the sky. The weaver princess Orihime and a cow herd Hikoboshi were both diligent workers. However, ever since they met each other and fell in love, they became lazy and didn’t work as much as before. Therefore, the universe punished them and separated the two with the Milky Way. Nevertheless, the two are allowed to meet once a year on July 7th as long as it doesn't rain.
Since it’s a folk tale, Orihime and Hikoboshi do not exist. Many have depicted their appearances in drawings and other forms of art with their imagination. Neither the tale nor drawings of Orihime I've seen focus on the description or the details of the weaving works she was said to have created. Therefore, I've always depended only on my imagination about Orihime's work.
When I applied for the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation ArtTable Diversity Fellowship, I researched Lenore G. Tawney. I found a few photos of her, and those photos reminded me of Orihime. Of course, the personal lives of Lenore G. Tawney and Orihime may not be even close. Yet, when I saw one of the pictures of Tawney in front of her weaving work, I saw for the first time in my life the perfect depiction of Orihime.
In those pictures, Tawney is sitting directly on the floor while working with an old-fashioned wooden weaving machine. She has her hair up in a simple bun which is a universal way of tidying up one’s hair. She is also wearing a very simple dress that does not signify her background. Although Tawney is White, and Orihime is Asian, the difference of race is only a subtle factor when everything else I see in Tawney reminds me of Orihime.
According to Ms. Kathleen Mangan, the Executive Director of Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, Tawney “lived to work and worked to live.” A small 5-foot woman, Tawney lived by herself in a 4000-sq-feet studio filled with materials, collections of furniture, stones, and tiny things, all displayed in a certain way. At the office of Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, Ms. Mangan laid Tawney's possessions such as functional furniture and decorative objects in the same way Tawney used to display them. Tawney’s aesthetics created works of assemblage in her studio with things found in her everyday life. Those now-vintage cherished items, never lost their lives alongside Tawney’s works of art.
Lenore G. Tawney (1907 – 2007) started her career as an artist at the age of 50. She is known for her fiber and woven art, as well as drawings and assemblage work. Her works have been exhibited at various art institutions including MoMA and American Craft Museum, now known as the Museum of Arts and Design. She founded Lenore G. Tawney Foundation in 1989 with its mission “to increase public access to and knowledge about the visual arts and to assist learning opportunities for emerging artists."