Zuan: Japanese Design Books

Zuan: Japanese Design Books


I was recently entranced by a beautiful. fascinating and elegant show of “Zuan”, Japanese design books, at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, housed in the Pavilion for Japanese Art there. Zuan “… is one of the terms besides dezain formed at this time to describe this new notion of applied art. The term zuan refers to a design prototype to be applied on an object. These drafts and patterns have a long history in Japan. In the early 20th century however, they not only had great popularity as a decorative element, but also were considered as artworks, mainly in the form of opulent design books.” —http://www.ccjac.org/exhibitions/ex2010summer.html


Zuancho  are design idea books, or  textile design books for the kimono trade, and this exhibit reveals their beauty, magic and whimsey.  It is also a great accompaniment to the neighboring “Kimono for a Modern Age” show, displayed along the spiraling walkways connecting the floors of the pavilion.


Zuan, a form of elaborately printed Japanese design book, reflect an evolution in textile design that influenced the art of kimono in the 20th century. For example, the exhibition includes zuan design books produced in Kyoto that display startling color combinations, large-scale patterns, and edgy abstracts that pushed kimono fabric designers to new considerations that influenced both formal and informal kimono. Zuan were also referenced by decorative artists for media whose designs were more graphic in nature, such as fans, lacquer wares, ceramics with overglaze enamels, or cloisonné. The exhibition includes more than 50 books and prints dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.”http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/zuan-japanese-design-books.

The books are displayed flat, or propped open in interesting ways. Their bindings are also fascinating…employing a side stab binding technique that I have had fun doing myself, and teaching to students. There is something very satisfying about the process, and the result.



WEB3Sometimes the designs cross from one page to the next…

WEB5WEB5aGlorious color..like a celebration.

WEB6One of my absolute faves…is this a design for a sleeve…or another part of a Kimono? I love the gradated sky…and the tension of the blue and orange…complimentary colors which set each other off.







WEBaBeautiful example of  side stab binding technique.

WEBbHere we can see the age of the book…the thread that binds it and its weathered cover give it an earthy quality.


WEBfSide stab binding in hard cover…

WEB13The  new and the old…the technological and the handmade…”à la fois”: a video about Zuan, and a handmade example…dating back decades. Such is the nature of art…exhibitions…and learning! The LA County Museum  does a beautiful job. GRATITUDES to LACMA!