Sidewall, Japan, 1954. Gift of S. Stanley Sogg, 1955-88-5

A Sidewall Opens Childhood Memories

My childhood bedroom was decorated with a butterfly motif. I had a canopy bed with a butterfly cover and bedspread and butterfly wallpaper.  In my childhood play I enjoyed having these lovely fairy-like creatures around me with their delicate, transparent wings and fantastical beauty.  In my early science classes I learned about their amazing life cycle and have often found inspiration from the quote “If nothing ever changed… there would be no butterflies.”

In reviewing the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum's collection I was excited to discover in the Wallcoverings Department a few butterfly themed objects.  In 1955, S. Stanley Sogg donated to the museum a set of 10 objects.  In the set there are four papers made in Japan in 1954, most likely designed to be used on shoji screens, room dividers or window coverings.

The papers' use of butterflies stood out to me because it looked similar in texture and style to my childhood canopy bed.  However, on closer look I discovered a major difference--there are real butterflies in these objects!  All four of these papers include real leaves and butterfly wings, and three are made of silk while one is made of rice paper. The Japanese papers using silk contain butterflies and leaves laminated between rice paper and silk which creates a nice transparency with some durability. Due to the variety of the butterflies and leaves each roll produces a gradation of tones and values.  Other elements were added to some of the silk pieces including specks of silver and gold. 

Here are the four Japanese papers: lacy rice paper (1955-88-4) turquoise silk gauze (1955-88-5, pictured above), pale orange silk(1955-88-6) and lemon silk (1955-88-7).

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