Blake students create unique tapestries through Japanese SAORI weaving

Classes were part of school’s artist-in-residence program

SAORI weaving expert Chiaki O’Brien talks with students before an art-crafting session at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata March 9. O’Brien moved from Japan to Minnesota in 2004 and began teaching others the free-style form of weaving. O’Brien recently wrapped up a residency through the school’s McGuire Visiting Artist Program, which brings in a professional artist every other year to work with students and faculty at each of The Blake School’s three campuses. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
SAORI weaving expert Chiaki O’Brien talks with students before an art-crafting session at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata March 9. O’Brien moved from Japan to Minnesota in 2004 and began teaching others the free-style form of weaving. O’Brien recently wrapped up a residency through the school’s McGuire Visiting Artist Program, which brings in a professional artist every other year to work with students and faculty at each of The Blake School’s three campuses. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)

After having picked out a fabric and color, each young artist took a seat behind a loom and placed their feet upon the two wooden planks underneath the machine.

“Usually looms are huge and have many pedals to deal with,” explained Chiaki O’Brien, a Japanese SAORI weaving expert, as she walked Jackie Quinn’s art room at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata.

It’s not long before the room falls quiet, save for the soft squeaks of ten SAORI looms in full production mode. It’s a silence one wouldn’t typically expect to find in the middle of an art-crafting session involving kindergartners.

Student Finn Peterson runs through a list of colors he’s used so far.

“I’m using red right now, but I’ve used black, brown, green and blue,” he said, reaching for a pair of scissors to cut his thread and begin yet another color.

“They want to explore and just express themselves,” O’Brien said, before getting to the heart of what she likes most about the art form. “There are no mistakes.”

O’Brien recently wrapped up an artist-in-residence program with Blake students. The residency was part of the school’s McGuire Visiting Artist Program, established by Bill and Nadine McGuire in 1993. The program brings in a professional artist every other year to work with students and faculty at each of The Blake School’s three campuses in Minneapolis, Hopkins and Wayzata.

Kindergartners Ahamdi Nwachukwu, far left, Leo Mithun, in red, and Isabella Hoffman weave their latest creations during an art studio session with Chiaki O’Brien, a Japanese SAORI weaving expert, at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata March 9. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
Kindergartners Ahamdi Nwachukwu, far left, Leo Mithun, in red, and Isabella Hoffman weave their latest creations during an art studio session with Chiaki O’Brien, a Japanese SAORI weaving expert, at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata March 9. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)

For this year’s program, O’Brien was invited to share the Japanese art form of SAORI, which comes from two words: “Sa,” meaning to have one’s own individual identity, and “Ori,” which means weaving.

A woman named Misao Jo founded the contemporary hand-weaving style in Japan in 1968 with hopes of creating a form of weaving that held no rules or restrictions. The style, O’Brien explained, is meant to allow open self-expression by anyone and emphasizes free expression over technical skill.

“I didn’t like sewing at all when I was a student. … [SAORI] gave me confidence and encouragement that if I can do this, anyone can do this,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said she learned the art form from Jo and quickly became inspired to teach others the free-style form of weaving. In 2004, O’Brien moved from Japan to Minnesota and soon began sharing the weaving style with others. Today, she works with all ages and people with developmental and physical disabilities. O’Brien said she also has plans to visit Bloomington for another school residency this spring.

SAORI in Japan develops and produces the looms, which have only two harnesses. Conventional looms typically have four, eight or more. The looms are meant to simplify the process of warping and threading, making it easy to learn and accessible for to all.

According to O’Brien, SAORI has four guiding principals:

• Consider differences between machines and people.

• Weave with a happy heart.

• Explore with all your might.

• Learn together as a group.

The philosophy behind the art form also suggests that since no two weavers are alike, it should follow that no two cloths are the same – a lesson O’Brien hopes students will each discover themselves.

“I only show them how to use the loom and after that, they can do whatever they want. … And even though I am a certified and trained teacher, I don’t always have the right answer. So, I let them figure it out first and that makes them much happier than somebody else telling them what to do.” O’Brien said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Contact Jason Jenkins at jason.jenkins@ecm-inc.com

SAORI weaving expert Chiaki O’Brien talks with students before an art-crafting session at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata March 9. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
SAORI weaving expert Chiaki O’Brien talks with students before an art-crafting session at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata March 9. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
A display of SAORI-woven, community crafted creations sits in the art room at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata March 9. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
A display of SAORI-woven, community crafted creations sits in the art room at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata March 9. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
Kindergartners Liam Hogan, right, and Anna Karos, in white, sit behind their looms March 9 for an art studio session with Chiaki O’Brien, a Japanese SAORI weaving expert, at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
Kindergartners Liam Hogan, right, and Anna Karos, in white, sit behind their looms March 9 for an art studio session with Chiaki O’Brien, a Japanese SAORI weaving expert, at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
Chiaki O’Brien, a Japanese SAORI weaving expert, helps Blake kindergartner Isabella Hoffman in the school’s art room March 9. O’Brien recently wrapped up an artist-in-residence program with students through Blake’s McGuire Visiting Artist Program. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
Chiaki O’Brien, a Japanese SAORI weaving expert, helps Blake kindergartner Isabella Hoffman in the school’s art room March 9. O’Brien recently wrapped up an artist-in-residence program with students through Blake’s McGuire Visiting Artist Program. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
Kindergartners take to their looms March 9 for an art studio session with Chiaki O’Brien, a Japanese SAORI weaving expert, at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
Kindergartners take to their looms March 9 for an art studio session with Chiaki O’Brien, a Japanese SAORI weaving expert, at The Blake School’s Highcroft campus in Wayzata. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)