Kazumi Wilds brings Spanish moss folktales to life through Ukiyo-e

Alex Arango

In the heart of Savannah’s vibrant Starland District, Kazumi Wilds, Sulfur Studios’ On::View Artist in Residence, sketches an image of Spanish moss hanging from tree branches.

Wilds’ is a Tokyo-based book illustrator, writer and artist book writer. She received her undergraduate degree in Japanese painting from Joshibi University of Art and Design Tokyo, and received her M.F.A in book Art from the University of Iowa Graduate College.

Some of her published work include dozens of Children’s Books  including “Hajime in the North Woods” by Arcade Publishing and “Kojiki: The Birth of Japan: The Japanese Creation Myth Illustrated,” based on the 1,300-year-old myth.

In addition to her professional artistic work, Wilds teaches Book Art and other courses at Temple University, Japan Campus.

From the large window of her studio space looking out on Bull Street, Wilds has a clear view of live oaks draped in Spanish Moss, providing the perfect reference of her project’s inspiration.

Wild’s fascination with Savannah’s bromeliad began years ago from her visits to Savannah. 

With her son attending SCAD at the time, and her ex-husband being from South Carolina Wilds visited The Hostess City on several occasions.

During her visits, Wilds and her mother-in-law at the time always admired the beauty of  Spanish Moss.

“I always wanted to do a sketch of the Spanish Moss, but I didn’t have the time,” remarked Wilds.

The last time she was able to visit Savannah was for her son’s graduation in 2017. Due to COVID-19, Japan implemented tight restrictions on air travel coming into the country.

These restrictions were lifted last month, allowing Wilds to come to Savannah for the first time in almost 5 years, without worrying about getting back home to Japan.

Now, she has her chance to create a whole project centered on Spanish Moss in addition to its folklore.

The folklore that Wilds is basing her project centers around a notorious pirate named Gorez Goz. In the story, Goz is outsmarted by a Cusabo Native American princess. Although Goz perishes in the story, his beard continues to grow resulting in the Spanish moss we see today.

Wilds noted that the initial idea for her project focused solely on Spanish moss, but after reading the story for the first time she decided to shift directions.

Using a combination of Japanese Woodblock (Ukiyo-e) and monoprint techniques, Wilds’ month-long residency will culminate in the release of an original artist book.

Ukiyo-e is a woodblock technique that saw the height of its popularity in Japan’s Edo Period, with a well known example being “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”

Although Wilds’ background is in Japanese painting, since 2018 she has taken on an apprenticeship with a Master Ukiyo-e artist in Japan. Wildes says to be considered a master Ukiyo-e artist it takes up to ten years.

The majority of Wilds’ artists books were made using letterpress, but she explained that the process is difficult to accomplish in Japan.

“Letterpress is very hard to get in Japan. Instead we (Japan) have a long history of woodblock,” explained Wilds.

 From the window of the studio passersby can see Wilds’ work unfold in real time, from July 6 to the end of her residency on Aug. 6.

Her project finale will be hosted on Friday, Aug. 6 with a closing reception that coincided with Starland District’s First Fridays.

Wilds will also be hosting a class on July 30, where participants can learn about Traditional Japanese paper Suminagashi (marbling) techniques.

Suminagashi ,which translates to “floating ink,” is an ancient Japanese technique believed to be the oldest form of marbling.

Materials will be provided, including Japanese paper that Kazumi has brought with her from Tokyo! Participants will also learn about the Japanese 4 Hole Stab book binding technique.

For more information on Kazumi Wilds and Sulfur Studios visit sulfurstudios.org.


About The Author

Alex Arango

Alex Arango is a multimedia journalist and Savannah local. He has a passion for quality community journalism, and is looking forward to serving the city that he has always called home.

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