Kaj Johnson-Kuchina – “The Messenger (Hail Amitābha Buddha)”

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  • Sandra Hutton Award for Excellence in Complex Weaving: $500

This piece draws heavily from childhood memories of summer days spent with my grandmother in Kamakura, Japan.

For the warp, I used a plated and lacquered washi with a bright, arctic blue hue reminiscent of the summer skies I grew up with. In the undermost layer of the background, I laid down a green gradient that represents the range of vibrant greens present in Japanese summer foliage. Above this green gradient is a golden arabesque pattern, a style that features prominently in many of my grandmother’s weaving designs. Everything I know about Saga Nishiki I learned from my grandmother, so this was my way of paying homage to her. The red wave design above this arabesque pattern is meant to express the joy and excitement that I felt during the summer.

At the center of the piece is an Allotopus rosenbergi, known in Japan as “ougon oni kuwagata” (yellow-gold ogre stag beetle). Many Japanese boys enjoy spending summer vacation catching rhino and stag beetles in the wild. The beetles are then kept as pets and sometimes tested in combat against other beetles. I was one such boy. I was also one of many Japanese kids of my generation who grew up playing “Mushi King” (Bug King), an arcade game in which players insert physical, collectible beetle cards into the game console to fight against other bugs in a glorified game of rock-paper-scissors. During my summer breaks as an elementary student, my grandmother would sometimes drive me to the nearest arcade so that I could play this game. Soon after I began playing, I became obsessed in my pursuit to collect the Allotopus rosenbergi beetle card. I still remember the rush of adrenaline I felt when the console finally dispensed this card to me.

On my weaving, the stylized red text on the back of the beetle read “南無阿弥陀佛” (Namu Amida Butsu), or “Hail Amitābha Buddha.” My aim was to reflect the omnipresence of Buddhist philosophy in Japanese culture, as well as its influence on my personal outlook.

Regarding the theme of Complexity 2024, my innovation in this piece is the interweaving of many different layers. While traditional Saga Nishiki weaving typically presents a single, traditional Japanese geometric pattern, my grandmother experimented with combining multiple geometric patterns and sometimes photographic images in a single work. In this piece, I took my grandmother’s innovation a step further by presenting a color gradient, a traditional pattern, a geometric design, a photographic image of a beetle, and text.


The method I used is called “Saga Nishiki,” an Edo-era form of traditional hand-weaving/brocading originating in Saga, Japan. Saga Nishiki warps are made of washi (traditional Japanese paper processed by hand) coated with any combination of platings such as gold, silver, bronze, tin and lacquer. The weft typically consists of dyed silk threads as well as silk threads coated with the aforementioned platings used for the warp. Traditionally, Saga Nishiki weavings were used to produce obi (belts) for Japanese kimono. Today, these weavings are more commonly used for purses, wallets, and brooches. My style of weaving is heavily influenced by my grandmother, an accomplished weaver and sensei who uses more metal-coated silk thread and less plain silk thread than is traditionally common in Saga Nishiki. The heavier use of these metallic weft threads gives the textile a shimmer that varies with the angle of lighting/viewing.


19-2/16 in x 19-11/16 in x 1-2/16 in


The warp is made of washi (traditional Japanese paper processed by hand) coated with a colored photosensitive color film as well as a combination of metal plating and lacquer to adjust the hue. The weft consists of silk threads plated with metals.


I used a table-top loom specific to Saga Nishiki (the method of weaving/brocading I used to create this piece). These can be called “oridai,” or “oriki.”

  • Kaj Johnson-Kuchina