Robert Glenn Ketchum

Fall Dream In The High Desert, 1995

Double-sided hand embroidery

Principle Embroider: XU Jianhua

The above embroidery was developed entirely under the direction of Zhang Meifang (National - level Successor of Intangible Cultural Heritage, Senior Instructor in Arts and Crafts).

Image size: 16 x 20 inches

A four-color, double-sided hand embroidery designed as a small table screen in a non-rotating, mahogany stand. This embroidery was an exercise in the abstract, an issue that is of great concern to the Chinese for they fear that if the viewer cannot understand the subject matter of the embroidery, the embroidery cannot be appreciated. This image was of a high desert (Utah) hillside that was mostly rocky and dotted with random scrub brush turning subtle shades of fall color. The photographic image was very dark and suppressed the colors of the foliage, as the picture was taken well after the sun had gone down. My interest in this image was twofold: first, I wanted to render the image without any embroidery to the actual land. In effect, I wanted to use the physical land as negative space. I also did not care about the individual leaf details within the bushes, my only concern was the fluid way the fall colors seemed to flow across the brush as though it had been painted by an air brush. To that end I encouraged the Chinese to concentrate only on the bushes, their colors, and their external shape. The Chinese voiced great concern that without rendering the land, the image would be unreadable and no one would know what they were looking at. I contended that if the embroiderers followed the photographic accuracy of the brush and the lines it configured within the landscape, everything would read correctly, and the viewers would know what they were seeing.

A more challenging task for the embroiderers was to simulate the fluid colors of the vegetation. Since color seemed to flow, quite literally, from one plant to another with now apparent boundary, the embroiderers determined to reproduce that indistinct variance of color by using the “bundle” stitch. A single silk thread can be split into as many as 48 separate strands, and these strands can then be recombined and rewoven. In this embroidery, threads of differing colors were split, and then the different colors were rewoven into a new, multi-colored, single thread from which the bushes were rendered. The end result is a “blending” of colors from one bush to another. As a final note, the actual photographic image from which the Chinese worked was substantially enhanced by computer and further color was added through dye, applied by hand in the darkroom. The darkness of the original transparency greatly suppresses the pastel colors of the scene, so those qualities have been digitally “improved” or toned by hand to assure the embroiderers of the colors desired in the final embroidery.

© Robert Glenn Ketchum
Tags: Landscapes, Silk Embroidery, SERI, Crewel embroidery xushi full and broken line stitches, Zhang Meifang