Jorie Johnson enjoys designing, producing and wearing her unique handmade woolen felt creations. Introduced to the traditional textile technique in Finland, in 1977, by learning to make Scandinavian felt boots, Jorie was immediately enchanted by the magic and power of felting.
Jorie grew up in the household of a wool and fiber merchant and studied textile design for industry at RISD (USA) and KOTO (Finland). While on a whimsical 3-month tour of Japan in 1987, she decided that twelve weeks simply was not long enough, and she's lived there ever since. It was in Kyoto, Japan, that she re-established her textile studio and trademarked the name Joi Rae. After studying industrial textile design (weaving and printing) for fashion and interiors Jorie found her compatible expression in fiber through the traditional medium of feltmaking.
Her combination of rich colors and layering techniques, working various materials such as silk, rayon, and mohair into the felt product, results in warm, one-of-a-kind autumn, winter and spring clothing and accessories for the discerning collector.
Jorie has developed her own innovative expression of the 8,000-year-old central-Asian technique of feltmaking. Jorie exhibits her contemporary feltworks in galleries, shops, and museums around the world.
Jorie generally takes time off from her studio work during the spring semester to lecture at various institutions. She holds a part-time lecturing post in the Textile Design Department of the Kyoto University of Art and Design. During the summer months, to escape the heat and humidity of Kyoto, she travels on research expeditions to learn more about traditional felting from different cultures. She attends international felt symposiums and gives workshops about contemporary surface and design technique developments in feltmaking.
When did you feel your art was your own?
After studying a variety of textile techniques during my university days in the USA (RISD) and Finland (KOTO, UIAH) I saw that more of my personal voice was evolving once I stayed with felt making for some years.
Once I found my medium I could start overlapping and applying aspects of other techniques that had caught my fancy like color blending learned from fabric printing, three-dimensional shapes envisioned through knitting, and basic fabric making and usage through weaving and couture. I was happy to find the medium which best fit my personality and offered itself as a vehicle for my expression.
Now it has been some thirty-five years since my first three-day Scandinavian felt boot-making intensive in Kuopio, Finland. During that infamous weekend, the American Ambassador and Cultural Attaché were visiting the Institute of Design I was attending, and we all had coffee together with the Dean. I have always felt later that the baton was handed off to me then, and I now introduce the wonders of wool, felt and textile creativity wherever I can, as an 'Ambassador of Wool.'
When did you feel you found your own artistic voice?
What I found in art school was that one’s artistic voice has a heart of its own and not to be surprised by what comes out, especially if it makes you feel like you are standing naked in front of the class. The voice in the last few years said, “Okay, let’s take a look at the colors, forms and techniques that you have inadvertently used often within this re-invented felt making medium, and then we can group them and work from there.”
Working in wearables and accessories is an area that is influenced by ergonomics, comfort, and durability, so there are some restraints on one hand, but those become the challenges on the other. So much on the Joi Rae Textile Highway is experimentation that the voice keeps changing to express the research and search for new capabilities within this fascinating medium.
Was there any influence in your life that you felt that pushed your work to another level?
Living in Japan, the end of the Silk Road to the East, has provided an amazing wealth of textile influence. Before living in Japan, I spent many years in Finland and was involved with that special Northern European light and daily use of textiles, so, I learned that one naturally accepts the influences or attracts the influences around them. I often say, even the Japanese are influenced by Japan.
When institutional leaders, curators, and gallery owners started to show some interest in the work I do, then I started to think much more about the level of quality, expression, and concept, as well as how to embed my subtle mark of personality.
I am striving to raise the level of the craft, so it attains equanimity with other mediums which include papermaking, print, and sculpture in the art world. To prove the viability of wool, which can be used as an art form, as well as a craft form, is why I try to make the “V” in the road into a “Z” and find myself zigzagging between work for the wall and work for the body.
I am sure my colors would change drastically if I moved to another climate and culture, so recognizing the market potential here means combining one's interests with what compliments the client’s interests as far as clothing pieces.
The wall, carpet, and room accessories coordinate with the structural materials and objects in the room as my departure point. I realized that ceramics (mud), tatami (grass) and felt (sheep’s wool) all are found or raised from the same earthly roots, so their vibrations coordinate beautifully together, especially in a traditional Japanese house. In contrast, they give warmth to an interior of a glass and concrete environment as well.
Also, there is no doubt that when one gets involved with a collaboration work, all parties involved start to evolve into new ways of thinking. I enjoyed the “Standing in the Fields” felt and Japanese lacquer works with Clifton Monteith and Sumi ink on silk works with Tsutsumi Kawabe and later with Christine Flint Sato of the UK who lives in Nara. Also, whenever possible, I take the chance to consult with costume designers and textile professionals to broaden my knowledge and keep up with contemporary trends. I am fascinated by all textiles but feel akin to wool and working in the feltmaking medium.
Currently I have a hat in Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones, Bard Graduate Center Main Gallery, NYC, originating at the V&A in London, and am among the invited artists at the upcoming show Textiles Today, Redefining the Medium, at the Durango Art Center, Colorado curated by Ilze Aviks.
Jorie Johnson Resources