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Washi Exhibit “American Made in Japan” by David Kamper


• David Kamper, JET returnee, is showing a washi-art exhibit “American Made in Japan” in Pauper’s Art Guild, Arlington Heights until September 29. Washi is Japanese traditional paper made by using Japanese materials and technique, which produce unique textures.

• In the studio, colorful washi with different textures were hung from the ceiling. Some papers glowed mysteriously when they were illuminated from behind. All washi papers were handmade by Kamper when he was in Japan.

• David Kamper participated in JET program (Japan Exchange and Teaching program) in 2008 and went to a small town near Obama City in Fukui Prefecture. A year later, he moved to Echizen City, a famous town for washi making.
• Kamper and other foreign English teachers were invited to a washi workshop. The workshop was trying to globalize washi, so introducing it to foreign teachers was a good chance to spread it to the world, according to Kamper.
• At the workshop, each teacher had a chance to make a piece of washi. Kemper, who graduated from De Paul University with an Art major, said, “Making washi was a very unusual experience. I immediately decided that I wanted to make it again.”

• He asked a woman at the washi workshop to teach him about washi making, and she introduced him to many older people in the washi making field, including an owner of a small museum. He said, “There was a big circle.”

• The washi makers worked during weekdays and had some leftovers by the weekend, so Kamper could obtain the leftovers for his own use. The amount of the material depended on how busy the makers were. Sometimes, he received a great deal of it, but sometimes it was a little.
• He was able to learn the paper making techniques, but had difficulties learning how to mix raw materials and coloring them. He could only obtain mixed and colored materials.

• Kamper said, “The master makers make hundreds of papers every day, all day. They don’t go to movies, just wake up, work, and sleep. They can tell you, ‘This paper is five years old,’ by only touching it. They know all those things because it’s their life.”

• Kamper made a great deal of washi during his stay in Echizan. He returned to the U.S. last April and brought his smaller pieces, which he could carry with him. He has more than 50 larger pieces in Japan.

• So what he can do with washi in his home country? Japanese tend to see washi as crafts rather than arts because they would see washi as for practical use. On the other hand, Western people see washi as art and want to decorate their homes with it. He said, “I have to think about how I can encourage people (to buy washi.) It can be more than just for use. It can also be enjoyment.”
• He made book covers and boxes by using his washi, and they looked pretty, so people would like to buy them. However, a problem arose. When he uses up his washi, there is no way to produce it in the U.S.
• So far, he is going back to Japan to make more washi and obtain the information.

• Kamper said that he has been interested in Japanese culture since he was a child because everything was coming from Japan. In the middle of the 1980s, he learned that almost all toys, including his favorite ones, were imported from Japan and he wanted to know more about Japan.
• After graduating from De Paul, he applied to JET program, but his circumstance didn’t allow him to go. Some years later, he reapplied to JET and was qualified.
• He said, “JET is a great program. Without that program, I couldn’t go to Echizen and wouldn’t have met her in the washi workshop. I wouldn’t have made this.”

• (The full story is available in Chicago Shimpo’s September 26th issue.)

David Kamper smiles in front of his art works.


Some washi papers glow mysteriously when they are illuminated from behind.


Kamper makes book covers, boxes, and frames by using his washi.