Just the Facts

City College of New York / CUNY


An artistic study in Japan of the methods and traditions of tsutsumi, Japanese wrapping and packaging

Jennifer Simon

First and foremost, I want to thank the Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Traveling Fellowship for this opportunity and the tremendously generous financial support it provided.

I am currently employed part time as an art teacher assistant at the Trinity School in New York City. I am also continuing my Fellowship interests during my time spent creating work in the studio. Being a lifetime learner, my studies remain ongoing at the Art Students League in New York City with sculptor Grace Knowlton.

The Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Traveling Fellowship played an unexpected part in my final decision to pursue my career as a teacher. I was already working as an artist, but after my travels to Japan, my desire to share what I had learned was intensified. Although I work in the art department, there are facets from my Fellowship journey that can be shared throughout all subjects with all grades.

The most positive aspect of my Fellowship experience is that it will forever remain beneficial to my work as a teacher and as an artist. Also, even though I already had extensive book knowledge of my project, by actually going to Japan, the only place that creates such a variety of tsutsumi, I witnessed it first hand. As an artist and teacher, the only way I could afford to pursue my proposed study was with the financial support from the Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Traveling Fellowship.

The experience in applying for the Fellowship has since given me the courage to apply for and win two additional fellowship grants. The application process was quite challenging for me, but I would definitely apply again. An even tougher challenge and one of the many delightful aspects of this Fellowship was the miracle of being able to learn the difficult language of Japanese and live in Kyoto, Japan.

If I were given the chance to do it all over again, I feel the focus of my project would remain the same, but because of the many variables in traveling, studying and experiencing life in another culture, the results would likely differ. I had no idea that I would meet the people I met, who then led me to finding information about my subject. One such instance occurred when my research was accomplished merely by “chance”. While searching at an outdoor market for items that were wrapped and tsutsumu-like, I met Mrs. Kamimura-san. She became extremely helpful for the duration of my time in Kyoto. Through her, I met local craftspeople that I would never have met otherwise. She personally introduced me and invited me to their homes. While visiting, I was able to photograph much of their artwork, craftsmanship and traditional style workshops. Their studio floors were simply plain dirt, and they used one hundred year old river stones as counter-weights for their looms. The contrast of their modest surroundings to the brilliance of what they created was astonishing.

If I were asked to give advice to anyone considering applying to the program, I would emphasize the importance of seriously examining the questions on the application itself. The actual process of applying for the Fellowship is quite thorough and helped me fine tune and focus seriously on what it was that I anticipated gaining during my travels. I would also encourage applicants to ask for as much help as possible from a sizeable and diversified collection of people. Applying for the second time, I realized that having just a few more professors, friends and professional artists review my application than I had on my first application, made a vast difference in its completion. Although a cliché, in the end it was not the winning or losing, but the satisfaction of gaining so much clarity in my direction and goals.

I would also suggest that during the Fellowship and exploration process one make a concerted effort to always stay open to the most unimaginable possibilities. For instance, after letting go of my control issues, I met people ranging in age from 3 to 103, who were truly interested in assisting me in my efforts. Also, I unexpectedly found that there was a new desire among more of Japan’s younger generation to rekindle the older, more traditional crafts.

In another instance, while I was doing research on tsutsumi at the Traditional Craft Center in Tokyo, a librarian came up to me and gave me the name of a professor she knew at Chiba University. She gave me his contact information along with a series of photocopies from the university’s library. From what I had read in researching life in Japan, this was not a typical experience, but I welcomed it with open arms.

In closing, to say that the Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Fellowship was for me a life changing experience is truly an understatement. You have my sincerest and eternal appreciation for all of your support.