Summer 2024 | Mingei International Museum

A Word From Jess

We traditionally associate the phrase “feeling blue” with sadness or melancholy, but the last several months have changed that connotation for many of us at Mingei. The color blue now sparks curiosity, wonder, and excitement, and as we all learn more about the magic of a green plant that transforms into a blue dye, the number of questions and objects and ideas to explore seems as deep and alluring as a vat of indigo.

Now, we’re inviting you to dive in with us! Throughout the summer, as we embark on the final design and installation of the exhibition Blue Gold: The Art and Science of Indigo, you’ll have the opportunity for hands-on experimentation with natural dye through a series of workshops held at the Museum. For an in-depth conversation about natural indigo, don’t miss the September Art Break with Carmen Artigas, a designer and champion for environmental sustainability in the fashion industry. At the end of the month, observe the oxidation process – that “wow” moment when indigo dye converts from green to rich blue. Our favorite local textile artist, Sarah Winston, will show us how it’s done! Keep an eye on our calendar for upcoming programming dates.

Of course at the heart of the indigo story is the exhibition itself. Blue Gold will open with a member celebration on September 13th, and we’ll be ready to party! It will be a thrill to reopen our gallery doors and reveal the show. Chief curator Dr. Emily Hanna and curator Guusje Sanders have been immersed in a checklist of indigo objects, ranging from the ancient to the contemporary. We’ll be featuring scores of pieces from our permanent collection, as well as new work by Porfirio Gutiérrez, Christina Kim, Shelly Jyoti and others.

We hope you find an entry point – something to engage with that sparks your imagination and curiosity whether it’s a library book, a collaborative craft project, or even finding your favorite flavor of iced tea in the café. Everything from the artwork to the food menu changes regularly, but you will consistently find a warm welcome and, beginning in September, an abundance of the color blue!

Enjoy the summer. I hope you will spend some of it with us at the Museum!

Jessica Hanson York
Executive Director & CEO

Exhibition Highlight

PST ART

Southern California's landmark arts event, PST ART, returns in September 2024 with over 60 exhibitions from museums and other institutions, exploring the intersections of art and science, both past and present. PST ART is a Getty initiative, and its latest edition, PST ART: Art & Science Collide, will feature exhibitions on subjects ranging from ancient cosmologies to Indigenous sci-fi, and from environmental justice to artificial intelligence, involving dozens of cultural, scientific, and community organizations.

Art & Science Collide aims to share groundbreaking research, create memorable public experiences, and offer new perspectives on our complex world. As part of this initiative, Blue Gold addresses the intertwined histories of art and science through the lens of indigo.

Other institutions in the San Diego region also participating in PST ART include Birch Aquarium, The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla Historical Society, San Diego Public Library Gallery, The New Children’s Museum, and The San Diego Museum of Art. Learn more about all participating institutions at pst.art.

Inspiring Insight

A Conversation with Exhibition Curators Dr. Emily G. Hanna and Guusje Sanders

When Getty sent out the call for institutions to research the intersection of art and science, it was apparent to us at Mingei that indigo was at the center of this conversation in global folk art and craft. The project has been in the works for several years, involving many participants including former Mingei staff members Christine Knoke Hietbrink and Barbara Hanson Forsyth, the curators who wrote the original proposal and conceived of the subjects for the digital catalog. The exhibition was further developed by the two of us (Emily and Guusje), in collaboration with all departments in the museum.

As a dye used around the world, the international importance of indigo is apparent. What is less well known is that this blue dye is derived from a green plant through an incredibly delicate, complex scientific process. It requires a specific set of steps and conditions to create the unique chemical signature of indigo. This knowledge has been coveted, mastered, and protected by different peoples around the world.

Blue Gold is a celebration of indigenous sciences, ancestral and artisanal knowledge, and a contemporary rebirth of the pigment. Indigo’s history is deeply embedded in the socio-economic and political structures of societies globally, and in the exhibition, we unpack indigo through the natural sciences, social sciences, and cultural sciences to have a larger understanding of the impact indigo has made on our world.

— Dr. Emily G. Hanna and Guusje Sanders

Why is it important to explore indigo as a pigment used in art objects and as a plant?

  • Emily: The color of indigo dye has been so meaningful and symbolic in cultures across the globe. Most obviously, it is used as a way to dye clothing and furnishing textiles. Doors, window-shades, and ceilings were painted with indigo-dyed paint as a form of spiritual protection of houses and their occupants. The Maya used indigo in their murals, and African sculptures are anointed with indigo pigment signaling a cool head in the face of a hot deity. The pigment is used in tattooing, cosmetics, hair coloring, and medicinal products. It was used to stain slides, making cellular tissue visible under a microscope.

  • Guusje: Blue, a color so dominant in our skies and waters, is actually quite rare to find in nature. Replicating blue — unlike abundant reds, yellows, and browns — is a special feat. What’s even more extraordinary is the fact that cultures around the world independently discovered that a green plant can produce the deep and varied blues of our skies and oceans. For a long time, indigo was one of the few sources that created a blue pigment, and therefore was used to dye a plethora of objects such as textiles, sculptures, ceramics, and paint pigment.

Which artworks or objects in the exhibition best exemplify how indigo is at the intersection of art and science?

  • Emily: As collaborators in this exhibition, a team of university scholars, artists, and indigenous cultural specialists in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, worked together to cultivate a species of indigo that was indigenous to Louisiana and extract the dye using traditional techniques. Exploring a myriad of subjects, from the dyeing of traditional indigenous garments to the former use of natural indigo to dye histology slides for microscopic examination, their cohort has contributed to the exhibition an indigo-dyed dress by indigenous artist Mrs. Lou Ann Moses, as well as high-resolution, large-scale images of the histology slides, presented as works of art.

  • Guusje: The Levi Strauss jeans also hold a big conversation on the art and science of indigo. With the rise of synthetic dyes in the late 19th and early 20th century, natural dyes, specifically indigo, became almost obsolete. Even synthetic indigo had major competition from other synthetic blues. It wasn’t until Levi Strauss was commissioned to construct a workman’s pant that could withstand rough work that the indigo color had a rebirth. Using synthetic indigo to dye the cotton blue, a twill weave, and applying rivets on the weaker points, THE working pant was created. Eventually, jeans became a fashion statement and political stance that highlighted the rise of the working-class — blue-collar workers — and created a renewed interest in indigo. A quilt in the exhibition made of recycled blue jeans speaks to the ubiquity of jeans, and the ways in which they were recycled.

Do you now notice indigo everywhere you go? Do you think differently about it after you have done extensive research on it and understand how interconnected it is with our daily lives?

  • Emily: Indigo is everywhere – in Japanese kimonos, West African traditional garments, saris from India, and painted onto architectural structures in the southern United States, to name a few examples. It is fascinating to think about how people across the globe may have first discovered the very complicated extraction process that results in an unforgettable blue. In Liberia, for example, a story is told of a woman’s salty tears falling through ashes activating the indigo leaves, leaving a blue stain on a white cloth. The myth describes indigenous, scientific knowledge kept often by artisans. As indigo became a global commodity, and was eventually synthesized, other “keepers of indigo” emerged, and entire economies were driven by its production and trade. Indigo blue is everywhere, but each place has a unique history and story with this substance.

  • Guusje: Yes! Everywhere! I love that indigo dye is something used and celebrated across so many cultures from the elite to the working classes. This show also highlights the impact of indigo on our social, economic, and political structures. In developing this exhibition, I have been able to explore the science of indigo, the markets and trade, colonial cash crops, enslavement, and forced labor, in addition to the cultural significance of how people adorn their bodies, the incredible dyeing techniques, and the craftsmanship of indigo. The exhibition really highlights the importance of nuanced conversations that celebrate beauty without skipping over an ugly past.

Objects of Note

Indigo Quilts

with Quilt Fellow, Olivia Joseph

Within the entirety of the quilt collection at Mingei, indigo quilts are considered highly unique and one-of-a-kind. Caught up in a frenzy of blue, the T Block and Churn Dash-Shoo Fly quilts were chosen to complement Blue Gold. Made in the mid to late 19th century, these unique textiles use indigo dyed fabrics in their construction.

Known as one of the only naturally occurring direct dyes, indigo has long had a significant impact on textiles. It is a dye popular for its color fastness – resistance to fading or running. In the case of textile production, the dye is produced by fermenting the indigo plant and mixing the resulting non-soluble fluid with an alkaline solution. The addition of an alkaline to the fermented indigo solution allows for the solution to become water soluble and usable for dyeing. When textiles are dipped into the indigo dye bath, it isn’t until the textile is exposed to oxygen that the blue color starts to show through the oxidation process. To produce deeper blues, textiles would be repeatedly dyed.

Before we jump into the indigo quilts, it is important to acknowledge this plant’s historical ties to slavery. In the United States, and across many other nations, indigo was recognized as a cash crop – a crop which had once been as valuable as gold. In an NPR interview titled, “Indigo: The Indelible Color That Ruled the World,” Dr. Catherine McKinley, curator and writer on indigo, elaborates on Black slaves used as a currency to trade for indigo, alongside revealing ways in which Black slaves used to care for indigo because of their knowledge of indigo cultivation (NPR). While this acknowledgment only briefly touches on indigo’s ties to slavery, there is much left to learn and discuss about indigo, its history, and its relation to textiles. Without further ado, to the quilts!

The T block is a pattern block made to resemble the English alphabetical letter T. It is a design often associated with the Temperance movement of the Progressive era (late 19th/early 20th century) that aimed to decrease, then completely ban, alcohol consumption. Groups such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union used quilts to fundraise and advocate for alcohol abstinence. This T block quilt features multiple indigo and white T blocks, bordered by strips of indigo fabric known as sashing. The indigo-printed fabric used in this textile is produced through a printing method known as discharge printing. In this process, surfaces intended to be white on the indigo-dyed fabric are bleached with an acidic solution that destroys and oxidizes indigo.

The Churn Dash-Shoo Fly indigo quilt uses features of two similar pattern blocks, meant to reflect aspects of farm life such as the butter churn and shoo fly plant. The Churn Dash block is comprised of various rectangular and right triangle shapes and resembles a hollow square with right triangle corners. The Shoo Fly, however, resembles a solid square with the points of the right triangle meeting the square's corners. Each block is bordered by white fabric strips (sashing) and contrasting, indigo-printed corner blocks (cornerstones), which match the indigo and chrome orange/yellow fabric prints utilized in the main block pattern. Indigo prints like those in the quilt use resist printing. In this process, surfaces intended to stay white are covered with a resist – a barrier which prevents dye from reaching the cloth – before being submerged into an indigo dye bath.

In the Stacks

Indigo Books

Explore the rich history and cultural significance of indigo with five books from the Museum's library, curated to complement Blue Gold. Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul delves deeply into the qualities and rich cultural significance of indigo, weaving together its botanical origins, historical uses, and contemporary applications. Learn about the world of natural dyes and textiles with Indigo: The Color That Changed the World by Catherine Legrand, offering a comprehensive overview of indigo's global impact. Gain insight into the intricate techniques and artistic traditions of indigo dyeing with True Colors: World Masters of Natural Dyes and Pigments by Keith Recker. Dive into the colonial history of indigo in South Carolina with Andrea Feeser's Red, White, & Black Makes Blue, exploring the intertwined stories of Native Americans and African slaves in the indigo industry. Experience the beauty of indigo through the eyes of artist Rosa Chang in My Indigo World, a poetic tribute to the indigo plant and its mesmerizing hues. These books offer a deep dive into the art, science, and cultural significance of indigo, enriching the museum's exploration of this timeless and revered pigment.

Dine Global, Stay Local

Embark on a culinary adventure with ARTIFACT at Night. These exclusive monthly events offer a prix fixe dinner highlighting the diverse flavors of various regions around the world.

Savor a taste of Yucatan in July, explore the flavors of Sardinia in August, and discover Türkiye’s culinary flair in September. Don't miss your chance to take part in these one-of-a-kind dining experiences!

Upcoming 2024 ARTIFACT at Night Dates

Membership Update

New Rates & Exclusive Opportunities

Mingei members are at the heart of our Museum, and we are continually thankful for the creativity, insight, and fellowship of our Mingei member community. To keep our membership programming lively, Mingei will increase membership rates beginning October 1, 2024.

Being a Mingei member still provides perks such as early access to exhibitions, special member pricing for workshops, Shop Mingei discounts, and more. In fact, programming for Blue Gold includes opportunities such as a series of member-exclusive natural dye workshops in August leading up to a special opening preview celebration in September! There will also be member trips to see other PST ART exhibitions around Southern California and indigo-focused programming at Mingei with member discounts. Most importantly, your membership at Mingei supports all of the Museum’s work, including exhibitions, school programs, collections care, and more.

We hope to continue seeing you at the Museum. Please consider renewing your membership before the rates change on October 1, and stay connected with Mingei!

Membership Level Current Price New Price as of October 1
Mingei Passport* $30 $35
Independent $60 $75
Companion $85 $105
Traveler $150 $175
Enthusiast $300 $350
Artisan Circle $600 $650
Director's Circle $1,500 $1,500 (no change)

*Please note the Mingei Passport has free entry to the museum and will not receive invitations to member previews or have discounts at Shop Mingei, ARTIFACT, or CRAFT CAFÉ.

A New Era of Leadership

Welcoming Jennifer Findley

Mingei is excited to welcome, celebrate, and acknowledge Jennifer Findley as she steps into the role of Chair of the Museum’s Board of Trustees.

Jennifer succeeds long time trustee Maureen (Mo) King. Mo has been involved with Mingei for over 40 years. She has served multiple terms on the board, including a recent successful run as Chairman. As Co-Chairman of the Museum’s Capital Campaign, she helped lead the effort to raise $50 million for the Museum’s transformational renovation. Mo will continue to serve on the board as Chairman Emerita.

Founder of JFiN Collective, Jennifer provides art advisory and consulting services and helps both established and emerging collectors develop, create, and maintain their collections. She serves on numerous philanthropic boards and is a founding member of Soho House San Diego. At Mingei, Jennifer is eager to help highlight living artists and to bring fresh perspectives through the traditional mediums of folk art and craft through design.

Jennifer and her family can be seen at the Museum often — visiting alongside her husband, Carl, or attending Mini Mingei with her daughters, Margot and Poppy! She is already a champion for San Diego’s creative community and we are thrilled she will bring her unique perspective to Mingei’s leadership.

Calendar of Events

Our Supporters

Donors of Note

Mingei International Museum is grateful to all members and friends who provide financial support throughout the year. Be it through an annual membership, a contribution to the annual appeal, a donation in support of special exhibitions or programs, or a legacy gift through a will or bequest – every donor provides essential funds that continue to make the Museum a special place for all.

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