Threads of Light

July 21, 2009


threads of lightIf anyone doubts whether embroidery can be considered fine art then they must read, or at least look at, Threads of Light. The partnership between environmental photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum and the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute (SERI) culminated in a 1999 exhibit at UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History. Threads of Light is the information packed catalog from that exhibit. The photographs of the embroidery are stunning and the essays offer insight to which Westerners might not otherwise be exposed.

Ketchum first approached SERI in 1986, helped by the UCLA-China Exchange Program, with the intention of exploring the re-creation of several of his images into embroidery. It was Ketchum’s desire to seek innovative approaches to exploring texture and incorporating greater dimension into the photography medium. Despite a slow beginning, a successful collaboration endured with the exhibit premiering in 1999.

This book is much more about SERI and Chinese embroidery, however, then about Ketchum’s photography. Chinese embroidery had its start long before Ketchum began his photography career to say the least. The first remnants of embroidered clothing in China date back at least 2,000 years. The city of Suzhou has been China’s most famous center of embroidery since the 11th century. SERI is new compared to the ancient city in which it is located having been founded in 1952.

Various essays in the book explain in great detail the history of embroidery in China, the establishment of SERI, and the technical aspects of Suzhou embroidery. Also interesting is the side by side presentation of Ketchum’s photography and its embroidered recreation.

Threads of Light is a wonderful introduction to the work of Chinese embroidery. Go to to purchase a copy as it would make a fine addition to any needlework library.    


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