An interview with Karen Okino Butzbach, Co-founder of Shizu Designs

We caught up with Karen Okino Butzbach, Co-Founder of Shizu Designs, to learn more about their background, their specialist techniques, and the importance of craftsmanship in a modern world. 

How did you become interested in the craft of weaving?
My mother and father were placed in internment camps in the United States as young children during World War II, due to their Japanese heritage. During this time, crafts were an important way for parents to occupy and entertain their children. My dad gained a lifelong love of woodworking and architecture through this experience. He eventually graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and became a structural engineer, much of his focus being on using Japanese temple-building techniques.

My mother learned a lot of different types of crafts in camp and has since always created things with her hands. Almost forty years ago, my mom took a class from a basket maker from Japan and fell in love with Japanese basket weaving. She continued studying with her and with other basket makers as well. She eventually combined this training with my dad’s love of rocks to craft our rattan-wrapped river rocks. Her wrapped rocks have become very popular, particularly at museum gift shops around America, including The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, California and The Noguchi Museum in Long Island, New York.

My mother’s and father’s love of crafts has had a big influence on me. I have always loved to do things with my hands – knitting, crocheting, sewing, drawing, painting, etc., and I ended up with a degree in design from the University of California, Los Angeles. My husband and I operated an engineering firm for many decades, where my art background influenced my drafting, allowing me to clearly and beautifully present building drawings. When my mom needed help with her growing business in wrapped rocks, it was a natural fit for me to join her. I love the technique and precision of weaving rattan around our rocks, and I love using my hands to bring an inner joy to myself, and with that, to others.

What is your design process?
My mother and I have always enjoyed the architecture of traditional Japanese knots. When tying our rocks, we consider the shape, color and size of each one and choose knots that will enhance these features. We then use our wrapping material of rattan, and now leather provided by LOEWE, to weave the desired patterns and knots. Our design process is one of bringing our joy of crafting to the finished piece.

What are the positives and negatives of working as a mother-daughter duo?
There are many positives to working together. My mother and I enjoy each other’s company and we truly like working together. We share a common understanding of art. When one sees beauty, the other one does too. We have an absolute trust in each other, so we have a very comfortable working relationship. I cannot think of any negatives. We are best friends and work together wonderfully.

What role does craftmanship and making of crafts have in society?
I think that crafts take us back to simpler times, when craftwork was needed by families to survive. Whether it be clothes making, furniture making, home building, or the like, crafts and craftmanship have allowed people to better their lives.

I believe that the modern world has brought great progress; however, it has taken most people away from craftwork. For my mother and I, doing craftwork allows us a pleasant time to create art without the pressures of modern life. Our observations of others have shown that people who sew, knit, or build anything with their hands are content and happy people.

LOEWE, thoughtfully, has brought the importance of hand crafting to a center stage. We hope that people around the world are getting a new appreciation of the benefits of crafts and handiwork to help the well-being of all of us. They understand that average citizens can benefit their own lives and others by using their hands again. So much joy is created within a person when you begin with nothing, and through your ingenuity and handiwork, end up with a beautiful piece of art. We believe that LOEWE, through their genius, and with great forethought, is encouraging a new renaissance in handmade crafts.

What are you most proud of?

Foremost, I am proud of our two children. They are fine young people. I am proud of a full life, one lived with little regret. In our business, I love the positive feedback that we get from our customers. We have had many people tell us that they get positive energy from our art, and that just seeing and holding our rocks brings a feeling of peace and tranquility. I am proud that we can bring joy to people through our art.

Join LOEWE and Shizu Designs for a series of specialist demonstrations in their newly opened flagship store on New Bond Street on 11 and 12 May. Read more.

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