By Patricia Belyea
BROOKLYN NY After 30 seconds, had I seen everything in Stephen Szczepanek’s Sri gallery? Yes and no. In one spin, I saw the physical space. Yet when I left two hours later, I had just begun to uncover the treasures in Stephen’s thoughtfully curated collection of vintage and antique Japanese folk textiles.
Stephen has always been interested in Japanese culture. With a degree from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, Stephen brought a painter’s instinct to his post-university jobs in Manhattan. Sixteen years ago Stephen left his last corporate job and opened Sri—morphing from a collector into an importer and seller.
Specializing in textiles from the late-19th to the mid-20th century, Stephen offers items made from cotton, silk and lesser-known fibers such linden, hemp, and banana leaf. The rarest textile on display is a pristine jacket made with fibers extracted from the inner bark of a wisteria trunk (below).
These charming sakiori obi (below) are rag woven with a cotton warp and a rag weft. In old Japan, peasants wove with cotton rags as that was all they could afford.
This sashiko-stitched jacket (below) looks like it was made for a child. Instead it is an adult kendo jacket from over a century ago.
This gift cover (below) from the late 18th century is made with imported striped fabric, likely from Dutch traders.
This refashioned futon cover (below right) would have originally been part of a wedding trousseau. The auspicious open fan motif symbolizes the beginning of a new relationship.
These 19th-century silk kimonos (below) were actually worn under sombre formal kimonos. In the days of shoguns, sumptuary laws restrained public extravagance so these joyous garments were worn surreptitiously.
Stephen also sells Japanese goods such a rare blue-and-white china and antique pawn shop papers.
Yet, it is the allure of Japanese folk textiles that compels collectors and clients to cross the East River and meet with Stephen. Stephen’s textile collection, his vast knowledge, and his generous spirit combine to make a visit to Sri richly memorable.
To make an appointment to visit Stephen at Sri, call 718-599-2559 or email stephen(at)srithreads(dot)com To visit the Sri website +click here