Alice Kagawa Parrott grew up in Honolulu, the youngest child in a large Japanese family. She studied art at the University of Hawaii and went on to study weaving with Marianne Strengell and ceramics with Maija Grotell at Cranbrook, one of the best art schools anywhere at the time. Her long journey to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where Cranbrook is located, was her first trip to the mainland.
Here is Alice in the weaving studio at Cranbrook and pottery she was made while a student there from 1952 to 1954.
While she was at Cranbrook, she interviewed to teach at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and lodged that possibility in her mind. After completing her first year, Alice taught in Michigan and had a short stint winding warps for Jack Lenor Larsen in New York over the Christmas holiday.
She enjoyed her time at Cranbrook very much and didn’t have much notion of what do afterward, so she just accepted the New Mexico job offer to teach weaving and ceramics and made her way down South and West. This proved to be a good move.
Dry, dusty New Mexico was a completely unfamiliar landscape for this Honolulu girl, but Alice took to it right away. She visited nearby Navaho reservations, where she learned to card and spin yarn, traveled and studied in Mexico. The summer after her first year, she also went up to Pond Farm in Guerneville, California, and did ceramics with the great Marguerite Wildenhain for a month (more on Marguerite to come soon).
Alice met her husband Allen Parrott on a field trip with her students to the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe where he was a curator at the time. They were married the day after the semester ended, in 1956.
About three months after the wedding, the couple moved into their home on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, where they lived the rest of her lives. Alice set up a shop out of their living room where she sold her woven fabric and solicited commissions, like the one to make a whole bunch of ponchos for the ushers working at the Santa Fe Opera. These are ponchos I wish I could see whilst enjoying an evening I would like to experience. Also, she had her babies.
Over the winter of 1971-1972, Alice was an artist-in-residence in Puunene, Maui. While there, she took on a couple large public commissions and she taught workshops to high school teachers from several islands. She also got a nice juice up of the Hawaiian shave ice colors she loved—the great blue sky, flowers, the ocean turquoise—which always show up in her work.
This last shot honors the installation of Maui County Seal at the Maui County Council Chamber, Wailuku, Maui. I would like to take a quiet moment to honor all of these outfits.
Back in Santa Fe, Alice kept teaching, weaving, and radiating happy contentment.
Her work was well-admired and she began showing in the mid-1960s. At the same time, she kept her day job working on making wearables and small things like eye-glass cases for her shop, which eventually found it’s own home out of her home. I admire this high-low smartiness.
These two beautiful shots of Alice weaving were taken by Nina Leen for LIFE. And the orange shawl in the middle is one that Alice wove—one of many handwoven items she made available at her dreamboat shop, The Market, in Santa Fe. Droolola….
What I wouldn’t give to be able to shop at this marvelous shop! Just like Sam Maloof and his beloved wife Freda used to do. Alice met Sam at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where they were both exhibiting with the American Craft Council. Alice had brought these weavings, among others:
And Sam was no fool! After meeting Alice, he’d ask her to make wool shirts for him to wear and fabrics to cover his chairs.
That’s a pile of Alice’s pillows on a sofa Sam built in the 1950’s and kept for himself. Below, Freda is wearing one of Alice’s shirts. Photos via Esoteric Survey.
The top image of Alice weaving in an amazing striped muu-muu (always with the stripes!) was taken in Maui in the mid-70s. The detail is from a hanging with wool warp, weft of maguey strings, hand-spun wool, and silk. Published in Craft Horizons,May:June 1964. Via Cathy of California. And the bottom image is Alice in her studio in Santa Fe.
How sparkly is this lady?! It’s been a real delight spending some time digging around for information and pictures of her, always flashing that beautiful smile. There doesn’t seem to be too much information out there about Alice and I for sure would like to know more. Thank goodness (again) for the foresight of the Smithsonian Archive and their brilliant oral history initiative.
Unless otherwise noted/linked, the lion’s share of these images come from a wonderful page set up by Paul Kagawa that has lots more family-style pics of Alice and examples of her work. What a very, very lovely-seeming woman and a true inspiration.
This post originally appeared on the the Gravel & Gold blog.