Ruth Funk Center displays more than 50 pieces of memorabilia
By Chris Fish
The Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts at Florida Tech in Melbourne will display a Japanese Military Textiles exhibit Sept. 8 through Dec. 15.
"This exhibit opens a great window of significance, showing how we cherish items during wartime," said Keidra Navaroli, assistant director of the center. "Japanese culture is unique in that sense. Often times, if someone goes off to war, something is sent along with them. In this case, it's in such a graphic way that it's really interesting to see how it progressed throughout their military's history."
The exhibit, titled "Battle Worn: Masculine Ideals and Military Identity in Modern Japanese Textiles" consists of over 50 military textiles, hand-painted on cotton and silk, from the private collection of Dr. Michael Bortner.
A retired dentist, Dr. Bortner moved to Florida about 10 years ago and currently works on books primarily highlighting Japanese military history and military memorabilia during the World War II era.
"Dr. Bortner has been involved with the museum for a while," Ms. Navaroli said. "He wrote a book about his specific collection of good luck flags and 1,000 stitch belts, which were war items from Japan during the East Asia war."
After looking through his collection, Dr. Bortner decided to partner with the center this year to create an exhibit.
"To my knowledge, there has never been an exhibit of any note on this subject, so I am very excited to be involved in helping present it," Dr. Bortner said. "My collection is extensive. It consists of more than 300 Japanese good luck flags and nearly 200 1,000-stitch belts and related pieces. I also have more than 100 off-to-war and triumphant return banners."
Ms. Navaroli said the exhibit will depict three stages representing Japanese culture and what a young Japanese man would have expected to see going to battle during the Pacific war between the dates of 1937 and 1945.
The first stage will show what was displayed on Children's Day, a Japanese holiday, which takes place annually on May 5. This stage consists of banners and decorations resembling dragons and other festive items.
Ms. Navaroli said the second stage represents the customs displayed before a man, sometimes even a teenager, at the age of 15, went to war, including military banners and good luck flags, which are Japanese flags featuring well wishes for the soldier written, by friends and family.
Japanese soldiers were known to place their good luck flags in their helmets, hang them from their guns or wrap them around their bodies, Ms. Navaroli said.
The second stage of the exhibit will also show blood oath flags, good luck flags signed with blood, as well as 1,000 stitch belts, which are straps decorated with 1,000 stitches, each made by a different woman. The belts are then given to the soldier as a symbolic way of protecting them, Ms. Navaroli said.
"The flag was seen as a good luck memento and was intended to remind the man of his duty to his family and country," Dr. Bortner said. "(The 1,000 stitch belt) was normally worn around his waist as a good luck piece, and it was believed by many to have the ability to prevent harm to the wearer in battle."
The final stage of the exhibit consists of banners for returning soldier, whether dead or alive.
"When the men came home, triumphant return parties were organized, and special triumphant return banners were presented and displayed," Dr. Bortner said. "As the war for the Japanese drug on past the 1930s into the 1940s, triumphant return banners were seldom presented."
With the exhibit finally coming to life, Dr. Bortner said it would not have been possible without the Ruth Funk Center.
"I have imagined an exhibit on this subject for many years. Unfortunately, trying to display flags and related materials in any sort of meaningful way is difficult. There has to be enough wall, ceiling and floor space to properly set up the items," he said. "In addition, finding a facility that has the expertise and knowledge in textiles to present the pieces with the proper mounting techniques, lighting and temperature control is most difficult to find. There are very few places like this, and we are fortunate to have such a facility in the Ruth Funk Center."
The "Battle Worn: Masculine Ideals and Military Identity in Modern Japanese Textiles" will be on display, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, Sept. 8 through Dec. 15 at the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts in Melbourne, 150 W University Blvd.
For more information, visit http://textiles.fit.edu, or call (321) 674-8313.