Silk painter Elaine Gima and designer Chris Moore have been collaborating on silky projects for nearly 20 years. Recently they decided to return to their roots and work out of Moore’s studio, Manikin, located on Market Street in the heart of Wailuku Town. Silk has been their main source of income, artistic expression and a solace from the ups and downs that come with life for just about as long as they can remember.
Chinese mythology has it that the discovery of silk occurred when a silkworm cocoon unceremoniously dropped into Empress Leizu’s teacup and while removing it, she unraveled into–Ta Da!–silk.
According to Wikipedia, the history of silk began way back in the 27th century BC in China where it remained exclusively until around the year 300. For a thousand years, the right to wear silk was reserved only for the emperor and the highest people of his court.
The Crusades brought it over to Western Europe. But when the Industrial Revolution made spinning cotton a piece of cake, beautiful, rich silk fabric took a backseat to the ease of modern technology. But today, China appears to once again be the world’s largest silk producer.
Completely self-taught, Gima began silk painting 20 years ago when she moved back to Maui with her young daughter after a divorce.
“It was a total accident,” Gima told me. “I bought a silk painting kit from Ala Moana [Shopping Center on Oahu] and thought, ‘I can do this!’”
One inexpensive how-to starter kit turned into multiple accounts supplying painted silk kimono tops to resort stores.
“I’m sure not rich, but I was able to support my daughter off of just silk painting,” she said.
Over the years, Gima’s work has been featured in local galleries–most recently her work was on display at Viewpoints Gallery in Makawao–and she has taught classes through Maui Community College’s VITEC program.
While visiting with the women in Moore’s studio, I was taken with the fluid nature of the silk, its movement and the vibrant colors that it holds. Much of Gima’s work has a local Asian theme to it–fish, water and flowers. Her work appears more organic and seems easier on the eye than traditional silk painting that tends to have a lot of definite blocks of color and shapes.
“Because Elaine didn’t learn the ‘this is how you’re supposed to do it’ way,” Moore said, “because she does what came natural to her, her work stands out.”
Moore, who also owns CY Maui–a retail store in Wailea–said that silk is very flattering to the human form. Gima added that it’s a forgiving fabric and sensual.
“Silk carries good energy,” Gima said. “It’s made from ‘happy worms.’ Seriously, silkworms will only thrive if they are coddled, clean and in a serene environment.”
Then she paused and shared a knowing smile with Moore. “Silk throws out energy,” Gima then said. “When I worked in a shop, the newest silk piece brought in was like a magnet. People would walk straight to it without even knowing it.”
“It’s true,” Moore said. “It’s a good conductor. It’s a protein–a living thing. It’s a good vessel for energy. It sounds kind of crazy.”
“But it’s true!” laughed Gima.
Moore shrugged and nodded in agreement. “I guess nowadays we can say stuff like that.” MTW