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Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World

APR 9 – OCT 9

Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World honors the unique ability of the color blue to create many moods in cloth.

Drawn primarily from the Seattle Art Museum’s global textile collection—Mood Indigo illuminates the historic scope of this vibrant dye.

The exhibition features a set of tapestries from Flanders, a silk court robe from China, a vast array of kimonos from Japan, batiks and ikats from Indonesia and Africa, and ancient fragments from Peru and Egypt.

An immersive contemporary installation devoted to indigo by Rowland Ricketts will be accompanied by sound artist Norbert Herber. Their work will unveil the visual and musical nuances involved with indigo growth and the dyeing of cloth. From the sultry darkness of midnight to the vitality of a bright sky, come let the myriad blues in their multiple forms surround you.


The exhibition is organized by the Seattle Art Museum.

Presenting Sponsor

Major Sponsor

Additional Support
ArtsFund/Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Fund for the Decorative and Design Arts
Contributors to the SAM Fund

What is Indigo?

indigo jeans

Indigo can be a color of leadership, of sacred significance, or of “blue collar” status. Indigo’s resilience has led to its use by farmers, fishermen, and workers from France to Japan, from China to America. Indigo is used in denim jeans, which can be considered a statement of the most casual, as well as the highest fashion.

A field of indigofera tinctoria

Indigo-bearing plants have had a huge impact on our visual world. Once artists discovered plants containing the gift of blue, an infatuation with indigo began. Nothing compares with this dye’s ability to capture the blues of nature—a midnight sky, early dawn, or an impression of the sea. It can also define a mood—of melancholy, of mystery in the dark hues, or joy and vitality in lighter variations.

Indigo is a dye that demands discipline to use. With it, artists make textiles that can be considered feats of dedication to create. Some examples on view in Mood Indigo took thousands of hours to produce—requiring prolonged concentration akin to a meditative state. Others are made swiftly, but with highly specialized skill, and have a different kind of appeal.

Indigo Closeup

Indigo is a familiar sight worldwide. Today, most indigo cloth is dyed with a synthetic product that was developed in the 19th century. This exhibition features indigo textiles primarily drawn from the museum’s collections, and just begins to illuminate its historic and geographic scope.

Of blues, there is only one real dye: indigo.
William Morris
Textile Fabrics, 1884
Hold onto your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown. Once you’re brown, you’ll find out you’re blue. As blue as indigo. And you know what that means. Indigo, Indigoing, Indigone.
Tom Robbins
Jitterbug Perfume, 1984
The world is blue at its edges and in its depths.
Rebecca Solnit
A Field Guide to Getting Lost, 2005
Blue, here is a shell for you

Inside you’ll hear a sigh

A foggy lullaby

There is your song from me

Joni Mitchell
Blue, 1971
The deeper blue becomes the more urgently it summons man toward the infinite, the more it arouses in him a longing for purity, and, ultimately, for the supersensual.
Wassily Kandinsky
Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1912
You ain’t never been blue

Till you’ve had that mood indigo.

Duke Ellington
Mood Indigo (Dreamy Blues), 1931

Around the World


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IMAGES: Brush Stroke Strip Obi Yardage (detail), 2013, Chinami Ricketts, indigo and black walnut dyed cotton, Photo: Rowland Ricketts. Photo: Rowland Ricketts. Photo: Rowland Ricketts. Photo: Shutterstock. Wrapping cloth (furoshiki) (detail), Meiji period, 1868-1912, 19th century, Japanese, cotton cloth (tsutsugaki), 61 x 52 3/4 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.502, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Coverlet in kimono form (yogi) (detail), 19th century, Japanese, cotton cloth with free hand paste-resist decoration (tsutsugaki), 61 x 55 1/2 in., Gift of Virginia and Bagley Wright, 89.145. Palampore (bed covering) (detail), early 19th century, Indian, cotton with paint, dye, and gilt, 50 1/4 in., L.: 84 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 39.64, Photo: Elizabeth Mann. Head cloth (Iket) (detail), 19th century, Javanese, cloth, 39 3/4 x 41 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 40.30, Photo: Elizabeth Mann. Adire Eleko (“resist pasted on”) (detail), 20th century, Nigerian; Yoruba, cotton cloth with indigo dye, 78 3/4 x 69 5/16 in., Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.979, Photo: Elizabeth Mann. Tapestry: Asia (detail), late 17th century, Jacob van der Borcht, Flemish; Jan Cobus, Flemish, wool, 155 7/8 x 155 7/8 in. (396 x 396 cm), Gift of the Hearst Foundation, Inc., 62.199.2. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Rowland Ricketts. Bedding cover (futonji) (detail), 19th century, Meiji period, 1868–1912, Japanese, cotton cloth (tsutsugaki), 70 3/4 x 65 3/4 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.503. Stencil dyed fabric panel, Japanese, 19th century, cotton cloth with indigo dye (katazome), 61 3/4 x 13 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.446. Coverlet in kimono form, Meiji period, 19th century, cotton, Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Virginia and Bagley Wright, Photo: Paul Macapia. Photo: Benjamin Benschneider.