Akiko Kotani, Artist Laureate – Events

Akiko Kotani

Arts In: Akiko Kotani

Akiko Kotani’s art embodies the surprising power and attraction of simplicity.

Imagination and a sense of play infuse her work, ranging from miniatures to the striking “Soft Walls” many viewers remember from the recent Skyway Exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg. Her work contains a depth of feeling within an economy of means.

Kotani’s work is in private, corporate and museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We’re grateful that after a teaching career up North, Pittsburgh’s Artist of the Year is now living and creating art in Gulfport.

Enjoy this joyful conversation where Akiko explains the surprising inspiration behind “Soft Walls,” the beauty of creating landscapes from memory, and how and why traditional women’s work is part of her very non-traditional creations.

Find out more about Akiko Kotani here.


Akiko Kotani, Soft Walls, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Akiko Kotani, Soft Walls, Living Arts Gallery, Tulsa, Oklahoma



Akiko Kotani, Soft Walls, Gallery 221 @ HCC, Dale Mabry Campus, Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, Florida


Arts In is produced by Matt and Sheila Cowley. Executive Producer, Barbara St. Clair for Creative Pinellas.


A somewhat fanciful, but true, biography of me – Akiko Kotani

A somewhat fanciful, but true, biography of me – Akiko Kotani 

At the break of dawn with the ascent of Scorpio, I was born in Waipahu, Hawaii.  According to the Chinese calendar, being born in the year of 1940 makes me a Dragon. As the only mythical creature in their cycle of birth, I imagine my spirit comes from a sense of irreality.  My BFA in painting was spawned in the tropics, under the influence of no air conditioning, at the University of Hawaii. A growing interest in weaving took me to Guatemala to study its intricate patterns, two of which were “mosquitos” and “foot print of the dog.” Landing back in the US of A produced a cultural shock from my dreamy laid back ways of frijoles and tortillas to watching the minute hand of my watch. I paid close attention to my time as I gained my MFA in Fiber Art in 1977 from the Tyler School of Art, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. After 21 years in the to and fro of being a Professor of Art at Slippery Rock University, I now reside in the continuous beauty of clouds and sunsets of Gulfport, FloridaI am the proud receiver of two awardsthe 2018 St. Petersburg Individual Artist Award and recently the 2019 Artist Laureate Award from Creative Pinellas, Largo, Florida. 


Soft Walls – A Narrative Description with 6 site-specific pictures of their  placement.  

The space-engulfing sculpture called Soft Walls is comprised of over 800 square feet of crocheted plastic enveloping wooden walls. The plastic encasement flows off the wall and puddles at the floor. Its combination of external flexibility and internal solidity might be thought of as the image of a tender and soft mother who is, in truth, the strength of the family. In fact, one of the underlying motives was to honor my mother’s love of handwork and that of other women by employing this technique. I delight in transforming everyday materials with cunning use of scale, a minimalist palette, and my handmade technique. I am attracted to the refinement of simple techniques that direct my work toward an economy of means which generates a concentrated power within the work. 

I envision Soft Walls existing in a rarefied sort of space: “white space” as I imagine it in my reverie. The space is pure. Innocence is complete and time ceases. But the atmosphere is full of brilliant light. The objects are proportioned in a way that activates the space around them. Space here is thought almost as a solid entity. Using the most elemental of “women’s work” techniques to bring life to the forms that I conjure up in my dream space is how I delight in creating my work. 

Awarded Pittsburgh 2013 Artist of the Year, Soft Walls was first shown at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, PA. In 2014 it was exhibited in Austin, TX at Women and Their Work as a Visual Artists Network (VAN) Exhibition Residency artist. Out of 15 of these national residency awards, 2 were chosen for the 2014 VAN’s Annual Conference Exhibition at Living Arts, Tulsa, OK. It then traveled to the Martha Gault Gallery, Slippery Rock University, PA where I am currently Professor Emerita of Art. In Florida, it was first shown at Gallery 221 @ HCC, Dale Mabry Campus, Tampa, then went on the next year, 2017 to be shown as part of SKYWAY: A Contemporary Collaboration at the Museum of Fine Art, St. Petersburg. 


Meet Akiko Kotani

Meet Akiko Kotani

The work of fiber artist Akiko Kotani manifests a remarkable distillation of diverse influences and sources of inspiration; filtered through her own finely tuned sensibility about the medium in which she works. She has aligned the structural imperatives of weaving and needlework–fiber crossing fiber, stitch following stitch–with the also-enduring tradition of drawing, so often a celebration of line in another form. From an unconventional joining of material and process, Kotani has created a highly personal language of mark making, spare and subtle, opening passages of silent space in which to breathe meditate and hear the poetry of nature.

Kotani, born in 1940 in Honolulu, received her BFA in Painting in 1962 from the University of Hawaii. A growing interest in fiber, inspired initially by her mother who was never without some form of handwork, took her in two very different directions. She worked for two years with a Mayan Indian weaver in Guatemala, and subsequently studied at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, where she earned her MFA in 1977. Kotani is now Professor Emerita of Art at Slippery Rock University in western Pennsylvania, whose faculty she joined in 1979.

She has remained responsive to cross-cultural points of view, finding, for example, an affinity between the Bauhaus aesthetic with its emphasis on essential forms and the spirit of Buddhism that is part of her own cultural heritage. Kotani made an extensive study of the scratched bark drawings of the women of the Mbuti, a pygmy tribe living in the Ituri rainforest of the Congo. These drawings provided further insight into the ways in which one might combine representation and abstraction. Her own drawings based on these works led to the set of variations Black on White (#1-8), a series of stitched drawings exploring the permutations of line and circle in complex networks of connection. Kotani also remains attentive to the phenomena of the environment, from the intimate space of her studio in winter (as in the delightfully wry Pollen in Winter, inspired by the studio’s ambient dust), to the unleashed energies of nature at work on a grand scale. Kotani’s works in this scale include Andes I, a recollection of the aerial panorama seen on a flight over the mountainous topography of Peru, and Storm-Daniel, inspired both by images of the hurricane that hit the Hawaiian islands in 2000 and by her own reflections on human frailty and the fearsome beauty of nature. Where Kotani had traditionally woven the canvas backings of wool or silk for earlier work, her use of linen scrim (used for theater sets) here provides the opportunity to work on a substantially expanded scale.

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