“I am devoting the whole of my energy to what is beautiful,” she says, perched on a stool in the NSCAD fashion studio, where she teaches one day a week. “I believe beauty is so important for children, that it is crucial for their development and the memory of beauty will last through their lifetime.”
With nylon rope as her medium, Toshiko has specialized in creating crocheted play areas for children. She did her first large commission 30 years ago for the Hakone Open Air Museum outside of Tokyo, Japan. Brightly coloured and interactive, it’s a children’s playground like no other– otherworldly, colossal, inventive, fun, and yes, beautiful. Children can bounce and jump, swing from hanging balls, or lie back, hammock-like, and enjoy the view. It is art they experience with their entire being, through touch and feel.
Interplay Design and Manufacturing, the company she runs with her husband Charles MacAdam BFA 1979 NSCAD in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia, now has play structures in several countries, including China, Korea and Spain. They are presently working on a commission for a children’s museum in North Carolina and a small project near their home and studio in the Annapolis Valley.
“These works transform when children are interacting and playing,” she says. “The children are very vocal with their approval.”
Charles, who studied textiles at NSCAD in the late 1970s, adds: “I think art became distorted when it became about investment value. Our approach is rather than asking people to make a pilgrimage to a ‘sacred place,’ a museum or a gallery, they can interact with art at a park or a mall or any place people gather or interact—a place for something special to happen.”
Although the work has evolved since that first public project in Japan, it is still based on handwork—and a crochet hook that fits in the palm of Toshiko’s hand. Most of the handwork, as well as the dying and braiding of industrial fibres, happens right in Bridgetown. A photo on the company’s website (netplayworks.com) show the crocheted forms spread out on the floor like a giant granny squares, and, in another, Toshiko standing on scaffolding linking the pieces together on site.
“The form is in my mind and then it is in my hand,” says Toshiko.