Educator. Artist. Designer.
Heather Ujiie is all of these things and a Moore faculty member with the skill-set to teach across a variety of disciplines – Fine Arts, Textile and Fashion Design and Interior Design.
“Whether I am teaching a Foundation design studio, a digital fashion studio or a hands-on textile print studio, I feel I can integrate all of my strengths and interests into each course,” she said. “I live and breathe interdisciplinary teaching.”
Ujiie, an adjunct and full-time faculty member for the past ten years, is known for developing new courses that incorporate technology and implementing museum visits, video viewing and exhibitions to expose students to contemporary artists and designers outside of the classroom.
This semester, Ujiie is teaching a fashion “bridge to major” class to first-year students. Digital Fashion Design is a required course “to get students more excited and prepared for their major,” she said. She is also teaching Drawing & Painting Into Pattern, open to all majors, and focusing on analog and digital skills for textile print for art and design.
The Digital Fashion Design class is a textile/fashion class offered under Fashion Design to introduce students to both the fashion and the textile print industry. The course is designed to gain digital skills for creating fashion flats, fashion figures, color and conceptual research and textile print design for the apparel market.
“By the time these students are seniors they will have the skills to design their own textile prints, print their own fabric and construct their own garments,” Ujiie said.
Drawing & Painting Into Pattern is a Textile Design elective. It is an introduction to textile surface print design, which has a digital component as well, but is mostly focused on painting and water-based media on paper, Ujiie said. The idea of a painted or digitally printed “pattern in repeat” is applicable to both commercial home furnishing and apparel design, as well as fine art applications. Contemporary artists and designers are integrating motifs, patterns, and networks into their work.
“We try to cover these ideas by producing both hand painted and digitally printed textiles that can reference either way of working,” Ujiie said.
Dom Streater ’10, Fashion Design, winner of Season 12 of “Project Runway,” has emphasized the importance of learning textile print and design as a fashion major. She credits being able to design her own fabrics for giving her an edge that ultimately led to her win.
“Textiles have a commercial side, where you can make a living, and a fine arts side,” Ujiie said. “You can do both when you get out of school. Fashion students develop two portfolios – a fashion portfolio with their illustrations and a textile print portfolio to get a job in the commercial textile or fashion industry. The Fine Arts students are taking textile classes as well, for developing aesthetics in their work and for their portfolio development when they get out of school.”
Ujiie knows of what she speaks. She spent the past 15 years as a textile designer in the home furnishings industry. Born and raised in New York City, she attended three universities and received three degrees – a BS in Visual Art from SUNY-New Paltz, an Associate’s degree in Surface Print Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology and a Certificate in Art Education, K-12 from Brooklyn College.
She currently designs wallpaper and has a vibrant textile art-based practice. “My personal belief is that you can be an artist and a designer at the same time, and I do that,” she said. “I also create unique visions in my textile installation work, exhibited in galleries and museums. These days I am also designing 'Art To Wear' pieces, which are unique garments that integrate all my interests in both art, design and technology."
In the past, Ujiie worked as a costume designer for off-off Broadway theatre in New York City and spent a year assisting in production of costumes for the Julliard School.
When she learned that Moore had a Textiles program, she immediately wanted to work at the College. She said Moore is unique because it stresses both fine arts and commercial design application.
“I love working at an all girl’s college because I’m all about empowering women to be successful and independent entrepreneurs,” she said. “I also love the healthy, positive competition that exists within a small all-women’s college, where every student is committed to the highest caliber of work. It’s a wonderful synthesis of real-world job skills and unique creative outcomes.”
Ujiie, who was recently asked to develop a new elective around “innovative sustainable textiles” for interior designers, believes that it’s important to keep her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the arts world, so she often takes her students to the opera, museums and galleries. This semester, she took students to the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) and the Brooklyn Museum in New York City.
“It’s really important for students to understand the responsibilities of being socially engaged with the community,” she said. “The most critical thing about teaching methodology is looking at a broad range of different types of art and design and not getting pigeon-holed into one area, so that they can be as innovative and engaged as possible.”
This month, Heather and some of her students exhibited work in The Gender Weave Project at the Mt. Airy Art Garage, investigating the artists’ relationship to gender and identity.
In February, she enlisted Fashion Design students to help her work with community artist Benjamin Volta and The Galleries at Moore to design and construct a Giant Neuron Costume, integrating more than 24 children from the Russell Byers Charter School. The project culminated with an exhibition at Moore and a public performance with the students at The Franklin Institute.
Ujiie recently exhibited her work in Erotic Alchemy at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, showcasing new surface imaging technologies, including laser cutting and digital printing. She used Moore's "Fab Lab," also known as a fabrication lab, to laser cut black acryclic sheets to make an "erotic warrior garment" from multiple triangular flat shapes. These were laser cut, hand linked and grommet together together to construct an armor inspired fashion piece.
Her Projects in Digital Print Studio students also designed a work of art inspired by either the history of the Philadelphia Art Alliance or one of its featured artists, culminating with an exhibition of their own in their galleries.
“My motto is ‘Stay young, stay hip, stay current,’” Ujiie said. “Never get old, never become limited by your environment or your age and always have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in society with technology, science and art. Be forward thinking and as well-rounded as possible to have the commercial skills to survive in the real world. The more educated and open you are, the more innovative your work will become.”
For more information on Heather Ujiie, check out her website.