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About Maggie
Through my work, I've pondered the way we define ourselves through design, architecture and other visual representations. This page has links to my published work and unpublished ideas, and to influences like typography, philosophy, political cartoons, and my prolonged journey in Japan.

I was born in Elmhurst, Illinois in 1963 as Maggie Kinser, and have written and translated professionally as both Maggie Kinser Saiki and Maggie Kinser Hohle. I grew up in a household permeated by the language and ideas of design. My father’s nature was to learn by teaching (graphic design and typography) and by working. As I’ve progressed through my adult life, I recognize in myself his desire to discover the world and try to understand human nature by moving from place to place, creating an internal lexicon as people tell me about themselves, and building a topographical map informed by my own and other people’s experiences as they relate to a sense of place. My dad’s journey took us from Illinois to Georgia, back to Illinois, and to Pennsylvania. I went on to Annapolis, Maryland, and graduated from St. John’s College in 1985 with a double major in philosophy and math. In 1985, I moved to Japan, where I gradually became fluent in Japanese by working as an annual report writer for a couple of years, and then a freelance writer, covering Japanese design, business, vernacular architecture and traditional rural culture and industry. I returned to the Eastern US in July of 2000, and in 2007 moved to Northern California with my husband and children. More...

Maggie's Dad

Bill Kinser, designer and teacher (1931-2002)

To my dad design was not an art, but a trade, with simple, verifiable rules. Dad was fascinated by the transformation of logic into visual symbols and the use of those symbols to persuade. He taught me to look at the world as a puzzle that could be decoded, and delight in the dreams that lead people to attempt grand acts. The interviewer in me came from my dad, who took me everywhere with him and talked with everyone he met about what they knew and not what he knew. With Dad I visited gas stations, design labs, sale barns and photographers' houses. Dad collected ancient books for their typography and printing, and was forever fascinated with the kinship between social history and visual history.

My first view of history was formed as a child, as my dad and Neil Kleinman worked at our house on their book, A Search for Aesthetic Reality in Germany, 1890-1945; The dream that was no more a dream, (1969 Harper & Row). Immaculately illustrated with images from the late 1800s through the mid 20th century, their book analyzes Germany's enduring symbols and concludes that, "the way in which a society explains itself -- the style and purpose of its important as the specific content of its history." It wasn't until I finished my book, 12 Japanese Masters in 2001 that I realized that I had approached the same questions in a different nation: how does our visual environment change the way we think and act? How powerful is the manipulation of symbols, conscious or not? More...

Maggie's Mom

Charleen Kinser, animator, designer, craft writer, editor, creator (1933-2007)

It's been my favorite never-ending job to describe my mother's world. With her whole life she's taught me how to edit the details to describe character, though her characters have most often been three-dimensional. After a powerful career in animation, shortened by marriage, she worked her design education at Chouinard Art Institute into her life as a mother. She spent my early childhood in Illinois and Pennsylvania working freelance as the crafts editor for American Home Crafts, doing weird, memorable one-off commercial projects like a line of a half dozen 3 foot-high Orphan Annie dolls for a Chicago store window, and a huge 3-d soft sculpture hot dog (with mustard) for 7-Up. And she wrote books. I remember most clearly her working on Outdoor Art For Kids, (Follett, Chicago 1975 [TK]). My late brother Tom and I were the guinea pigs and models for the crafts, and the stories inspired me to write. In the late 1970s, when I was becoming conscious of the world, Mom established Charleen Kinser Designs, which for 26 years was a small group of artisans creating characters Mom designed to be played with: toys made by hand for an international market. She gave teenage me my first writing job: to describe these creatures in story and doggerel. The production crew finally disbanded in 2002, but for Mom's one- or two-of-a-kinds, I still write the stories. People call my mom 'whimsical', but like all good characters, hers are real, and I think of my writing about them as non-fiction. More...

Great Books
Irreverent? Maybe so, but at St. John's College ("The Great Books School"), there was nothing more fun than making the work of the great thinkers our own, on every level. This is one of the postcards I made to raise money for Reality, the final party.
Life in Japan

My freelance work in Japan taught me by example that man is inherently flexible, intellectually and physically. We can understand any point of view, any value system. We can take on any way of life. From the beginning, almost all of my friends were Japanese, and--in their language--I asked them to elucidate their values, their habits, their emotions. Japanese is a good language for this kind of talk. In 1990, I married a Japanese, an artist from a family that for generations had held a Shinto shrine on the southern island of Shikoku. We moved into a thatched farmhouse in the mountains north of Kyoto. We began a family. Sheer immersion in the same rural life my neighbors lived, with their centuries-old festivals and their easy belief in animism, made their concerns mine, and their values mine.

A tutor at St. John's once told a class pursuing Pascal, "translation is impossible." After so many years in a foreign culture that became my own, I still long to prove him wrong, if only slightly. More...

A Gallery of snapshots
Published Works
Published Works
Unpublished Works
Every writer has stories he wishes he'd pitched or wishes he'd sold. Below are two from the early 1990s that I remember with regret, each for a different reason. In 1999, when I met a young Japanese thatcher who'd visited the UK, studied thatching there, and dreamed of thatching a Japanese house with the much more efficient British methods, I went to my dad with my great idea of writing about this young thatcher. His response depressed me at first: "if the dream isn't realized, there IS no story; there's just another young man with a dream." That one comment burned me up so much I determined to make the dream come true, with or without the young thatcher. In 1999 I brought over a British thatcher to work with yet another Japanese thatcher, and together they performed the first cross-cultural rethatching of a 100 year-old Japanese farmhouse. The first thatcher, the one with the dream, ended up dropping out of the thatching business altogether, depressed by the weight of his dream. But other thatchers did join our project, and through TV and newspaper exposure, magazine articles and lectures, it went on to influence many more. When I'm discouraged I remember the truth I learned that year: A dream is just a dream.
Iron Chef
Okishima, Island of the Heike