Ephemera

Artist Spotlight and a Giveaway…Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print

UKIYO-E

I’ve been down and out with a bit of a stomach bug the last few days but luckily I’ve had Frederick Harris’s book Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print which has been eminently digestible. Harris was a fifty year plus veteran of life in Japan, having come there after serving in the Korean War and staying on to pursue his artistic ambitions. I was lucky enough to know him through the Tokyo American Club before he passed away in 2010.

Ukiyo-e, traditional Japanese prints, have existed since before the 17th century but truly flowered during the Edo period (1603-1868). They were mass-produced and created for mass-consumption by the common man – in effect the postcards and the Instagrams of the day. A four-part team of artist, carver, printer and publisher worked together to produce these images of ‘the floating world’ – impermanent places of pleasure. Geisha and courtesans, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, were all common subjects, along with landscape series, flora and fauna and the more unusual shunga (erotic prints) and Yokohama-e (prints with foreigners). Illustrated with only the choicest selections, Harris’s book arranges them by subject rather than chronology or artist, breaking down what can be a very confusing area of work, and highlighting the key issues and players.

He neatly spells out the three great H’s of Japanese scenic prints, Hokusai, Hiroshige and Hasui, spanning a 100 year period. I was not that familiar with Hokusai’s waterfall series which while not as famous as his Mount Fuji series, Harris believed to be his masterpieces. “They are the most contemporary of all his compositions, embracing abstract qualities that do not appear in world art until the twentieth century.” I think he has a point there! Harris highlights the dynamism of what is – in theory – a landscape print by Hiroshige by wondering where the viewer would actually have to be standing to view this Boy’s Day carp streamer. And in Hasui’s shin hanga print, designed to appeal to a Western customer, with its romantic and nostalgic views of Japan, we see a level of craftsmanship and emotional content not seen before. To really appreciate the details, be sure to click and enlarge the images.

Hokusai Hiroshige Hasui

(1) Katsushika HOKUSAI, Kirifuri Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province, c. 1832, (2) Utagawa HIROSHIGE, Sudo bridge and Surugadai, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1856-58, (3) Kawase HASUI, Snow at Mukojima 1931

Harris is sure to include a chapter on ukiyo-e books, an area that is both dear to my heart and often overlooked. From simple but powerful sumi ink illustrations by the ‘father” of ukiyo-e, Hishikawa Moronobu, in the 1650s to delicate asymmetrical compositions from Watanabe Seitei influenced by European paintings after the turn of the 20th century, Harris’s book is full of numerous rare images from the author’s collection.

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei's Bird and Flower Album) 1916

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei’s Bird and Flower Album) 1916

The final chapter is on Yokohama-e, prints about foreigners in Japan and the way in which Japanese artists imagined and portrayed them. Other than the Dutch, who were kept at far arms length, Japan was effectively closed to foreigners from the 1630s until the mid 19th century, until Commodore Perry and the Treaty of Kanagawa forced the opening of the country to outsiders. By far the most interesting image for me in this chapter is Utagawa Yoshitora’s Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji from 1870. Normally a triptych (three sheet print image) I have cropped it to two for a bit of comparison. In it we see a few Western women, in quite accurate dress for 1870, watching the launch of an exciting technical invention new to Japan – the hot air balloon.

Yoshitora Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji

Utagawa YOSHITORA, Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji, 1870

Besides being fascinated by this era in Japanese history and the cross-fertilization happening, I have also had the luck to have seen and held two of the three panels of this print in my hands. Take a few moments to really examine and compare these photos and see if you can find the fascinating major differences, besides some of the obvious coloring in the dresses, between them.

Yoshitoa Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy

These images give you a real sense of the complexity of learning about and collecting ukiyo-e as many of the most popular prints went through multiple printings and sometimes continue to be printed today. Harris makes excellent points about getting educated and using your eye and common sense when buying. Remember, if it is in absolute perfect condition and a bargain, most likely it’s a modern-day reprint.

So? What did you spot? Did you notice how all the flags on the balloons were changed from Japanese flags to American flags? According to Wikipedia, the Japanese officially decreed the Nisshōki or Hinomaru (sun flag) as the national emblem in 1870, although it was already accepted as the de facto flag of Japan. The print itself is from 1870, which makes the timing quite interesting. In all the other examples of this print in museum collections around the world, the flags are American as in my example. Harris’s example is courtesy of the Mita Arts Gallery, a very respected ukiyo-e gallery in Japan. I may have to write to them and see if they have more information. What else?  The seals and stamps are quite different – if anyone’s Japanese is good enough to shed some light on them it would be very appreciated. Other small details include the stairs and walkway in the lawn in the background and the gazebo shape in the trees. I’m sure my eagle-eyed readers will spot many more!

Now on to the good part – the GIVEAWAY!! Tuttle Publishing has kindly offered 2 copies of Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print for me to offer to my readers. They will send them anywhere in the world, so everyone can enter. All you need to do is comment on this post, ideally after visiting Tuttle Publishing online and taking a look at their outstanding offerings in Art, Architecture & Design, with a real focus on Asia, and telling me what other books you’d like to see me discuss (and possibly have available for future giveaways :-))

The giveaway closes a week from tomorrow on Friday, September 19 at midnight EST. Winners will be announced the following week.

Related Posts:
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints
An Artistic Reflection…The 1860 Japanese Envoy to America and Yokohama-e
Artist Spotlight…Van Gogh: The Adventure of Becoming an Artist
Artist Spotlight…Dancers, Degas and the Demi-Monde in Yokohama
Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism
Battledores and Badminton…A History Of Hanetsuki Through Ukiyo-e
Artist Spotlight…58th CWAJ Print Show

An Unexpected Find…Japanese Herbiers

spare pale botanicals

Finding fabulous non-Japanese items, particularly French ones, seems to be a recent theme with me.  So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across these amazing herbiers (pressed and labeled botanicals) recently at a tiny Japanese antique store miles and miles away from Tokyo. Used as scientific tools in many countries for hundreds of years, they are quintessentially French to my mind, although I have also seen many Scandinavian examples. So my surprise continued when I looked closely and discovered that these are actually Japanese, from 1939!

herbiers group

I only bought 12 of them, thinking it a good number that works either 3×4 or 4×3…

herbiers 3x4

…or even 2 rows of 6, either horizontal or vertical.

herbiers 2x6

I picked out some of my favorites from the three binders, but I am thinking that perhaps I need to go back and buy them all. They can look amazing in a huge massed display.

huge displey of herbiers against dark paint

Note how different they look with dark frames against colored walls.

herbiers with black frames against blue

Some, like the oxalis, I can identify by sight, while others will need translation. The paper is lightly foxed, but I think the patina only adds to their charm. I can’t resist showing them each in close-up – how many can you identify?

IMG_0486 IMG_0487 IMG_0489 IMG_0490 IMG_0491 IMG_0492 IMG_0493 IMG_0494 IMG_0495 IMG_0496 IMG_0497 IMG_0498

Many views of pressed botanicals can be found in the homes of great bloggers, from Brooke

Brooke Gianetti master bath herbiers

…to Joan.

herbiers joan

Hugely trendy in decor right now, I already had a Pinterest page devoted to them with some of my favorite images and different ways to frame them.

MSL banquette Kime herbiers

botanicals over desk

herbiers plus creamware

Take a look here for more images and the photo credits. I’ll let you know if I go back and get them all!

Related Posts:
Tussle at the Antique Jamboree…or the Never Wait Rule

Paper for a Thousand Years…Vintage Chiyogami

Jenny’s post the other day on the great Warhol print she got for her little girls’ room reminded me of something – another kind of print – a vintage Japanese woodblock one called chiyogami, that looks a lot like her Warhol on a much smaller scale.

Chiyogami (chiyo meaning “a thousand years” or “through eternity” and kami/gami “paper”) has been made since the Edo era and continues to be popular today. Early papers, like these examples from the Taisho period between the wars were block printed much in the same way as traditional ukiyo-eI think their bright colors and stylized prints, based originally on kimono fabric patterns, would look wonderful hung en masse in a child’s room. While based on traditional designs, these patterns skirt the edges of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

Simple frames of the IKEA variety are one inexpensive and easy way to complete a wall display…

…while wrapping canvas stretchers is a bit more unusual. These are covered in modern chiyogami examples.

New chiyogami is available all over Japan and online at all the paper sites, but the new pieces are silkscreened or machine printed and don’t have quite the same feel. Maybe it’s because the patterns have become ubiquitous to me, but framed they look too much like scrapbook paper – one-dimensional with no heft to the paper. But actually, still pretty…

I love framing and hanging things that were never meant for that purpose.

Related Posts:
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints

Image credits: 1. via Little Green Notebook, 2-9. me, 10. via Style at Home, 11-12. via Apartment Therapy.

Summer Crafting…Paper Flowers and Paper Cuts

One of the best things about our charming beach town is the plethora of activities available all summer. From the Junior Lifeguard program, library book clubs, drop in tennis clinics, sand castle contests, movies on the beach, and regular fireworks to the crafting workshops sponsored by the local Historical Society, there is always something for the kids to do on any given day at any given time. On Monday, the girls and I participated in a wonderful paper flowers class, run by teacher and artist Laura McHugh on the lawn at Centennial Cottage in town. It was a glorious day – mid 80s and dry.

We learned how to make a number of kinds of paper flowers, including my favorites, made from vintage book pages, scrap booking paper and any other interesting ephemera – such as maps – that we had available. Both luck and my subconscious steered me towards making flowers in the soft colors of my downstairs rooms, and I am dying to figure out a way to use or display the big group above. Ideas anyone?

The basic technique was easy. A square paper was folded in a triangle, then folded again into a smaller triangle, and then the corners were folded back on each side to make yet a smaller triangle. A petal shape was cut into the top open edge of the triangles and voila, a flower upon opening. See the quick video tutorial below for details. We also used some flower punches and press rollers, all available at local craft stores, for some of our flower shapes, but I prefer being creative with the hand cut ones.

We also made classic Mexican tissue paper flowers, which I hadn’t done since I was a kid. Talk about easy and big bang satisfying! Hours of rainy day fun but we have even been continuing on sunny days! Check out the video tutorial below.

Hey, Felt So Cute, she’s hot on your trail to make the best headband ever!

Laura has written a great post on the class  - featuring lots of photos of my kids and their handiwork – which also gives a sense of the charm of the town. Take a look at her blog Vintage2Glam. We can’t wait for her July 25th class on macrame!

Last summer we did a paper cutting workshop with Mindy Shapiro that is being offered again this summer on July 27. Some friends were visiting and we all had a blast. I think she has a new project for her class this year, so we may just have to do it again.

The full calendar of events is attached here. It includes everything from this workshop to crazy quilting classes.

Shrine Sale Stories…Vintage Matchboxes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel and The 1948 London Olympics

Today was slim on the ground for shrine sales being the second Sunday of the month, but Tomioka Hachiman did not disappoint. It was a day full of friends from out-of-town and extraordinary porcelain, including a few cute and very atypical Japanese pieces bought for the beach house. The small green iris pickle dish will be perfect on the dresser or night table in the beach house guest room for holding jewelry and other trinkets.

It reminded me of the Korin Ogata screens and the garden at the Nezu Museum.

The small Imari-meets-lustreware dish has all the pretty colors in the downstairs rooms of the beach house. Don’t know how I’ll be using it – perhaps as part of a wall display, perhaps on a stack of books on the coffee table to hold olive and cherry pits.

But the person who had the most fun today was my elder daughter who happened upon a stall selling vintage matchbooks from the 1930s-1950s. We have often seen matchbox covers mounted on pages, but not often the entire matchboxes. The dealer had hundreds of them in three big boxes and she spent significant time sorting through them and putting together a charming collection which we plan to place in a shadow box frame. You’ll note her signature colors of lavender and blue.

The story comes as she was choosing her boxes. Much to her chagrin, another man came up behind and offered to buy zenbu – everything – from the dealer. It hadn’t occurred to us and we were immediately sad to see the entire collection go! Luckily, the dealer offered us a few as “service” gifts for making a purchase before he sold off the boxes. We managed to grab a few historical gems.

The first matchbox, dated 1939, features Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Imperial Hotel, with its stylized logo on one side and Mt. Fuji and an early version of the Shinkansen (bullet train) on the other.

Finished in 1923, the hotel was one of Wright’s masterpieces, famously surviving the Great Kanto Earthquake that year, and in use as the premier Tokyo hotel until 1968 when it was deemed outdated and tragically torn down.

The other matchbox could not have been more timely, featuring the 1948 London Olympics on one side and the 1952 Helsinki Olympics on the other.

Wondering what they might fetch among collectors. Ebay maybe?

Image Credits:  Iris photo by Joseph Keating, via Atsuko & Joe, Imperial Hotel postcard via Old Tokyo, all other photos by me.

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