History

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

Holidays in the Holy Land…Israel and Jordan in Instagrams

Dome of the Rock Wailing Western Wall

This year we took the dream trip of a lifetime – visiting Israel and Jordan at the holidays. We gazed out at the sites sacred to three of the world’s great religions, from the golden Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third most holy site which happens to directly abut the Western Wall, all that remains of the destroyed Jewish Second Temple. On Christmas Eve we walked the Via Dolorosa to arrive at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just as the priests began their procession to the spot upon which it is believed (by the Catholics at least) that Jesus was crucified.

Church of the holy sepulcher

The Old City of Jerusalem was truly magical, both weighted by its incredible history and bustling and real with residents at the same time. The tightly knit Armenian Quarter yielded up a few treasures, like this massive crystal chandelier spied up a hidden staircase.

Armenian chandelier

Chandeliers were a highlight of this trip – maybe they always are for me and I just hadn’t realized pre-Instagram? Spied this massive Dale Chihuly, a sister to the one I saw at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London this summer, at the Aish HaTorah Center in the Jewish Quarter. From their rooftop I took the “money shot” photo that starts the post. The view was incredible.

Dale chihuly chandelier

In the Arab Quarter we saw this amazing graffiti on the walls around a residential door. It’s a celebration and advertisement that someone in the home had done the Hajj, meaning they had made their pilgrimage to Mecca. Before moving to Doha, I would not have known was it was, but now I do, as here people put out flags and decorations for the same reason.

Hajj return grafitti

We went to Bethlehem for the graffiti as well. Our friends that we travelled with have been following the career of graffiti artist Banksy who has numerous pieces up along the walls in Bethlehem, including this one called Armored Vest Peace Dove.

Banksy armored vest peace dove

But the real reason for going to Bethlehem was obviously the Church of the Nativity, although honestly it was so crowded I found it nowhere near as interesting as the Holy Sepulchre, except of course for the chandeliers…

Church of the holy nativity

… and not to get ahead of myself, but I must mention the amazing lavender Murano glass chandelier I found in the flea markets of Old Jaffa in Tel Aviv. But more about that in my next post.

lavender murano chandelier

We caught the Herod’s Tomb exhibition at the Israel Museum along with the Dead Sea Scrolls and a few other “old” things. Personally I was obsessed with his bathroom!

Herod's bathtub

Tiles and mosaics always grab me and this trip was no different. There were Roman and Byzantine bits to be found all over, some out in the open, protected only by sand. My girls loved playing archaeologist and sweeping to make discoveries. We also worked on a real dig one day and found pottery shards, bones and other detritus of the ancient Edomites.

photo

The old crusader fortress and UNESCO World Heritage City of Akko (Acre) was fascinating. It is one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the region and felt as impregnable as it looked. Napoleon lay siege to it for two unsuccessful months as did many other potential conquerors. It truly felt like we stepped back in history.

Akko

My favorite takeaway from Akko was these hexagon tiles in the old Turkish Hammam. I’d like to order some for a kitchen backsplash, wouldn’t you?

Tiles in Turkish bath hammam

We hiked up Masada on New Years Day after an extremely tame Eve.

Masada

Our outdoor activities continued into Jordan where we slept (froze!) in a bedouin camp one night in Wadi Rum. My camera wasn’t good enough to photograph the incredible stars and confetti of the Milky Way, but let me tell you I have never seen the likes of it. We awoke in the morning to a red desert and scenery that seemed as if it had been painted by Hollywood. We hiked, we climbed, our guide cooked us lunch from scratch over an open flame and basically we had the entire place to ourselves.

Wadi Rum

From Wadi Rum we went on to the pièce de résistance of the trip – Petra! We had lowered our expectations, thinking to find it crowded and full of hawkers and simply unable to live up to the spectacular emptiness of the previous day. Instead, it was full of surprises and majesty.

Treasury peek at Petra

Coming out from the narrow canyons to the sight of the Treasury was every bit as exciting as we had hoped.

Treasury at Petra

Even more amazing was the huge Monastery, reached after a long hike. The scale and the location left us speechless – be sure to notice how tiny the two people are in comparison to the structure. These two buildings are the highlights of Petra but everywhere you turned there was something to see.

The Monastery at Petra

We had passed all opportunities to take donkeys or horse carriages preferring to walk the whole way. But the youngest amongst us was determined to at least get a camel ride in. It was a pleasure to grant that wish.

Miss P on a camel

Of course the most pressing thing on my mind was where to buy one of those gorgeous camel blankets, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get that answer. Oh well, an excuse to go back!

For more photos from our trip and to keep up with my day to day finds, check out my Instagram feed. And from my family to yours, we wish you all health and happiness in 2014!

Daybed Deal…Travels of a French Iron Campaign Bed

french campaign bed

Since we were recently talking about daybeds I’d love to share one of my own family flea market stories. Years ago, my husband and I started the tradition of visiting Paris for his birthday very early on in our marriage. February was low season and you could always pick up a super cheap air ticket from New York. My motivation for going was yes, to celebrate his birthday, but really to head out to one of my absolute favorite places in the world - Les Puces de Saint-Ouen – the huge multi-shop market at Porte de Clignancourt commonly referred to as The Paris Flea Market. There really is no place to rival it in the world, and although it has become more expensive these days, there are still always treasures to be found. Definitely a bucket list destination for any antiques scavenger.

While I had bought small items in the past, I had never bought furniture there (something that has since changed dramatically) before that visit. Nor had my husband ever been with me – actually, he hadn’t been my husband prior. For some reason he knew that I loved campaign furniture, in particular the small folding iron beds of the mid 19th century and he spied a beautiful one in a cute stall. Our bed wasn’t particularly special, one of probably thousands of Napoleon III era iron beds that were made for officers to be able to live in comfort while on military campaigns. We asked the price and began negotiations. Now remember, we were newly married and fairly poor, so price was a big issue. Perhaps he wanted to show off his newly minted lawyerly skills, but he ended up negotiating for hours (or it least it seemed that way). In the end he got an amazing deal (and has never bargained for me since), but we almost had a last-minute snafu as the shipping agent was an expensive issue. So he actually managed to talk the dealer into packing it in a bicycle shipping box (oh the joys of collapsible traveling furniture) and inexpensively freighting it straight to JFK where we could just pick it up. As we left the stall, the dealer told me that I had “caught a good one!”

I don’t know if he had a premonition in that moment of two daughters or what, but the bed ended up being ideal for small spaces – New York and Tokyo bedrooms fitting that description. Personally, I’ve always imagined that when my daughter outgrew the bed (which so far she is not willing to give up), that I could use it for myself as a place to lounge, read, nap and dream. Since we bought our beach house, I’ve fantasized about having it outside on the porch, all comfy and inviting, like this…

porch with iron bed

…or this.

Kurgan iron daybed wicker porch CL0312pc Max Kim-Bee

Just imagine the joys of pillow options!

Myra Hoefer HB0606

But now that moving to Doha is on my horizon, I am thinking it might be a perfect piece for our garden there. It never rains, so the rust issue is avoided and hopefully we will have some sort of covered patio that we can hang out on.

iron daybed outside via little emma english rose

iton daybed outside via little emma english home

Amelia Handegan iron daybed on porch

Our shipment is going to be a tight fit in the container, so it’s a good thing that the bed frame folds up flat. I wonder if this bed will end up traversing the globe? Paris-New York-Tokyo-Doha and maybe back to New York some day…

Takamakura…A Geisha’s Hard Night Sleep

“…a young apprentice geisha must learn a new way of sleeping after her hair is styled for the first time. She doesn’t use an ordinary pillow any longer, but a taka-makura-which I’ve mentioned before. It’s not so much a pillow as a cradle for the base of the neck. Most are padded with a bag of wheat chaff, but still they’re not much better than putting your neck on a stone.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

It doesn’t sound to me like a very comfortable way to pass the night, but sleeping on a takamakura (tall pillow) was instrumental in preserving the elaborate coiffures worn by geisha.

geisha taking nap on pillow

These days, they make wonderful decorative collectibles, like this one tucked against the books in the side table of a room previously featured in my Provenance column on kasuri over at Cloth & Kind.

IMG_1612

The base is made of lacquered wood that is gently curved, to allow for some rocking movement while in use. A silk or cotton-covered pillow, filled with buckwheat hulls or chaff, crowns it and provides some limited comfort. Dark or orangey-red lacquer is most common and sometimes the pillows are made from interesting textiles, like in this case, covered with asa-no-ha (hemp leaf) pattern. And if you are thinking Kelly Wearstler’s Katana, now you know where she got her inspiration!

takamakura

A similar takamakura rests on the top shelf of a very large collection in a Westchester, NY bedroom. As you can see, most of the geisha pillows are either red or black and the finer ones have detailing in the lacquer. This collection also boasts a few wooden examples as well as some blue & white porcelain ones.

LJ geisha pillows

While many of the lacquer and cloth takamakura date from the 19th century, most of the porcelain ones commonly found are early to mid 20th century. The porcelain ones seem even less comfortable to me, although some are designed with special comfort features, like these two. The top one has small porcelain squares strung together almost like a hammock that allow for movement. The one with the kanji marking on top can accommodate hot water and/or medicines in its hollow cavity and the gaps in the top of the pillow let the steam or aroma rise. I’ve actually seen takamakura with pharmacy labels or stamps.

blue white porcelain geisha pillow

Regardless of their functionality, they are supremely decorative and look great mixed with books in shelves or on their own…

blue white porcelain pillow display

…or combined with other porcelain pieces like these jubako here in a Tokyo entryway…

cate geisha pillows

…or here in a cubbyhole in a girl’s bedroom in San Francisco.

photo

She should be happy they rest on a shelf and that she does not rest on one of them!

N.B. You’ll notice repeats in these photos, but it is not a styling trick. All of these takamakura belong to different people, it’s just that many models were produced on a large-scale. Hand painted ones tend to be older and more individual than the inban, or transferware, versions.

Vintage geisha photo, most probably by T. Enami via Geisha Moments Facebook page.  Thanks to everyone else who provided photos for this post.

LuRu Home…Keeping the Folk Art of Chinese Nankeen Alive And a Giveaway!

With the development of economy and progress of industrialization, more and more machine-made cloth has been taking the place of calico, home-made and hand-imprinted and dyed in the country. Therefore, blue calico, as a work of folk art, has been gradually losing its practical value.

Indigo Textiles: Technique and History, Gosta Sandberg

slideshow_3

What do you see in this photo? Japanese yukata (cotton summer kimono) hanging on a line perhaps? It wouldn’t be an unreasonable guess based on the color and pattern, especially if you were just looking at the rolls of yukata fabric in Amy Katoh’s Blue & White store, like I was the other day. Hand-dying is a dying art everywhere, and we are lucky when people like Amy step up to help keep it alive.

IMG_1953

But the answer to my question above is actually not Japanese at all – it is Chinese nankeen, stencilled and dyed in an indigo bath. Originally, the word nankeen was used to indicate the very dense and unrefined hand-woven cotton fabric itself, but over time has come to be used interchangeably with its patterned and colored counterpart. Often referred to as blue calico, it was the main component of peasant clothing in China for centuries and in its plain form came to be an important export. A staple of British clothing from the late 18th century onwards, any Jane Austen fans among my readers will recognize it as a common fabric used for half boots worn for walking, as well as for mens breeches and pantaloons – the modern-day equivalent of chinos. Even its signature pale yellow color is often mentioned.

Nankeen_Trousersournal des Dames et des Modes, 1814

Ironically, while the upper classes in Europe were wearing nankeen, in China it was the fabric of the rice farmers, who used it for warm padded winter clothing. In Indigo Textiles: Technique and History, Gosta Sandberg writes “The jacket of the Chinese rice-farmer has been coloured with indigo since time immemorial. The reason for this is said to be that cloth dyed with indigo is many times stronger than undyed cloth and that it keeps insects and snakes at a distance, which is a considerable advantage for those working in open fields.” I don’t know if that is actually true, but it is consistent with work clothes in many cultures around the world, including our very own Levi’s.

Enter into our story – and there is nothing I like better than a good old-fashioned expat tale - Claire Russo and Liza Serratore, the founders and designers of LuRu Home, a new-ish textile based home design company working with modern versions of nankeen, based out of Shanghai. Selling pillows, napkins, place mats, tea towels and bags, all made from the custom hand dyed fabric in their versions of traditional Chinese patterns, it is good to see others taking up the banner of preservation, while innovating at the same time.

slideshow_7

Liza and Claire had been friends since high school and kept in touch, planning to go abroad for work in response to the poor economy in the United States. After a few twists and turns, both ended up in Shanghai. One day they came across bits of old blue and white Chinese fabrics that they found in a tiny shop at end of long alley way – one of those magical moments that if we are lucky, we stumble across a version of, sometime in our own lives. The store was jam-packed with textiles, many sun bleached around the edges, and they came home with a few individual meters, recent but vintage.  Their original impetus was to make things for their own apartment, and then for gifts, and from there the demand began to grow. They found they had passion for the fabric and as they investigated the printing process, a desire to rejuvenate the industry and bring patronage back to the artist.

Fabric Hanging in Yard

The technique for making nankeen is a rice paste stencil resist technique almost identical to that of Japanese katazome. Just like the two countries currently arguing over the Senkaku Islands, they also argue over whose technique it was first. Frankly, I think it truly originates elsewhere in Asia, but I am not about to enter the scrum.

 Antique Chinese nankeen…

Antique table cloth patchAntique Nankeen

Does it look familiar? Antique Japanese katazome.

katazome

Both techniques use a paste glue to cover the open patterned area of a stencil, keeping it from absorbing the dye. In Japanese these stencils are called katagami – and I have written about them as decorative devices as well as a functional ones before. The Chinese nankeen artists do all their screen cutting by hand using simple craft paper that has been oiled. I can’t help but hear their Japanese counterparts whispering in my ear “They just use plain craft paper?” and the Chinese reply being “Why do they bother glueing all those layers of washi paper together with persimmon extract? Boy, that is a laborious waste of time!” While the Japanese use rice paste, the Chinese use soybean and lime paste mixed with water.

Paper Screen : Paste on Fabric

The base cotton is no longer hand loomed, but it is still very size limited based on the traditionally sized dying vats. It is also quite difficult to work with screens beyond a certain length so the largest screen possible is 32 inches and the rolls of fabric are 12 meters long. This automatically insures that all LuRu Home’s pieces are small batch made and variations are part and parcel of the product, depending upon the whims of the dyer and even the weather for drying.

Nankeen dye dipping

The fabric is finished by using frosting-style knives to scrape away the paste after printing and then the fabric is put through a wash cycle with no soap and dried.

Scraping the paste post-dye

Their patterns have been inspired by historical patterns in An Overall Collection of China Blue Calico Vein Patterns compiled by Wu Yuan Xi, although not everything in the book is a traditional pattern (zebra anyone?). While Claire and Liza want to starting designing their own prints, the nankeen artisans will have none of it until the women build up more guanxi (relationship currency).

Wu Yuanxin 11cropWu Yuanxin 8crop

They have been extrapolating and changing the old prints and ironically that has helped them build guanxi as it shows their respect and appreciation for the process. A perfect example is the Flower pattern, which was too small and tight as it appeared originally. They enlarged the size and added white space to up its graphic punch. So for now, they are going to continue playing with tradition and plan to introduce a new pattern every season, which is twice a year, by adding one and pulling one, keeping 6-7 prints available at all times.

Flower Prints

Their gorgeous website shows all their products and they also have a lovely lookbook with great styled shots. This outdoor view, also shown above previously, is my favorite.

Table Setting 2

I’m dying for a few of the adorable tea towels, pun untended! They make great gifts too.

DSC_9252

So now for the fun part! Liza ad Claire have generously offered one 13 x 22 lumbar pillow (insert included!) in one of their four most popular patterns On The Fence, Babyteeth, Dot Dot Dot and Flower - the giveaway winner’s choice. All you need to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment below. If you like LuRu Home on Facebook, I will enter you in the giveaway a second time, doubling your chance to win. They can ship to the winner anywhere in the world as they have stock in both the USA and China. The giveaway closes Monday night at 12 EST. I am crushed, of course, that I can’t enter myself!

on the fence pillowbabyteeth pillow

dot dot dot pillowflower pillow

Their pillows look great styled with other indigo and blues, as seen here at Nicky Kehoe

luru at Nicky Kehoe

…as well as with an assortment of other colors, like here at Black & Spiro.

luru at Black & Spiro

Although record prices are being set for fine antique at auctions by wealthy Chinese looking to repatriate lost treasures, the locals LuRu works with are a bit bewildered by the women’s’ fascination with nankeen. Anything folk art based is undesirable these days in China. Louis Vuitton or (even Luois Vitton) is what is hot. But Claire and Liza have stiff competition from other buyers in procuring their fabric. From whom, you may ask? Can you guess?

The Japanese!

Image credits: All images credited to LuRu Home or the publications listed with the exception of #2 (me) and the 19th century fashion plates from Lady’s Repository Museum.

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