Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chicago: A History in Block-Print

These linoleum-block prints were created by a group of design students under the direction of Clara MacGowan, assistant professor of art at Northwestern University. They were published in 1934 in an oversized paperbound portfolio, accompanied by captions by James Alton James, a professor of American history at the same institution.

The prints were presented in chronological order, beginning with Marquette and Joliet in 1673 and concluding with several images of the Century of Progress exposition of 1933. Some of the earlier images may now seem a bit trite (log cabins, Indians attacking a woman with a hatchet, and so on), and the level of command of the medium among the various students varies, but many of the architectural scenes are quite vigorous and appealing. In the selection below I have included the subject of each print and the name of the artist responsible, but have omitted the historical captions.

University Hall, Northwestern University (Josephine McCarty)

The Tribune Tower (Louise Ebeling Dean)

The University of Chicago Chapel (C. Dean Chipman)

The Daily News Building (Alice Rose Dedouch)

The Chicago Civic Opera House (Dorothy Aires Westerdahl)

The Deering Library, Northwestern University (Hannah Jewett)

With one ambiguous exception -- C. Dean Chapman -- the students were apparently all women. It would be interesting to know whether any of them continued their printmaking activities after graduation.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Japanese Katazome Calendars

According to Wikipedia,
"Katazome (型染め) is a Japanese method of dyeing fabrics using a resist paste applied through a stencil. With this kind of resist dyeing, a rice flour mixture is applied using a brush or a tool such as a palette knife. Pigment is added by hand-painting, immersion or both. Where the paste mixture covers and permeates the cloth, dye applied later will not penetrate."
In addition to its use on fabrics, the intricate stencil technique has been employed in printmaking on mulberry paper, as in the page-a-month wall calendars that have been produced regularly in Japan since the 1940s. They may possibly have been intended for Western markets, since the months, as in these examples from 1959, are in English.

The above images are from a set that apparently matches the one that George C. Baxley, one of the few English-language sources on the subject, says is "reported" to be the work of Keisuke Serizawa (1895-1984), a noted textile designer who created a katazome calendar annually for forty years or so.

The next image is an example of the label that would have accompanied each set of prints. This label happens to be an orphan, artist unknown.

This rather nice crab may belong with it, as the dates align correctly with March 1957.

Finally, some images I can't assign definitely to any particular year or designer, although they may belong together. Based on where the days of the week fall they could be from 1959, 1964, 1970, and so on.

When they were given to me a number of years ago, the prints were accompanied by a photocopied page that says, in part, "the Artist for this calendar for 1971 is Mr. Takeshi Nishijima, Professor of Art at Kyoto University. A graphic and textile designer, he has exhibited in numerous one man shows and won the coveted Grand Prize at the Kyoto Art Exhibit." As far as I can tell, however, none of the above examples are from 1971, and thus far I've found very little information on Takeshi Nishijima. He appears to have been active through the 1970s, producing calendars that were published by Wazome-Kogei in Kyoto.

The Japan Society in New York plans an exhibition devoted to Keisuke Serizawa beginning in October 2009. His katazome calendars, even if a sideline to his more important work (he was designated as a "Living National Treasure" in 1956) may well be represented. Yale University Press will publish the exhibition catalog, Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textile Design, also in the Fall.

(I have reworked the above since I first posted it, adding more images and moving one set to a subsequent post.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Japanese Government Railways Tourist Library

A recent post at A Journey Round My Skull reminded me about these pamphlets, which were published in the 1930s and early '40s as part of efforts by the Board of Tourist Industries of the state-owned Japanese Government Railways to promote travel in the country.

Joseph Rogala's A Collector's Guide to Books on Japan in English (Routledge, 2001) describes the series:

"One of the better short essay series on specific cultural information on Japan. Most are still available, not only in rare book stores but in used book stores as well. The first of the series, Tea Cult of Japan, was published in 1934; the last, Japanese National Character, No. 40, coming out in 1942. Some of the latter numbered booklets - thirty-five to forty - are more difficult to find, particularly number thirty-nine, Hand-made Paper of Japan. Many of the authors of these little gems have published other books in their specialties. Subsequent editions, most in hard cover, were published after the war. [...] Some of these little booklets were issued with onion paper covers, though most are now found without them."

The following editorial note was included at the beginning of some or all of the volumes:

"It is a common desire of tourists to learn something of the customs, manners, and culture of the countries they visit, but flying visits merely for sightseeing furnish neither the time nor opportunity for more than a passing acquaintance with the life of the people. The Board of Tourist Industry recognizes this difficulty and is endeavoring to meet it by publishing this series of brochures.

"The present series will, when completed, consist of more than a hundred volumes, each dealing with a different subject, but all co-ordinated. By studying the entire series the foreign student of Japan will, we hope, gain a general knowledge of the country and its people."

Once Japan was at war with all of the major English-speaking countries there was obviously no point in continuing to issue further volumes, and the project was abandoned well short of the projected hundred. In the list that follows I have not attempted to reproduce the diacriticals over some of the vowels, and I have left some spellings (i.e. "Hirosige") as they originally appeared in lists found within the volumes.

1. Tea Cult of Japan by Y. Fukuhita, B.A.
2. Japanese Noh Plays by Prof. T. Nogami, D. Litt.
3. Sakura (Japanese Cherry) by M. Miyosi, D. Sc.
4. Japanese Gardens by Prof. M. Tatui
5. Hirosige and Japanese Landscapes by Prof. Yone Noguti, D. Litt.
6. Japanese Drama by B. T. I. (sic)
7. Japanese Architecture by Prof. H. Kisada, D. Sc.
8. What is Shinto? by Prof. G. Kato, D. Litt.
9. Castles in Japan by Prof. S. Orui, D. Litt. and Prof. M. Toba
10. Hot Springs in Japan by Prof. K. Huzinami, M. D.
11. Floral Art of Japan by Issotei Nisikawa
12. Children's Days in Japan by Z. T. Iwado, B. A.
13. Kimono (Japanese Dress) by Ken-iti Kawakatu
14. Japanese Food by Prof. Kaneko Tezuka
15. Japanese Music by Katsumi Sunaga
16. Zyudo (Zyuzyutu) by Zigoro Kano
17. Family Life in Japan by Syunkiti Akimoto
18. Scenery of Japan by T. Tamura, D. Sc.
19. Japanese Education by Prof. K. Yosida, D. Litt. and Prof. T. Kaigo
20. Floral Calendar of Japan by T. Makino, D. Sc. and Genziro Oka
21. Japanese Buddhism by Prof. D. T. Suzuki, D. Litt.
22. Odori (Japanese Dance) by Kasyo Matida
23. Kabuki Drama by Syutaro Miyake
24. Japanese Wood-Block Prints by Prof. S. Huzikake, D. Litt.
25. History of Japan by Prof. K. Nakamura, D. Litt.
26. Japanese Folk-Toys by Tekiho Nisizawa
27. Japanese Game of "Go" bu Hukumensi Mihori
28. Japanese Coiffure by R. Saito, D. Litt
29. Japanese Sculpture by Seiroku Noma
30. Japanese Postage Stamps by Yokiti Yamamoto
31. Japan's Ancient Armor by Hatiro Yamagami
32. Angling in Japan by Meizi Matuzaki
33. Japanese Proverbs by Otoo Huzui, D. Litt.
34, Sumo (Japanese Wrestling) by Kozo Hikoyama
35. Japanese Birds by Prince Nobosuke Takatukasa
36. Ainu Life and Legends by Kyosuke Kindaiti, D. Litt.
37. Japanese Family Crests by Yuzura Okada
38. Japanese Industrial Arts by Seiiti Okuda
39. Hand-Made Paper of Japan by Bunsyo Zyugaku
40. Japanese National Character by N. Hasegawa

D. T. Suzuki's name leaps out as probably the most familiar one to Western audiences, but the writers in general appear to have been recognized authorities rather than hacks. There's no indication, at least in the volumes I've examined, of who was responsible for the translations.

The papermaking volume -- which isn't as hard to come by as Joseph Rogala suggests -- features some nice sepia-toned photos as well as tipped-in paper samples such as the one on the left-hand page below. It's not as elaborate as Dard Hunter's limited-edition A Paper-making Pilgrimage to Japan, Korea and China (which is mentioned in the bibliography of the Tourist Library pamphlet), but it's a not a bad little book itself.

The approach, or at least the terminology, in the Ainu volume may now strike us as, well, a little quaint:

"What is, then, the constitutional characteristic of the Ainu? The most conspicuous is, as is commonly believed, that he is hairy. This used once exaggeratedly [sic] to be reported, but it has been proved that he is neither more nor less hairy than the white man. Many Ainu people have wavy hair, but some straight black hair. Very few of them have wavy brownish hair. Their skins are generally reported to be light brown. But this is due to the fact that they labor on the sea and in briny winds all day. Old people who have long desisted from their outdoor work are often found to be as white as western men. The Ainu have broad faces, beetling eyebrows, and large sunken eyes, which are generally horizontal and of the so-called European type. Eyes of the Mongolian type are hardly found among them. In view of these points some scholars are of opinion that the Ainu are a white race. It is not unreasonable, therefore, that this opinion is gradually gaining ground among ethnologists."

At least a small number of these books have been reprinted within the last years by Routledge, although the price (around $160) is likely to deter most buyers.

Also published by the Tourist Board although not actually numbered as part of the series is the little book on Shinto shrines shown below, which unlike the other pamphlets is bound according to the traditional Japanese method. That is, the trimmed edges of the signatures are tied together with a ribbon, leaving the foredges uncut and the hidden versos of each numbered page blank. As is the case with the Tourist Library books, the cover illustration is pasted on rather than printed on the cover wrapper itself.

In hindsight, of course, these books take on an added significance, given that they were being published as Japan was expanding its empire in Asia and preparing for war with the US and Britain. The impulse behind their publication was not necessarily in conflict with those other developments, in which, naturally, the Japanese Government Railways was also very involved. Still, it's hard not to see in them a hint of what might have been had events taken a different turn.

Update (2015): "Re-envisioning Japan: Japan as Destination in 20th-Century Visual and Material Culture," an online project at the University of Rochester, has a section devoted to the Tourist Library.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The abandoned

Let's get one thing straight: there was no Ariel. That was only the first of his countless lies. Here's another one: he had no magic, no book. It was all me. When I found them on the rocks -- him and his daughter -- they were half-drowned, at death's door. I revived them, conjured food and drink from thin air, built him a palace from sea foam. I was his architect, his slave, his whore. At his bidding I assumed the form of a woman, a boy, whatever he wanted. I took on other likenesses as well, ones he might find uncomfortable to talk about. I passed no judgment -- that was of his world.

In the end, of course, he was "rescued," restored. When he promised me that he would come back to me, in time, I knew better than to believe him. I could have killed him -- all of them -- right then, but the truth is, my one weakness, I loved him. I let him go.

Though I can't cross the water I know all things. I know how he mocked and slandered me, calling me hideous, a monster, the whelp of a witch -- I who have existed from the beginning of time. But my anger burned itself out long ago. He's dead now, as are they all. And no one will ever find this island again. I will see to that.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The sea

The boats are returning to the harbor now, one by one, the reflection of their torches flaring across the water in the last moments of twilight. Tired and grim-faced -- it's been a bad day's haul, it seems -- the fisherman will pull along the docks, tie up, and silently unload their catch. From where I stand, along the rocks where the jetty meets the long, grey beach, I can't see their faces, but I know each one of them by name, I know their thoughts, I know their wives, and I teach most of their children.

The policemen have completed their enquiries and have left town. They haven't said as much, but I know they won't be back. They will file their report -- missing person, no evidence foul play -- the folder will be neatly tucked into a cabinet in the district office, and no one will ever look at it again. It's always the same. As far as the authorities are concerned, keeping track of the activities of the living is responsibility enough; expecting them to bother with the affairs of those who have disappeared without trace would be asking too much, and in the end what good would it do, anyway?

My mother was the first person in the long history of this village to be able to read and write, and had she not given birth to me she could very easily have been the last. She wasn't from here, naturally. Her birthplace was twelve miles inland, in a real town with lamps and cast-iron fences, newspapers and brightly lit cafés. When she was nineteen, having already lost both parents, she came here with some friends on a lark and, as the result of a series of circumstances the nature of which I was never allowed by my mother to have more than the vaguest knowledge, never left. It would be appealing to be able to say that she stayed because she fell in love with the village or with my father, but I'm not sure that either was ever true. Be that as it may she remained all the same, and in time I was born.

My mother was never able to teach my father to do anything more than write his name -- a skill I'm quite certain he never employed when he was out of her sight -- but she saw to it, in spite of our poverty, that I was supplied with books, paper, and writing implements, and she pointedly neglected my instruction in the tasks that in the village are customarily allotted to girls, namely gathering seaweed and shellfish, tending to the gardens, and looking after infants, one's own or those of other people. My mother put on no airs about her own original station in life nor did she entertain any illusions about how far she had descended from that condition in consenting to marry my father, but she regarded herself as a civilized women and civilized women did not muck about in tide pools and lazy beds. My mother performed her obligatory household duties, the unending cycles of cooking, cleaning, and laundering, without complaint, but she never suggested to me that these activities were sufficient to constitute one's mission in life. Since it seemed unlikely that I would ever leave here or find a suitable husband, her fixed intention was that I become the village's teacher and instruct the children in the rudiments of literacy, arithmetic, and religion. Had it not been for the burden of attending to me and my father, a burden that increased after my father's health began to fail, she might well have taken up the task herself. As it was, by the time my father went to his grave her own health had begun prematurely to decline. I was already sixteen and therefore, in my mother's judgment, sufficiently prepared to see to the village's education. She persuaded her neighbors -- with what kind of arm twisting I will never know -- to entrust their offspring to my tutelage in exchange for a few coins a week, enough to pay for a few supplies and my own very modest requirements for food, firewood, and other necessities. I have never harbored any illusions about the lasting effect I have had on my charges, but at the very least I know that they will not be as ignorant as their parents.

There were two policemen this time. The older one, the one who seemed to be in charge, seemed familiar, though he didn't appear to remember me. They always come around to me eventually. The villagers are a close-lipped lot, and even when they do decide to let on a bit their ramblings don't appear to make much sense, at least to outsiders. I, on the other hand, know everyone in this village, I understand their ways, and I'm happy to tell the policemen whatever it is they want to know. The missing man lived in a cabin along the harbor; he lived alone; he drank no more than anyone else; he had no enemies one night that might not be his friends again the next. And so on. They enquire, as discreetly and indirectly as they can, about his relations with women; I tell them plainly what I know or may have heard.

In the end I really haven't told them very much at all, but it's all they need or want to hear. What they don't want to hear is what no one has told them but what everyone in the village knows: that no trace of the man will be found, that no witness to his fatal last moments will come forward, that no bloody footprints will be found leading into the brush.

For the most part, the people who live in this village die in one of three ways: by drowning, by drinking, or at the point of a knife. Little given to reflection or sentiment, they fear none of the three. What they do fear has no name -- for how can you name something that no one has ever seen? -- and if the police have gotten wind of it, one way or another, as they make their way around the village, through some slip of the tongue or muttered aside, they lift their pencils from their notebooks and pretend they haven't heard. Only later, perhaps at the very end of their interview with me, as they stand awkwardly before the door, their questions concluded but still held back as if by magnetic force, will they allude to what people are hinting but what of course is nothing but ignorant nonsense and superstition, that the disappeared man has been taken by something silent and unseen, something that visits the shore only after long intervals and only on the blackest, coldest, mistiest nights, something that lifts latches and subdues without sound and that leaves no evidence of a struggle behind. And I'll tell them that yes, that's what the people think, and that's what they have always believed, and if they ask me if I believe it I'll tell them that what I believe or don't believe doesn't matter. And the younger policeman might suggest that couldn't it be true that the vanished man might simply have succumbed to madness and alcohol, that he might have lost his mind in the depths of night and strode out into the sea and drowned, and I will tell them that yes he might well have but that they can scour the shoreline from now until doomsday and nobody will ever find his body.

Monday, May 04, 2009


Homage to Koizumi Yakumo

The old woman was sweeping the dust out of her doorway when she caught sight of the traveler approaching along the crest of the ridge. She was not alarmed. Visitors to her windswept plot of ground were uncommon, but not unknown. She was quite certain that none had yet come this year, before today, but she thought she remembered one the year before. Or maybe it had been longer than that; she wasn't sure.

The traveler had risen that morning in the chill of dawn in the village where he had spent the night. He had asked someone to point the way and then climbed through the morning fog, walking-stick in hand, until he reached the high ground. When the forest thinned out and the last wisps of mist danced away he paused for a moment to take in the view, which stretched all the way to blue water and tree-covered islands in the distance.

A plume of gray smoke was slowly drifting upwards from the solitary windowless hut, which occupied the center of a little hollow protected from the summit's fiercest winds. Surrounding the hut on all sides was a field of knee-high barley, still green and not ready to bear.

He hailed her as he approached the clearing, and she bowed and beckoned him to sit. He squatted for a moment, then sat back against the wall of the hut, just outside the door. The woman disappeared within, and when she came out again, which was almost immediately, she was cradling a wooden bowl filled with barley in her hands. There was a wooden spoon -- more of a paddle really -- in the bowl; he knew that she had probably just used it herself but didn't mind. He smiled and nodded his gratitude. She stood beside him, beaming, as he began to eat, cooling the steaming gruel with his breath.

She remained a little wary of the stranger. She thought that he seemed like he might be some kind of ghost, and that his travels might be enforced expiation for his sins in a past life, but he didn't seem like a gaki or any other class of suffering demon, so perhaps his misdeeds had not after all been so serious. There were many kinds of spirits on the mountain and she knew that most would offer her no harm. He didn't seem to require anything of her. He was wearing a heavy, dark overcoat and was bearded, like an Emishi -- she had seen members of that tribe once or twice in her youth -- and although he spoke the ordinary language he spoke it in an odd way, and some of what he said she couldn't understand, though she pretended to and he didn't seem to notice. She decided that he must have come from afar, from another island even.

She went back inside the hut and returned to the stove. Grasping the handle of her iron kettle with a cloth she poured water over powdered tea in the only cup she owned, then beat it with a whisk she had fashioned from a twig. When she emerged again, reaching the tea towards him, she saw that he had taken a little book from his pocket and was writing in it with a pencil. She stood above him and watched this activity with great interest, though if she had ever learned in her long-distant youth how to interpret the signs he was making she had by now forgotten. She thought that perhaps he was keeping an accounting of the sins that he was purging off, one by one, as he traveled, and it made her happy to think that he was recording an ample number of them even as she watched. He paid no attention to her and seemed very intent on what he was doing, sipping the tea at intervals, until at last he folded the book closed, returned it to his pocket, and nodded at her with satisfaction. He had drained the cup and when she scuttled inside and filled it again he did not refuse a second; the walk had made him thirsty and the hot liquid produced a welcome warmth inside his chest.

When he was done he stood, picked up his walking-stick, and dusted off his coat. The woman spoke a blessing, he pronounced one on her in return, and he continued on his way without further formalities. She watched him until he was out of sight.

He continued along the ridge for another hour or more, until the terrain began to break up into a jumble of jagged, inaccessible outcroppings. At the end of the afternoon, after a rugged descent, he came into a village in a clearing at the base of the ridge. When he spoke to the villagers of his visit to the old woman's hut they were quite insistent that there was no such dwelling and no such woman, that no one had ever lived on the summit of the mountain, certainly not within their lifetimes.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Winsor McCay's Natural History

All of the Little Nemo pages below are from the collections of the Comic Strip Library. Click through the images for the original full-sized versions.

The last pair of images have occasioned rumors about McCay's possible interest in hallucinogenic plants and fungi.