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Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.

Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.

  • Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    Tolman Collection: Hiromitsu Takahashi

    Guest blogger Kayla A. Gaskin is a Smith College student, class of 2017, majoring in East Asian Languages and Literatures. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. More about the Tolman Collection can be found in the post Tolman Collection: Reika Iwami

    Hiromitsu Takahashi, Japanese (1927 - ) Taru, 2004. Stencil printed in color on lightweight, slightly textured, cream-colored Asian paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-23

    In honor of the Japanese art collections gifted by Hilary Tolman to the Cunningham Center, I have chosen to review Hiromitsu Takahashi – one of whose works were donated. Hiromitsu’s beautifully vibrant and slightly playful prints are a modern take on ukiyo-e, a type of Japanese woodblock printing developed during the country’s Edo period (1603-1868). They largely starred Kabuki actors playing different societal roles – such as samurai, courtesans, etc.  However, not much information can be found on Hiromitsu himself. Of the few sources I was able to find, all reiterate he is currently a noted Japanese artist in his late 50’s, who draws inspiration from Yoshitoshi Mori, a modern artist influenced by ukiyo-e, for whom Hiromitsu's parents worked. Hiromitsu's work has roots in traditional artistry, yet it is close to Yoshitoshi’s style.

    Detail of Taru

    Hiromitsu’s Taru (above) is similar to many traditional ukiyo-e works. The male protagonist squats in a battle stance – akin to gestures during Kabuki scenes. On a foundational level, both his hairstyle and dress are also the same. For example, his hair is traditionally shaved from his forehead to the center of his head while the rest of his hair is tied up into a bun. Furthermore, like traditional aragoto prints (a subsection of ukiyo-e) the weapon is oversized. However, though Taru’s protagonist faces the viewer with a fierce expression, notably his eyes are not crossed. A key trope used not only in traditional ukiyo-e but in Kabuki as well, representing virility and power. Another aspect to note is the blandness of his clothing; although hisobi (belt) has some patterning, any further intricate detail is absent – the complete opposite of intricate clothing design in other prints of Kabuki actors. In general, Taru seems very simplified in comparison.

    Detail of Taru

    Hiromitsu Takahashi, Japanese (1927 - ) Hakkasu, 2004. Stencil printed in color on lightweight, slightly textured, cream-colored Asian paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-30

    However the same cannot be said for Hassaku, a piece filled with bright color and detailing. Unlike the protagonist of Taru, this figure has a black leaf pattern on both legs and fireworks etched into the back of his black robe. However the firework pattern is non-traditional, and appears almost abstract as it mirrors the print’s backdrop. Additionally, Hassaku uses vivid, dark pop colors such as the protagonist’s magenta underlayer, creating an ominous feel. In terms of scenery, traditional ukiyo-e maintained either realistic portrayal, or merely left it blank. However, this background features a tiled roof in a mardi gras purple. Ultimately, elements of ukiyo-e act as a platform from which Hiromitsu branches out towards something new.

    Detail of Hassaku

    Like Yoshitoshi's prints, Hiromitsu’s work is simplified to an almost cartoon-like level, and becomes an abstraction from the intentional realism qualities of originalukiyo-e. He largely utilized Yoshitoshi’s simplification of the ukiyo-e style. Still, although Hiromitsu drew inspiration from Yoshitoshi, Hiromitsu’s work maintains some degrees of detail and human body proportions, whereas Yoshitoshi’s figures are seemingly almost composed of shapes – akin to Picasso in style. Furthermore, the design of dress in Yoshitoshi’s work feature only monolithic colors and the skin of his protagonists are brown – as opposed to the ghost-white complexions in both traditionalukiyo-e ­and Hiromitsu’s pieces.

    Both Hassaku and Taru are colorfully stunning yet grave due to the hues in which Hiromitsu uses. Although the prints themselves are stylistically plain, their simplicity generates an aura of elegance. Ultimately, although Hiromitsu uses aspects of both new and old, the subsequent blend of the two creates a notable style all his own. 


    Charles Watanabe - 31/08/2015

    Hiromitsu and Yoshitoshi Mori

    Please note that Yoshitoshi Mori and Hiromitsu are most renown for their 'stencils', which are not "Japanese woodblock printing".

    Also, Hiromitsu pieces are generally much larger than Mori's. Mori did create some very large pieces, however Hiromitsu's are almost all very large in comparison. I suspect this has something to do with the greater availability and lower cost of large sheets of washi paper in modern times.

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  • Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Never Exhausted

    “The possibilities of wood a sensitive medium of expression...
    have never been exhausted by anyone.”

    — Paul Landacre

    Paul Landacre, American (1893 - 1963). Black Stallion, 1940. Wood engraving on medium weight, moderately textured, beige paper. Bequest of Henry Latimer Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:26-9

    Wood engraving is a slow process.  An artist takes a burin, or sharp engravers’ tool, and creates lines and hatches in the wood. When the wood block is inked and sent through the printer’s press, the uncarved surfaces press ink onto the paper, creating the impression. Over the course of his life, Paul Landacre became a master of wood engraving, and a standard for those exploring this printmaking medium.

    Paul Landacre’s introduction to art came as a form of self-therapy. A student at Ohio State University, he was student of horticulture when a streptococcusinfection took away the use of his right leg, and severely limited the capacity of his arms. This sudden change in his health compelled him to return home to San Diego in 1917, where he took time to adapt to his new circumstances.

    Attracted to the flora and fauna of California, he began to sketch the natural world around him, and discovered a latent aptitude for drawing. It was a period of self-discovery and experimentation: he explored many different printing methods until he finally settled on wood engraving as his preferred medium.

    Paul Landacre, American (1893 - 1963). Some Ingredients, 1953-1954. Wood engraving on medium weight, moderately textured, white paper. Bequest of Henry Latimer Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:26-11

    Detail of Some Ingredients

    While most printmakers in the 1930s and 1940s did not print their own woodblocks, Lanacre was an exception, as he usually pulled his own prints (with the help of his wife, Margaret). His friend Willard Morgan had found a dilapidated iron hand press while he was exploring Bodie, a deserted mining camp, and Landacre rehabilitated it for his own use. Restoring the press was a grueling effort: each greasy part needed to be taken apart and cleaned, the rust removed, a process that took over two months. For Landacre, the difficult work was worth the end result: he could print his own blocks and control every stage of his artistic creation. He insisted that “The blacks should be black, the whites white, and every line or dot engraved on the block should show clean on the proof.”

    Paul Landacre, American (1893 - 1963). Laguna Cove, 1941. Wood engraving on cream-colored medium weight moderately textured paper. Bequest of Henry Latimer Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:26-10

    Landacre’s devotion to the natural world shines through his prints. His careful lines and hatches, etched into the wood block, create a beautiful range of tone that can mimic the silky light of the moon on calm water, or the shadows on a head of garlic. His wood engraving Laguna Cove (above) reveals his technical mastery. About this work, Landacre said:

    "The subject of this present engaving, Laguna Cove, is a favorite spot near Laguna Beach, California. One summer night the moon seemed to illuminate this particular scene and create a pattern of light and shadow that had to be recorded."

    Detail of Laguna Beach

    Paul Lanacre produced art for nearly four decades to great acclaim: art historian Carl Zigrosser dubbed him “the outstanding wood engraver on the west coast of the United States.”


  • Tuesday, May 12, 2015

    Standing Turk

    Guest blogger Aurelia Grant Wingate is a Smith College student, class of 2016, majoring in Psychology. She wrote this post for Islamic Art and Architecture, a course which surveys the architecture, landscape, book arts and luxury objects produced in Islamic contexts from Spain to India, and from the seventh through the twentieth centuries. The Fall 2014 session was taught by Professor Alex Dika Seggerman, the Five College Post-Doc in Islamic Art & Architecture.

    Jean-Léon Gérôme. French, 1824 - 1904. Standing Turk. Black chalk on light stained off white wove paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-9

    The French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme is known for his hyper illusionistic style, which he used to create detailed paintings of life and culture in the newly discovered East during the nineteen century. Gérôme quickly became a popular Orientalist painter, providing Europe with hyper-sexual and exoticized images of “the Oriental”.

    Standing Turk is a detailed sketch of a man wearing the uniform of a Turkish military officer. The image was inspired by Gérôme’s travels East. Although the man in the sketch stands as if unaware of the artist, Gérôme is known for recreating images from his travels inside his studio in Paris. This polished sketch was most likely drawn from a European model wearing authentic Turkish garments. The fine detail and focus on the clothing brings a truth to the staged image, and makes the figure identifiable as a foreigner. The turban and saber are additional markers of the man as “Oriental” to a European audience.

    This image can not be found replicated exactly in any of Gérôme’s completed oil paintings, however the painting Young Greeks at the Mosque depicts a man wearing similar styled clothing, and standing in a similar stance as the Standing Turk. Not all of Gérôme’s sketches were turned into finished artworks, but Standing Turk could have been a figure drawing later adapted for this painting.