By Jeff Maisey
Imagine looking through your attic or closet and uncovering a gift from long ago – like 54 years ago. That’s essentially what happened to Alex Mann, Brock Curator of American Art at the Chrysler Museum of Art, when he happened upon a series of woodblock prints at the museum.
“As I was going through our storage drawers I came across a group of 16 Shin-Hanga style landscape prints,” explained Mann. “I was just mesmerized by the colors.”
In 1959 Norfolk formed its first sister city partnership with Moji, now called Kitakyushu, a large port city in southern Japan. Two years later, in June 1961, Moji’s mayor, Momotaro Yanagida, visited Norfolk and presented a set of 16 beautiful Japanese prints to the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, which became the Chrysler Museum of Art in 1971. Now, more than a half-century after this donation, the works are exhibited together for the first time through July 26.
The timing is perfect as current Norfolk mayor Paul Fraim has issued a proclamation that April is International Month in the city. Norfolk now has 10 sister cities that also include Toulon (France), Halifax (Canada), Ningbo-Beilun (China), Wihelmshaven (Germany), Norfolk County (England), Kallingrad (Russia), Kochi (India), Tema (Ghana) and (Cagayan De Oro (Philippines).
The vibrant prints on display were created between 1926 and 1955. Shin-Hanga means “new prints.” It was a popular artistic movement in Japan during the early 20th century. Much of what you’ll see in this exhibition is the work of painter Kawase Hasui (1883–1957).
Japan, during this period, experienced a revival in the interest of older art forms such as woodblock printmaking. These, according to Mann, are some of the most technologically difficult woodblock prints to create. The work is notable for its detail, shading, and outstanding color.
Japanese publisher Shōzaburō Watanabe (1885–1962) is credited with selecting artists to travel around the country (pre-WWII) and document landscapes, temples, and anything with deep, historical meaning within their culture. These works were then sold to the public and visiting tourists.
“In addition to the importance of the spaces and history, there are some generic themes within Japanese culture that are coming through as well,” Mann said, “like the love of nature, thinking about the four seasons, the changing times of day, and different weather conditions.”
It is a difficult process for a woodblock printmaker to depict rain. The limits of the medium were pushed in this process.
Ironically, these prints were not exhibited when originally given to the city. The upside is that they are in remarkable condition.
Makes you wonder what else might be filed away in storage at the Chrysler waiting to be rediscovered.
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All programs take place at the Chrysler Museum and are free, unless otherwise indicated.
Kodomo no hi: Children’s Day
Saturday, May 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Chrysler echoes Japan’s May festival with our own celebration of Gifts from Japan. Come make your own Japanese kite—a carp-shaped Koinobori. The fish streamers are a traditional sign of family strength and spirit.
Third Thursday: Sushi and Sake
Thursday, May 21 until 10 p.m.
At 6 p.m., learn how to make sushi from Chef Chris Boehme of Wisteria by Cuisine & Company and pick up some great recipes to try at home. The cash bar will include a sake tasting option and Wisteria will offer special Japanese-themed entrees this evening.
At 6:30 p.m., explore Gifts from Japan with Colin Brady, Asian art expert and Hermitage Museum Chief Curator, and Alex Mann, the Chrysler’s Brock Curator of American Art, as they illustrate what makes the exhibition’s Shin-Hanga prints both traditional and modern.
Cost: Free for Museum Members and students with current school ID, $5 for all others.