Chiura Obata, 1885-1975
Dawn, Knights Ferry, Stanislaus County (California) test print from the World Landscape Series
unsigned test print produced by Takamizawa of Ensodo, ca. 1930
13 5/8 by 14 in., 34.6 by 35.6 cm
Chiura Obata was born in Japan in 1885 and moved to America in 1903, soon settling into the San Francisco area. He traveled extensively throughout his life that also saw him, starting in 1932, teach at University of California, Berkeley and, in 1954, become a naturalized citizen. The woodblock print World Landscape Series, produced in collaboration with the Takamizawa print studio, was indebted to those travels. This composition was adapted to woodblock in the period following 1928 when Obata returned to Japan and began working with Takamizawa on what would become a portfolio of thirty-five prints. He was very concerned about replicating the quality of his paintings in the prints, and went so far as to employ a progressive proofing technique that gave him as much input in the production as possible. The time consuming process demanded that the printers provide him with a proof following the application of each successive block. He was known to demand at least 100 test prints before he was satisfied with the result. There were 107 test prints recorded for Lake Basin in High Sierra and 128 for Carl Inn. This impression of Dawn, Knights Ferry, Stanislaus County appears to be nearing the end of test prints where he was satisfied with the overall color but still experimenting with tone and shading.
Obata's story is particularly poignant as he was among the most prominant artists of Japanese descent to be interned following the Pearl Harbor attack of WWII. During his year of incarceration, which was followed by a three year relocation to St. Louis, he produced two hundred paintings and many more sketches documenting life in the Tanforen Detention Center and Topaz Relocation Center. He was an engaged member of life in the camps, organizing schools and art classes which would be attended by over 650 students. He wrote of this experience, "Art is one of the most constructive forms of education. Sincere creative endeavoring, especially in these stressing times, I strongly believe will aid in developing a sense of calmness and appreciation."
Janice T. Driesbach and Susan Landauer, Obata's Yosemite, The Yosemite Association, 1993, p. 60-67 (re: printing)
Gordon H. Chang et. al., ed., Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970, 2008, pp. 9-11, 126-127, 402-403 (re: biography)
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (art.famsf.org), from the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, accession no. 1963.30.3126.1
Scholten Japanese Art is open Monday - Friday, and some Saturdays by appointment only
Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
to schedule a visit between 11am and 4pm for no more than two individuals at a time.
In order to adhere to New York State guidelines visitors are asked to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
site last updated
August 4, 2020
Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475
Join our mailing list...