highlights international perspective

Helen Hyde, (American, 1868-1919)


Color woodblock print on tissue-thin paper. Signed in pencil on bottom margin, copyrighted '09 by Bertha Lum, and numbered at far right, no. 19. From an edition of at least 97, published by the artist, self-carved and self-printed in Minneapolis in 1909.

21.1 by 35.8 cm

In 1907, Lum returned to Japan for a fourteen-week period to seek out more vigorous training in printmaking. Armed with one letter of introduction to a prominent scholar, she was fortunate enough to be admitted to the block-carving studio of Igami Bonkotsu (1875-1933). The master carver was impressed by Lum's determination to self-carve and self-print her own works, a somewhat new concept that had recently begun germinating among Japanese artists and print-makers, and Bonkotsu (although very much a product of the traditional hanmoto system), would become a prominent figure in the developing sôsaku-hanga ('creative print') movement.

Although it was primarily adolescent studio assistants who served as her teachers, Lum worked hard during her apprenticeship and carved her own blocks, which were then printed by the studio of Nishimura Kumakichi (1861?-1941) while she observed their techniques. As with her earlier independent efforts, prints from this period focused on soft variations of color and tone, and unlike classic ukiyo-e, often did not rely on a defining black outline block. This attempt at a watercolor-like effect may be in part the influence of Dow, who wrote at length on color and hue and whose own color woodblock prints rarely used outlines. It is interesting to note that Lum later embraced the outline block (in black and white), so much so that many of her designs are suggestive of stained glass, a genre which she studied before her entré into printmaking. She later developed a 'raised-line' printing technique based on a Chinese method which placed even greater emphasis on the outline.

Lum's dedication to carving and printing her own works eventually waned. Like Helen Hyde (cat. nos. 5-8), the practicality of allowing skilled craftsmen to handle the time consuming work was too tempting. Upon her return to Tokyo in 1911, Lum sought out printers to work in her home under her supervision. In the spring of 1912, she achieved fame by being the only foreigner, and the only color woodcut artist, to be included in the tenth exhibition of the Pacific Painting Society (Taiheiyôgakai) at Ueno Park in Tokyo. With recognition in Japan, the attention of American galleries and periodicals soon followed.

Meech & Weisberg, Japonisme Comes to America, 1990, pp. 127-155
Gravalos & Pulin, American Printmakers: Bertha Lum, 1991, illus. p. 62, cat. p. 95
Yokohama Museum of Art, Eyes Towards Asia: Ukiyo-e Artists from Abroad, 1996, pp. 240-241


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Scholten Japanese Art
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New York, New York 10019
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