January 25, 2008
Kyoto zuancho on exhibit at Stanford's Green Library
Kyoto was once home to first-rate textile design and production; it also was the center of fine printing. The two combine in the Green Library's current exhibition of woodblock-printed books produced in Kyoto, circa 1890-1940, Zuancho in Kyoto: Textile Design Books for the Kimono Trade. The books were published in Kyoto beginning in the mid-Meiji period (1868-1912), when synthetic dyes imported from the West introduced bright, bold colors to the Japanese printing and textile industries.
Stanford University Libraries began collecting zuancho (design idea books) in 2004; over the past three years, it has acquired more than 80 volumes of the books, which were once in demand among kimono dealers, wholesalers, dyers, weavers and yuzen artisans.
The works on exhibit show the transition that occurred in surface design for kimono in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from a painterly style to a graphic approach characterized by kinetic lines, geometric shapes and the abstraction of traditional Japanese themes drawn from nature. In addition to group publications of award-winning designs, such as Seiei (published by Unsodo, Kyoto, 1903-1906), the collection includes titles by known artists, such as Kamisaka Sekka, Kaigai Tennen and Furuya Korin, a painter and designer whose geometric form and dynamic line (without using a brush) helped establish Japanese "modern design" in the first decade of the 20th century.
Although originally created as functional tools for the textile trade, these books were printed from hand-carved woodblocks by skilled artisans and are now viewed as works of fine art. The exhibit shows refined woodblock-printing techniques, such as fukibokashi, a way of wiping color from the block before printing to obtain subtle shading effects, as well as thickly applied pigment defining bold shapes and sharp lines, which became popular in the 1930s.
In addition to zuancho, the exhibition features a series of prints, made from the original woodblocks for one of the books in the collection, that demonstrate the sequential addition of color in the woodblock-printing process. The Japanese publisher Unsodo, which retains the blocks used to print the 1907 work Korin moyo, by Furuya Korin, has facilitated the display of prints and an original woodblock.
The exhibition is curated by Roberto Trujillo, the Frances and Charles Field Curator of Special Collections, Stanford, and Misako Mitsui, Mitsui Fine Arts Inc., San Rafael and Kyoto. Trujillo said: "In making these books accessible to scholars, we hope to spur interest in the genre for teaching and research on Japanese art and art history, material culture, and industrial, graphic and textile design history, and perhaps contribute to a new reception for these works."
The exhibition is free and open to the public and continues through April 16. Exhibit cases are lit 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday. For library hours, call (650) 723-0931. For other information, call (650) 725-1020. The Peterson Gallery is located on the second floor of the west wing of Green Library (the Bing Wing),
Visitors without Stanford identification will be directed to register at the library's south-facing entrance to obtain an entry pass before entering the building. An exhibition catalog is available for purchase online: http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/spc/pubs/index.html.