Hanga Treasure Chest: Print #24

Let me tell you about a little book I have here on my desk as I write this. I'm not sure exactly when it was published, although it has every appearance of being a fairly late Meiji-era production. I said it was a 'book', but that might give you the wrong idea about what is in it; there is no text inside, not a single word; it contains only illustrations. These illustrations are woodblock prints made from sketches by Shibata Zeshin, noted in his day for his designs for not just prints like this, but for such things as lacquerwork and netsuke.

There is no 'story' in the sequence of pictures; there is no theme, and there is not even a seasonal progression; it is a completely random 'grab-bag' from his brush. There is a lot of white space and the pictures are quite sparse; you might pick up the book, flip through it in a few seconds, and put it aside ... yawn ... nothing much to see here ...

But once upon a time ... there existed a society which differed from our own in a quite interesting way - 'images' were not a part of the everyday surroundings of most people. There was no television or movies, no newspapers or magazines, no constant parade of 'pictures' in front of one's eyes. Paintings and prints did exist of course, but they were far more 'special' things than they are to us now, and for the average person, certainly not something that they saw on a daily basis.

Now ... if you put yourself in the place of somebody from that era and pick up the Zeshin volume again, now what will you see there? Now will you take time to drink in each image ... and now will you begin to gain a real feeling for each of the objects and scenes depicted there?

There are exactly 24 pages in Zeshin's book, and this image is how the volume opens. I have no more heartfelt wish than that you will be able to truly enjoy my own little set of 24 treasures, which peacefully comes to a close with the same image.

Good-bye for now ...


Monday, December 26, 2005