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Quick update ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 6:59 AM, August 25, 2010 [Permalink]

I'll have block images, etc. from the new print - the Sukenobu reproduction - for you shortly, as I am now in the final stages of 'touch up' carving.

But there has been a short interruption (where have you heard that before!), and it might be interesting to mention it here.

I was reading my Japan Times at breakfast the other day as usual, and it was the day for their weekly feature in which they focus on some kind of 'interesting' person in Tokyo. I've been featured there more than once over the years, and this time it was one Mr. Urushibara. I didn't read it all, but quickly skimmed over the beginning section; he seemed an interesting person - born in England to Japanese parents long before the war - who has made a life as cultural interpreter and translator.

After I finished the newspaper, I went down to the workshop, fired up the webcam, and got busy with the carving. The computer down there is also doing an automatic 'mail check', in case anything important comes in during the day, and when I scanned over the list of emails at break time, I noticed a Google Alert: woodblock printmaking.

Funny, it was pointing to that same story in the Japan Times! But that person hadn't been a woodblock printmaker, had he?

I followed the link to the online version of the story, and instantly regretted how carelessly I had skimmed it while eating breakfast. Mr. Urushibara isn't just Mr. Urushibara. He is the son of Yoshijiro Urushibara, the Japanese craftsman who went to London in 1910, and stayed for the next 30 years, passing on information on printmaking skills to a number of the early British woodcut artists: Walter Phillips, Alan Seaby, John Platt, etc. ...

I fired off a note to the reporter immediately, asking to be put in contact with Mr. Urushibara, and she did the job. Long story short, I'll be heading off to Tokyo in the morning, to meet him for lunch. He has already warned me that he doesn't have much knowledge of printmaking, as he was of course only a child during those years, but that's OK. There is very little known about the 'who' and 'why' of Urushibara-san's time in London, and I'm sure his son can help fill in some of the blanks. I'll take my recorder, and if he will permit, will put it on the table while we talk ...

I'll let you know more as I learn it!


Following comment posted by: Andy English on August 25, 2010 11:17 PM

Very interesting indeed. Alan Seaby was of the first printmakers whose work really struck a chord with me (many years ago) and I never thought about where he might have developed his technique.

Following comment posted by: Linda Beeman on August 25, 2010 11:41 PM

What an interesting article and man. I would want to talk to him even if he wasn't the son of Yoshijiro Urushibara. I have recently been reading about the usually un-named "Japanese man" who was in London for the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition who stayed on and is given credit for teaching Europeans Japanese woodblock. Walter Phillips was my first inspiration to learn this art. I will be interested to learn more about his teacher.

Following comment posted by: Lee Oldford Churchill on August 26, 2010 12:07 AM

This is exciting! We have about 15 Yosijiro Urushibara prints in the Glenbow collection that were donated by the Phillips estate! I'm betting our art department would love to have extra informatin for his artist file. I'll send them anything you post!

Following comment posted by: Mark Mason on August 26, 2010 6:24 AM

Fantastic! There is quite a bit of information on Yoshijiro Urushibara, but it's spread thinly across a number of old publications, and a more recent directory of English Printmakers. He not only produced his own designs as prints but created prints for some of the leading artists of the time, based on their original paintings.
Please pass on our thanks and gratitude to Mr. Urushibara for the work his father did teaching and inspiring British colour woodblock printmakers. The ripples of his pioneering work in the UK have extended out, across the years, to new printmakers like myself. I look forward to hearing about your meeting.
Mark (in the UK)

Following comment posted by: Dave on August 26, 2010 7:46 AM

where he might have developed his technique

We have to remember though, that a lot of the work does predate the arrival of Urushibara in 1910. Fletcher, for example, was already working in the genre by around 1895, Seaby's famous birds were done in the 1900s, and Phillips didn't meet Urushibara until 1924, by which time he had made more than 50 colour prints (working independently in Canada).

So Urushibara didn't single-handedly set this all off. It's more along the lines of 'teaching and inspiring'. Finally getting close access to a trained Japanese printer, after years of working independently, must have been like the clouds opening up for those guys ...

Following comment posted by: Margaret on August 29, 2010 1:31 PM

Fascinating! And thanks for the link to the article.

Following comment posted by: Dave on August 29, 2010 1:42 PM

Quick update to this 'Quick update' page ...

A number of you have written to me asking ... "Well?" Sorry to be so late with adding things to the RoundTable here. The short answer is that our meeting went very well; Mr. Urushibara (and his wife) are very hospitable people, and are happy that there is interest in his father's life and work.

The long answer is that - wow! - there is just so much material available there, that I basically don't know where to start.

There are prints (of course), photos, clippings, albums, correspondence ... you name it, there are boxes of it. And although I didn't see any the other day, I hear that there are even blocks in storage ... In other words, a wonderful 'gold mine' of information on Mr. Urushibara's work.

There is a limit though, to just how much time I can spend on all this, so he and I are starting slowly - I'm going to make a basic website along the lines of the one I prepared for John Platt's work a few years ago.

I have nothing to show you just yet - I'm printing Mystique #6 just now - but those who understand the various woodblock.com URL schemas may want to think about that for a bit ...

(More info in a few days, I think ...)

Following comment posted by: Marc Kahn on August 29, 2010 11:49 PM

I have nothing to show you just yet ... but those who understand the various woodblock.com URL schemas may want to think about that for a bit

Definitely. Very nice start.

Dave, we do this for posterity and because someone's gotta do it. OK, so be it. For a long time, I've been thinking that the web is the ideal place for a project like this because there is constantly new data coming in and the documentation of an artist needs to be able to change as the data becomes available.

But... neither you nor I are immortal. After we're gone, is someone going to continue to pay the web-hosting fees? When our personal website projects are shut down, is the access to our research lost?

Here you are, starting to do what needs to be done for Urushibara-san, but how can you assure that the results will always be available?


Following comment posted by: Dave on August 30, 2010 12:00 AM

how can you assure that the results will always be available?

Can't, of course. But this problem is bigger than you and me. Back in the days when 'publishing' meant making a physical book, the assumption was that with enough copies of the book spread around the world, the data would always be available, in some library or other somewhere.

Now that publishing is becoming totally electronic - web, eBooks, etc. - will the data be more or less available as time goes by?

It could go either way, I think. On the front page of this site (both on the RoundTable and the main site) I have a clear 'Creative Commons' license displayed. Anybody is free to take this stuff and copy it around as they wish (subject to mild attribution and non-commercial conditions). Google is caching it all, as are the other main search engines. Not sure just what else I can do to help spread the information ...

But yes, what happens three months after my fatal stroke, when the site goes down because nobody has paid the bills?

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