June 7, 2010
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
SRU professor brings 19th century Japanese prints to light
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. �- More than 100 Japanese woodblock prints from the 19th century that have been in storage at Slippery Rock University will soon see the light thanks to Kurt Pitluga, assistant professor of art. Pitluga is in the process of researching, documenting and photographing the prints for a digital archive.
"It is such a rich display and would be a great exhibit for educating our students and the public," he said. "What I want to achieve is making the collection public. My goal is to have an exhibit on campus and hopefully at The Maridon Museum, an Asian art museum in Butler."
Pitluga said most of the full-color prints are 19 by 20 inches. At least 30 are rare originals, including works by world-renowned Japanese printmakers Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858).
"They were two of the most dominant 19th century printmakers," Pitluga said. "Some of the most famous artists in history, including Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, embraced Japanese-style prints. If you look at Van Gogh's "Starry Night," he was influenced by the Japanese-style techniques of flatness, style and color. Hokusai and Hiroshige had a huge impact on western art."
The late Martha Gault, former SRU art department chair, collected the prints through the 1950s. "She traveled a great deal through Asia after she retired," Pitluga said.
The prints depict Mount Fuji, battle scenes, a calligraphy school and female figures. All of them include calligraphy.
After researching their historical context, Pitluga plans to mat and frame each print for display. He envisions a number of educational opportunities, especially within his "World Art History" course and the University's Asian studies minor.
"Students could study the history of the prints, the technique and the use of colors," he said. "Within our academic community, we have a number of international students from all over the world. These prints will help me introduce many students to new traditions outside the boundaries of western art."
While students have seen some of the prints over the years, the whole collection has never been formerly exhibited, Pitluga said. The University also owns Gault's collection of 19th-century Japanese baskets, furniture and toys.
"As cultural tools, they are invaluable," Pitluga said.
Japanese woodblock printmaking is a medium that involves several steps. The text or image is drawn onto paper then glued onto a plank of wood, usually cherry. Wood is then cut away based on the outlines given by the drawing. A small wooden objected called a "baren" is used to press the paper against the inked woodblock, applying the ink to the paper.
Hokusai is best known for his woodblock print series "Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji," which includes the iconic print "The Great Wave off Kanagawa." Hiroshige dominated landscape printmaking with his brand of intimate, almost small-scale works compared against the older traditions of large landscapes.
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