SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and are excited to make SAM a fun and engaging space for teens. TAG members meet weekly from October to May to learn about the behind-the-scenes work of an art museum, lead engaging gallery tours, plan Teen Night Out, and so much more. TAG Talks is an ongoing SAM Blog series on SAM Blog that serves as a space for SAM’s teen leaders to express themselves and their love of art. Keep up with all TAG adventures by following @samteens on Instagram and stay tuned for more TAG Talks to come!
The iconography of the woodblock print Under the Wave off Kanagawaby Katsushika Hokusai, commonly referred to as the Great Wave, is omnipresent.
I was initially turned off by the Great Wave’s ubiquity in the public sphere. Growing up surrounded by lovers of niche art, the Great Wave never struck me as anything special. It’s become so commercialized that even my friends far outside of the art scene have tote bags or stickers sporting the iconic image. Thinking its presence in the media was tacky and overused, I failed to truly look closely or consider the print’s value.
Although I was never the Great Wave’s biggest fan, I am an artist and printmaker myself and love to study Japanese printmaking techniques. I was excited to see the Great Wave’s creator and prolific printmaker Katsushika Hokusai’s work in person in Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Bostonat the SAM. Anticipating the visit, I told my partner about the exhibition, highlighting everything except the Great Wave. Upon hearing I would see the famous print, he had a much more emotional response than I was expecting. I asked him how the art made him feel. He said, “It feels like ripping.”
The print depicts three boats cradled in the belly of a giant cresting wave framing Mount Fuji. The wave is a great magnanimous force, the boats borrow the ocean’s space. For the moment, the boats seem to become the wave. It is from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, each piece featuring a different landscape framing the mountain. The subjects of the 36 prints interact with the landscape harmoniously, human technology and nature are connected in this beautiful cycle and struggle. The Great Wave stands out from the rest because it is separate from the human ego. The wave doesn’t care what might be in its way; it tears. A beautiful reminder that humans are not gods, we cannot stop a wave from crashing down on us.
The Great Wave reminds us of the physicality and brutality of nature. There’s no room for metaphor or projection onto the ocean—it just is. The wave neither combats nor engages in human invention; it simply exists.
With my cohort of peers in SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG), we had the pleasure of learning from teaching artist Juliana Kang Robinson about woodblock carving and printing. I love linoleum carving and have spent years making prints, usually to put on my clothing or bags. Learning wood printing was special to me as there is something magical about how one has to work with the grain of the wood when they carve. It was an extra challenge for me, who was used to the careful precision I could execute on plastic, but it added so much life and character to have places where the wood texture was present. I am so grateful for this experience and encourage teens to not be afraid to branch out into exploring new mediums of art.
– Gwyneth Febus, 18, Third-Year Teen Arts Group Leader
If there’s one work by Katsushika Hokusai you’ve definitely seen before, it’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa. More commonly referred to as the Great Wave, this iconic woodblock print has been cited everywhere from book covers to Lego sets, anime, and even an emoji (🌊). To offer a closer look at this infamous print, Dr. Sarah Thompson, Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, called in an expert: Dr. Christine Guth.
Many first time viewers of the original print find themselves surprised by its small size, she explains, as the work has been reprinted an infinite number of times in various proportions, skewing our perception of its original size. However, with its commanding depiction of a wave, it’s been interpreted a multitude of ways, including as an expression of the powerful force of nature.
Listen to the recording now for Dr. Guth’s full discussion of the Great Wave. All seven stops on the free audio tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence can be accessed via QR code in SAM’s galleries or on our SoundCloud. The exhibition closes in just over a month—get your tickets to see it before it’s too late!
Under the Wave off Kanagawa, about 1830–31
DR. SARAH THOMPSON: Dr. Christine Guth is one of the most distinguished scholars of Japanese art in the English-speaking world. Her book Hokusai’s Great Wave: Biography of a Global Icon was a huge help to me in planning this show, and I am delighted that she has agreed to tell us more about it in person.
DR. CHRISTINE GUTH: So, maybe this is the first time you’ve looked at this print in the original. And when you see it in reproductions you have the impression that it’s a huge work of art, but it’s very small. And it wasn’t intended as a unique work of art, but was printed many, many times. There were probably about 3,000 impressions made during Hokusai’s lifetime. It had a huge impact on Hokusai’s contemporaries, but they would’ve looked at it very differently than we do today. For instance, as you look at the print today, probably the first thing you notice is the giant cresting wave with its rather menacing claw-like extensions.
And then, you see the tiny Mount Fuji in the background. Now, certainly Hokusai’s Japanese contemporaries would have seen that as well, but they may have paid more attention than we do to the boats cutting through the waves, because Hokusai intended this image to represent a particular moment in time and place. And what it suggests is boats carrying the first catch of bonito of the season from the fish market in Osaka to Edo, because fresh sashimi made from bonito was a real delicacy.
One of the distinguishing qualities of the series of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji is not only that it shows the mountain from many different vantage points, but it captures it at different seasons and different points in the day. And I think that this print evokes that in the sense that the first catch was usually in the fourth month. That would be May today. So, there’s a very strong seasonal quality to the series. Today when people look at this print, some people see it as threatening and some people see it as an expression of the force of nature. And in fact, that was used very often after the terrible tsunami in Japan in 2011. And one of the great strengths of this print is the way it can speak to so many people across time and space. That’s what’s made this a global icon.
SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Seattle Art Museum. This month, Julie Nelson Davis, Professor of Art History and the Department Chair at the University of Pennsylvania, will offer a discussion on the style, career, and legacy of renowned artist Katsushika Ōi on Saturday, December 9. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Nelson Davis about Ōi’s relationship to her famous father and her contributions to his studio, her favorite artwork in SAM’s collection, and more.
SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?
JULIE NELSON DAVIS: I’m looking forward to sharing my research on Katsushika Ōi, the daughter of the famous ukiyo-e master, Katsushika Hokusai. Some people may be familiar with the Japanese animation, Miss Hokusai, that tells a fictionalized version of her life. I’ll talk about Ōi’s life and work, as we can reconstruct if from period evidence, and investigate possible ways that her contributions to Hokusai’s studio might be further revealed. Much of my previous work has been about women in early modern Japan and about collaboration between artistic producers; I’ve been thinking about Ōi as part of this larger investigation.
SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?
JND: This research developed out of a project I was doing with the British Museum, and our group met a few times in Washington D.C., London, and Tokyo to discuss our work together, looking at paintings in storage, and viewing the British Museum exhibition on Hokusai in 2017. I also previously had the chance to travel with some colleagues to Obuse, a small town east of Nagano, to visit the Hokusai Museum and the Gansho-in Temple. Hokusai and Ōi traveled to Obuse in the 1840s on an invitation from an acquaintance, Takai Kozan. Kozan built a studio room for Hokusai and Ōi, and we were able to visit the house and see the studio. We also had the chance to look closely at a sketch in the museum’s collection that shows Hokusai’s plan for a painting he designed for Gansho-in, as well as to look at the two famous festival carts with paintings attributed to Hokusai. We then went to the temple to look at the ceiling painting of a magnificent phoenix. It was a beautiful, partly sunny, cold December day, and as we walked from the museum to the temple, we passed many traditional houses where people were drying bright orange persimmons; the rather monotone landscape and the coldness of the day helped me imagine what Hokusai and Ōi’s experience of working in Obuse might have been like.
SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?
JND: Who can choose just one thing! If I must, I’ll say the Poem Scroll with Deer by Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, the beauty and rhythm of the painting and calligraphy is stunning. I still remember seeing it in storage when I was a grad student, seeing it unroll and glisten under the light. It was gorgeous.
SAM: What is one fact or story related to your lecture topic that the public would be surprised to learn?
JND: Perhaps that it was rare for women to work as professional artists in early modern Japan. Ōi was one of the exceptional cases. Many women worked in the period, but most worked for their family businesses, in shops, or in other roles. Few women had the opportunity to pursue careers as painters, and those that did were typically able to do so only because their husbands or fathers were also painters. (This was also often the case for women in other parts of the world at the same time.) Ōi had the opportunity to learn to sketch and paint in her father’s studio when she was young, becoming quite proficient. She left Hokusai’s studio for a few years to marry another painter, but after their marriage ended, she returned to work alongside her father for the last twenty-two years of his life.
SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?
SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?
JND: I hope that they have a wonderful experience seeing Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence at SAM.
– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum
Photos: Courtesy of Julie Nelson Davis. Night Scene in the Yoshiwara, 1850, Katsushika Ōi, ink and paper drawing, Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo. Poem Scroll with Deer, 1610, Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, ink, gold and silver on paper, 13 7/16 × 366 3/16 in. (34.1 × 930.1 cm) Overall: 13 1/2 x 410 3/16 in. (34.3 x 1041.9 cm), Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick, 51.127, photo: Seiji Shirono, National Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo.
On the third stop on the free smartphone tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition curator and Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Dr. Sarah Thompson is joined by Michiko Adachi, Bettina Burr Associate Conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for a conversation on Katsushika Hokusai’s unintentionally collaborative Album of Miscellaneous Sketches Including Designs for Artisans.
This collection of sketches, although believed to be mostly drawn by Hokusai, was passed between many of the artist’s students and peers, with each contributing new drawings. Learn more about this album and its contents by tuning in to the audio recording above. Then, explore all seven stops on the exhibition’s free smartphone tour on our SoundCloud or by visiting the exhibition in-person at the Seattle Art Museum. Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence closes Sunday, January 21, 2024. Reserve your tickets to see it now in the heart of downtown Seattle!
Album of Miscellaneous Sketches Including Designs for Artisans, about 1830s–40s
DR. SARAH THOMPSON: The Asian Conservation Studio at the MFA are the people who clean and repair the art objects so that they appear at their very best in exhibitions, and who make sure that they are always stored and exhibited in the safest possible conditions. Michiko Adachi, who handles works on paper, will tell you more about an especially interesting object that she has treated.
MICHIKO ADACHI: This book with sketches and preparatory drawings is part of the Hokusai school drawing collection. The collection was believed to have been purchased by William S. Bigelow when he was living in Japan in the 1880s, from Hokusen, who had been a pupil of Hokusai.
These books are immensely fun to look through as each page holds something entirely different, from a more finished drawing, to design work, to even just a small sketch of a mouse. They were probably drawn or added throughout the years by multiple students and artists as drawings were often passed along. For this book, it is thought that a large percentage of the drawings were drawn by Hokusai himself.
These drawings are usually drawn on a thin, translucent paper in black ink, cut and pasted onto a thicker paper bound in a book format. Often you can see the artist making an outline in lighter gray ink before the final sketch, or red ink to place a grid or to make corrections. Artists also made corrections in their drawings by pasting another sheet of paper onto the desired area. The original drawing is usually still visible because the paper is translucent and often not completely pasted down, giving you a glimpse into the artistic process. You can see one of these corrections in the rectangular design work in the bottom right of this book. On the right-hand side, there are three animals surrounding two figures. The artist had initially drawn a circular pattern on the body of the animals, but later decided to change this by pasting a piece of paper on top and then drawing the animals again without the pattern on its body. If you look closely the circular pattern is still visible through the pasted paper.
A grant from the Toshiba International Foundation allowed for the conservation and imaging of a select group of Hokusai school drawings, such as this book, enabling us to share this small but special collection. You can flip through this book on the screen located next to the book.
In The Story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Jōruri-hime, Katsushika Hokusai depicts a famous scene from classical Japanese literature with a modern twist. While the narrative of the 12th-century story remains the same—the young samurai Minamoto no Yoshitsune hears Princess Jōruri-hime playing the koto and duets with her on his flute, jumpstarting a passionate love affair—the costumes worn by some of the characters reflect the fashion and style of the 18th century.
While under the tutelage of Kasukawa Shunshō in the 1780s, Hokusai designed many of these works, known as perspective prints, which incorporate exaggerated versions of the Western-style vanishing point perspective within elegant settings. In the second stop on the free smartphone tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition curator Dr. Sarah Thompson discusses where Hokusai likely learned this artistic technique and points out how he achieved this perspective in this work.
Tune in to this audio recording now on our SoundCloud to learn more about The Story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Jōruri-hime or by scanning the QR code accompanying the artwork in the exhibition’s galleries. Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence is now on view through Sunday, January 21, 2024 at the Seattle Art Museum—get your tickets now!
The Story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Jōruri-hime, late 1780s
DR. SARAH THOMPSON: Let’s take a close look at an early work by Hokusai, a color print with the signature “Shunro” that he used in the 1780s when he was a student of Katsukawa Shunshō.
The scene is a modernized parody version of a famous story from classical Japanese literature, in which a young samurai, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, hears the sound of a lady named Jōruri-hime playing the koto at night. He stands at her garden gate and plays a duet with her on his flute, and this is the beginning of a passionate love affair. In the print, the flute player wears the costume of the 12th century when the story is set, but the lady and her attendants wear modern 18th-century clothes. When Hokusai was in his twenties he designed many works of this type, called perspective prints because they use an exaggerated version of Western-style vanishing point perspective. He probably learned this technique by looking at artists such as Utagawa Toyoharu and Shiba Kōkan, whose work you can see hanging nearby; and he combined it with the things that he had learned from his own teacher, Shunshō: drawing elegant figures in various poses and arranging them in an attractive setting.
In this picture, Hokusai uses two different systems of perspective to give the effect he wants. The building in the left half of the picture is drawn with converging lines that recede toward a distant vanishing point to give the impression of a very large, spacious interior. But in the garden scene to the right, Hokusai uses a traditional Asian perspective, with a high horizon line and distant objects placed higher in the picture, as you can see in, for example, the large painted screens by Shunshō also in this exhibition. For Japanese artists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Western perspective was an attractive and effective drawing technique, but was not necessarily the only option. In the famous landscape prints that Hokusai designed almost 50 years later, in the 1830s, he uses Western perspective most of the time but still feels free to alter it occasionally for a special effect.
“Hokusai’s probably an artist you’ve always known. You know him for the Great Wave, but he’s also one of the most famous artists of all time.This exhibition has almost 300 works that represent the artists Katsushika Hokusai, but also his peers, his pupils, his rivals, and also the influence he had on Europe as well as contemporary culture today.”
On Saturday, the Seattle Asian Art Museum hosted the Diwali Family Festival. KING5 News’ Angeli Kakade previewed the event on Friday’s broadcast, and Nicole Henao, SAM Manager of Teen & Family Programs, appeared on the Saturday morning news to share all the details (did you catch it?).
“Putting the streetcar line at the center of this arts renaissance is not just a gimmick. It turns out there’s a strong correlation between the presence of the arts downtown and transportation, whether it’s streetcars or single occupancy vehicles.”
“Harris began assembling his trove around 2001, with an especial focus on symbolic representations of death. As he once put it: ‘I think that everyone ought—not to be obsessed by fact of death, but be aware of the fact that dying is a part of living.’”
You may know Katsushika Hokusai for being the creator of the infamous woodblock print The Great Wave—officially titled The Great Wave off Kanagawa (about 1830–31)—but what other artworks of his do you know? In the introductory stop on the free smartphone tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influencefrom the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition curator Dr. Sarah Thompson offers insight on another of Hokusai’s most recognizable woodblock prints: Fine Wind, Clear Weather (1830).
The audio recording begins with a brief introduction from Dr. Thompson, Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, about the exhibition and the many artworks on view that derive inspiration directly from The Great Wave. Dr. Thompson then introduces Kendall DeBoer, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who collaborated with Dr. Thompson in curating this exhibition and the contemporary artworks that are featured within it.
Dr. Thompson then turns her attention to Fine Wind, Clear Weather. More commonly referred to as Red Fuji, the print comes from the same series of prints as The Great Wave, called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. As the title makes evident, Red Fuji depicts the sacred Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan admired for its beautiful symmetrical shape. Although not as universally recognized as The Great Wave, Red Fuji has served as inspiration for other artists looking to capture the mountain’s picturesque views. Among the artworks inspired by this print on view elsewhere in the galleries, points out Dr. Thompson, are Yoshitomo Nara’s 1999 parody print White Fujiyama Ski Gelände and Toyota Hokkei’s 19th-century print Mount Fuji.
Hear more from Dr. Sarah Thompson, Kendall DeBoer, and other artists and scholars as part of the free smartphone tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence now on our SoundCloud. Or, if you’re in SAM’s galleries, scan the QR code accompanying select artworks to be routed directly to each stop on the audio tour. The exhibition is on view at SAM’s downtown location through Sunday, January 21, 2024—reserve your tickets now to see Red Fuji and so much more!
Fine Wind, Clear Weather, 1830
DR. SARAH THOMPSON: Hello, and welcome to the exhibition “Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence.” I’m Sarah Thompson, the curator in charge of Japanese prints at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In this show, we’ll be focusing on the most famous and influential of all Japanese artists: the painter, book illustrator, and print designer Katsushika Hokusai. Even if his name is new to you, you probably already know his most famous work, the woodblock print that has been given the nickname the Great Wave and has become one of the best-known visual images in the world. You will see a number of works based on it in this show, which looks at Hokusai in terms of the many other artists that he interacted with, both directly and indirectly. The works in the exhibition include about one-third by Hokusai himself; about one-third by other artists in Japan during his lifetime, from 1760 to 1849; and about one-third by other artists around the world, from the 1850s right up to the present, who learned about Hokusai’s work later on and found inspiration for their own work in it.
For works of contemporary art related to Hokusai, I’m lucky to have the help of my colleague Kendall DeBoer of our Contemporary Art department, and I’ll ask her to introduce herself now.
KENDALL DEBOER: Hi, I’m Kendall DeBoer, and I’m a curatorial assistant in the Department of Contemporary Art here at the MFA Boston. I specialize in contemporary craft and unconventional materials, and I’ve been delighted to work alongside Sarah on this show as a collaborator, bringing in contemporary artworks influenced by Hokusai. You’ll be hearing from me later on in this tour.
DR. SARAH THOMPSON: Now I’d like to look at one of Hokusai’s most famous images after the Great Wave, the woodblock print that has been nicknamed the Red Fuji. It’s from the same series of prints as the Wave—which you will see later in the show—called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and published in the early 1830s, when Hokusai was already in his seventies. These prints were commercial products, mass produced, and sold in stores. Hokusai did the drawings, and other people then carved the wooden printing blocks—one for each color—and did the printing. Hokusai’s Fuji series was a huge, best-selling success, and it made landscape a major subject in Japanese printmaking for the first time.
Sacred Mount Fuji was an ideal choice of subject for this breakthrough print series, because it is the tallest mountain in Japan and it has a beautiful symmetrical shape that has attracted artists for centuries. The real title of this print, written in the upper left corner along with the series title, is actually Fine Wind, Clear Weather. It’s probably early morning, and the mountain—which appears in different colors in different weather conditions—looks reddish in the dawn sunlight.
Hanging near Red Fuji is a print made in 1999 by the well-known contemporary Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, who created a humorous parody showing Mount Fuji as a ski slope by painting over a reproduction of the famous print and then using color xerox to make limited-edition prints of his painting. Also nearby is a 19th- century print by Hokusai’s most successful student, Hokkei, who specialized in designs for privately commissioned prints, known as surimono. This image, from a series of three prints showing lucky things to dream about at new year, looks similar to some of the prints in Hokusai’s Fuji series, but it was probably made a little earlier, in the 1820s. Since Hokusai designed the Fuji prints late in life, many of his students, such as Hokkei, were already successful artists in their own right by that time. So, did Hokkei base his work on an earlier design by his teacher Hokusai? Could Hokusai have been inspired by the work of his own former student? Were both of them looking at depictions of Fuji by earlier artists? Or were they both looking at the mountain itself? There are many possible kinds of relationships between works of art, so keep these ideas in mind as you look at other comparisons throughout the show.
During the Edo period (1603–1867) in Japan and to the present day, Hokusai’s artwork has dazzled audiences across the globe. Hokusai’s accomplished artistic skills, unique subject matter, and vast production inspired the practices of his students, peers, rivals, and his most talented pupil, his daughter Katsushika Ōi. This exhibition thoroughly explores Hokusai’s legacy, with thematic sections that connect Japanese artforms to Western visual art and design.
The circulation of ukiyo-e prints across Europe in the 19th century led to increased availability of Japanese prints and books, and by the 1860s, artists and designers such as Félix Bracquemond began incorporating Japanese motifs into the decorative arts in a style known in French as Japonisme. Outstanding examples in the exhibition include earthenware, decorative silver, stained glass, and porcelain—fans of our own Porcelain Room will especially enjoy these works.
A central artwork in the show, Under the Wave off Kanagawa—today celebrated as The Great Wave—is from Hokusai’s bestselling series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (c. 1830 to 1832). No other image evokes nature’s beauty and terrifying power as much as this instantly recognizable print. The three vessels endangered by the rogue wave, with men bent over their oars as they row for their lives, are fish boats delivering their cargo to the markets of Edo. The glimpse of Mount Fuji beyond the curve of the wave—the only visible land in the picture—is a perfect finishing touch and a symbol of hope that the boats will return safely.
Today, an internet search brings up hundreds of TheGreat Wave images rendered in different colors, styles, and interpretations. Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence will feature artworks that directly cite the iconic image from prolific artists including Andy Warhol, Lynda Benglis, Yoshitoma Nara, and even a large-scale Lego recreation by Lego-certified professional Jumpei Mitsui.
From traditional techniques to bold styles, Hokusai challenged the status quo, offered new ways of seeing the world, and expanded society’s collective artistic imagination. This blockbuster exhibition, curated by Dr. Sarah Thompson, Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, demonstrates the expansive influence of historical Japanese art on contemporary art.
This article first appeared in the June through September 2023 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!
This spring, Tanya Uyeda joined SAM as the museum’s inaugural Senior East Asian Paintings Conservator. A leader in conservation practice, education, and research, Tanya assumes responsibility for the care of SAM’s East Asian painting collection, focusing on conservation treatments and sourcing the necessary specialized materials and tools.
Her appointment also marked the start of regular activity in the landmark Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Conservation Center, which opened as part of the renovated and expanded Seattle Asian Art Museum in February 2020. The center is one of only a handful of museum studios nationwide dedicated to the comprehensive treatment of East Asian paintings, and the only studio of this type in the western US.
Tanya comes to SAM with over 28 years of experience in art conservation, including over 20 years as a conservator of Japanese paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Born in Eugene, Oregon, Tanya received a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies: Japanese Language and History from Oberlin College and earned a Master’s Degree in Preservation of Cultural Properties from Tokyo University of the Arts. She also trained at an elite painting conservation studio in Tokyo. She is one of only four American conservators of a similar background working in a US institution, as there are no conservation training programs for East Asian paintings outside of Asia.
Just a few months into her tenure at SAM, Marketing Content Creator Lily Hansen spoke with Tanya about her short- and long-term goals, what members can expect in her upcoming Up Close With Conservators talk this fall, how she’s adjusting to Seattle, and more.
LILY HANSEN: Welcome to SAM! After spending more than 20 years in Boston, how are you adjusting to Seattle?
TANYA UYEDA: It seems I arrived in Seattle at the best time of year—I’ve really been enjoying this spectacular summer weather! I’ve settled into a home in the Ballard neighborhood and have been getting it ready in anticipation of my family relocating from Boston later this fall. It’s been so nice to explore the Ballard Farmers Market every Sunday and recently took a weekend jaunt over to Bainbridge Island. I also have extended family in the area, and it has been lovely to be able to reconnect with many of them.
LH: How does it feel to be named SAM’s inaugural Senior East Asian Paintings Conservator?
TU: I feel very honored to be chosen for this important new position. Before arriving at SAM, I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which houses one of the most important and comprehensive collections of Japanese art in the US. Most of my work on the Japanese painting collection supported large-scale touring exhibitions that were shown primarily in Japan.
I am looking forward to continuing this work at the Seattle Asian Art Museum and contributing to the preservation of, and scholarship on, the museum’s East Asian painting collection. I can’t wait to share my insights with members and visitors alike, and to support the care and appreciation of these important artworks throughout the entire Western Pacific region.
LH: What are a few of the goals you set for yourself in taking on this position?
TU: Since assuming my role, my immediate focus has been setting up the Tateuchi Conservation Center as a fully functioning conservation studio. The renovation of the Seattle Asian Art Museum included the creation of this beautiful new workspace, necessary infrastructure such as work tables, sinks, light tables, and fume hoods. The tatami mat flooring and low work tables are what you would see in a traditional Japanese scroll mounting studio, and is what I am accustomed to from my training.
In addition to the basic conservation equipment, East Asian paintings require highly specialized (and expensive!) materials and tools, such as handmade paper, woven textiles, decorative fittings, and various types of brushes, adhesives, pigments, and dyestuffs. Many of these necessary items are imported directly from Japan and China, and are becoming increasingly difficult to source due to the aging out of the artisans that produce them and a lack of younger craftsmen to replace them.
For example, there is a type of paper called “misu-gami” that is produced in the Yoshino region of Japan and provides the flexible inner structure of Japanese hanging scrolls. However, there is now only one papermaker producing it. I will be relying on the generous cooperation of conservation colleagues in Japan and the US, as well as suppliers and craftspeople, to support me as I work to outfit the Tateuchi Conservation Center and carry out the treatments we intend to complete.
LH: The Emerging Arts Leader Internship Program is an integral part of SAM’s mission to connect art to life. This summer, you welcomed Alexa Machnik as your first Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Conservation. What has it been like working with Alexa? Do you intend to take on more interns in the future?
TU: I was very fortunate to meet Alexa and convince her to spend the summer with me in Seattle before she begins a fellowship with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this fall. As a Mellon Foundation Fellow at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and a fourth-year student in the university’s MA/MS program in art history and conservation, she also has extensive working experience at institutions such as the Yale University library and Metropolitan Museum in New York.
The primary focus of Alexa’s internship has been to work alongside me in building eight new karibari, or drying boards, for the studio. These boards are an essential component of every East Asian painting conservation and mounting studio. They consist of a wooden lattice undercore and feature up to 11 layers of handmade paper pasted in specific configurations on either side to provide a sturdy and breathable, yet lightweight surface for stretch drying and flattening artworks during treatment. It is a time consuming and physically demanding task, and I am grateful to have Alexa’s assistance! Building the boards is also excellent training in the use of brushes and knives, different thicknesses of paste, and the preparation of various types of handmade paper. She is also helping me process an important series of artworks gifted to SAM at the bequest of longtime benefactor, the late Frank Bayley III, as well as designing new display apparatus for upcoming gallery rotations at the museum.
My hope is that the Tateuchi Conservation Center will serve as a training resource for future conservators of Asian art, as coursework in East Asian painting conservation is not an area of study offered in North American or European graduate conservation programs. Training in this field is still largely apprenticeship-based, taking place in private studios across Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. As a result of their unusual formats, Asian paintings require dexterity, specialized tools, refined aesthetic sensibilities, and linguistic, cultural, and historical knowledge. In the US, the field tends to attract students with a background or interest in paper conservation. These include so-called pre-program students (those seeking admittance to North American conservation programs) or recent graduates from these same programs. Occasionally, students with academic or practical training from Asia are considered as well.
LH: This fall, SAM will launch Up Close with Conservators, a members-only lecture series offering an in-depth look at the conservation work taking place at the museum. For the inaugural lecture, you’ll be in conversation with SAM’s Jane Lang Davis Chief Conservator Nick Dorman. What can SAM members expect to hear in your discussion with Nick?
TU: Up Close with Conservators is an exciting opportunity to highlight the individuals who make up SAM’s conservation team and to share the details of our work with the public. We chose to title the series “Up Close” because much of our work begins with a close examination of the objects. We look forward to educating members on the works of art in our care, sharing our discoveries, explaining how we assist the museum’s curators in interpreting the artistic intent of each artwork’s creator, and articulating how best to handle, store, and preserve art for future generations.
In our lecture, Nick and I will discuss the museum’s long journey to establish the Tateuchi Conservation Center at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and what the role of this new resource will be for the understanding and preservation of the important East Asian collections in the West Coast region. I will also be giving a brief overview of the kind of work that will take place in the studio, and what conservation of East Asian paintings looks like. It will be my first opportunity to speak to SAM’s members and is sure to be a engaging conversation.
In her latest ArtSEA post, Crosscut’s Brangien Davis shares a behind-the-scenes of the final preparations for XO23, the forthcoming art space in the old Coliseum Building opening July 13 (hmm, could make a night of it with the Boafo opening…).
The Seattle Times’ Margo Vansynghel also reported the recent news that Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture has named Minneapolis arts administrator Gülgün Kayim its new director.
“Seattle is a city that is known for its world-class artists, creative entrepreneurs, and arts scene,” Kayim continued, “and I look forward to working with them to make the arts more equitable and accessible to all.”
Via Artnet: There’s a new episode of the acclaimed series Art in the Twenty-First Century to check out on PBS. It features contemporary artists including Anicka Yi, Tauba Auerbach, the Guerrilla Girls, and Hank Willis Thomas.
“[…] one of the greatest of all printmakers appears at the nucleus of a worldwide cultural transformation, in which art became more urbane and more fleeting, and the observed world got flattened out into signs and symbols.”
“Bey and Weems act as interpreters and eyewitnesses, asserting Black history as American history. Through their reflection of personal memories and their reimagining of critical sociocultural events, the past reverberates and resonates with the contemporary moment. Economic and institutional forces — racial global capitalism, political divisiveness, and gentrification, to name a few — shape collective ways of seeing and being. Antithetical to these oppressive, isolating processes, ‘In Dialogue’ asks us to pay attention, question, celebrate, and be present.”
“‘This exhibition is a rare opportunity for the public to see a body of work that has mostly been in storage for decades,’ said [curator and author David F.] Martin…‘Contrary to what the public might presume, Tsutakawa’s earlier works are highly informed by European Modernism and not Japanese art or technique, that came later in his career. So, George really transcended labels and was truly an independent modern American artist.’”
Jerry Saltz of New York Magazine with “7 Art Shows We Can’t Wait to See in 2023”; he mentions a few shows with SAM connections, including Sarah Sze’s show at the Guggenheim (there’s an incredible work by the artist now on view at SAM!) and the Georgia O’Keeffe show at MoMA (which will feature SAM collection work Music–Pink and Blue No. 1).
“‘While we’re here, it allows us more freedom, in this building that’s kind of a laboratory,’ said Wardropper. ‘It’s almost the antithesis of the Gilded Age mansion, where we can experiment more easily. We’re hoping we develop audiences and ideas here that we can take back to the mansion.’”
“‘We all have a stake in righting things that were wrong, and the first step is really to acknowledge wrongs and tell the stories,’ [exhibit developer Mikala] Woodward said. ‘Telling these stories is a step along the way to naming what needs to happen, and fighting together… giving visitors an invitation to become part of that is what we really wanted.’”
“I know we are not here forever and there are quite a lot of things I want to achieve,” [Boafo] said. “My game plan is to bring as many people through the door as possible and build something here that we can manage here.”
Terms: The loser funds an all-expenses paid vacation to SAM for one of their major artworks. Oh, sorry, that assumes the Clark Art Institute will lose. Well, that seems about right.
Ok, ok. The winner gets the privilege of displaying a major work of art from the other museum for three months. The wagered masterpieces respectively showcase the beautiful landscapes of the Northwest and the Northeast.
At stake is SAM’s majestic Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast from 1870 by Albert Bierstadt from SAM’s American Art collection, which is wagered by Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO.
Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, 1870, Albert Bierstadt, oil on canvas, Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Friends of American Art at the Seattle Art Museum, with additional funds from the General Acquisition Fund, 2000.70.
In 1870, Albert painted one of the most stunning subjects of his career: a vision of a stormy Puget Sound. This spectacular, eight-foot-wide view of Puget Sound was the result of the Eastern Seaboard’s newly awakened interest in this faraway region that the artist had visited only briefly seven years before. It’s more than just a landscape painting—it is also a historical work, a narrative of an ancient maritime people, and a rumination on the ages-old mountains, basaltic rocks, dense woods, glacial rivers, and surf-pounded shores that have given the Northwest its look and also shaped its culture.
Conversely, the New England’s West Point, Prout’s Neck (1900), one of the Clark’s greatest works by Winslow Homer, is wagered by Michael Conforti, Director of the Clark Art Institute.
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910), West Point, Prout’s Neck, 1900. Oil on canvas, 30 1/16 x 48 1/8 in. (76.4 x 122.2 cm). Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.7.
Rorschach says, “I am sure that this beautiful Homer painting will be coming to Seattle after the Seahawks defeat the Patriots for another win. We are already making plans to host this incredible work of American art in our galleries so that the 12s can enjoy it.”
Can’t wait to see how good it looks on our walls. Think we saw some staff down there measuring where the nail should go earlier.
We challenge the Clark Art Institute AND the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to a TWITTER THROW DOWN
Follow hashtag #museumbowl this Friday, January 30, at 10:30 am (PST) to join in and support our team! On Monday morning, following the game, the losing team’s museum will post a collage honoring five major works from SAM’s the champion’s collection.
Don’t miss the action as we take on basically everyone two museums in this epic Art Bowl XLIX!