Christa Story
March 16, 2018

Museum Monday: Japan through the eyes of American women artists

The Wright Museum of Art showcases women artists who feature Japan.
  • The Chase, 1903 Helen Hyde (American, 1868–1919) Woodblock print WMA Gift of the Art League of Beloit 10.1089

The Wright Museum of Art houses a growing collection of art by women artists—many yet to have their moment in art history. To remedy this, the Wright Museum is taking the initiative to shed light on these important and neglected artists.

The Highlights exhibition showcases works by Fahrelnissa Zeid, Mary Nimmo Moran, and Kathe Loewenthal. From now until May 20, visitors can learn about three more of these forgotten women in the exhibition Helen Hyde and the Japanese Print Tradition curated by Christa Story.

In the early 20th century, a few pioneering female printmakers took up traditional Japanese woodblock print as an artistic medium, and, far more than their contemporary American printmakers, upheld the materials and methods used by Ukiyo-e artists centuries before. These women opted for water-based inks and fine mulberry papers, as well as the traditional division of labor—block cutters and skilled printers—to publish their designs.

Helen Hyde was the first American female artist to study Japanese printing techniques in Japan. She spent considerable time living in Tokyo and Nikko, learning the complex color printmaking methods, and immersing herself in Japanese life and culture. Following in her footsteps, Bertha Lum and Lilian May Miller traveled to and lived in Asia, practicing traditional woodblock print methods.

By disseminating their prints back in the States, and corresponding frequently, these female printmakers shared aspects of life in Japan, Korea, and China, with audiences in America. They mastered color printmaking techniques, which paved the way for the woodblock renaissance in the west. Though Hyde, Lum, and Miller gained recognition in their lifetimes by some in the art community, they are primarily remembered for their “brave” travels East rather than their major contributions to color printmaking.

This exhibition, which celebrates the labor intensive process of the Japanese tradition that these women artists championed, showcases color woodblock prints from the Wright Museum of Art’s permanent collection, as well as important loans from the Wriston Art Galleries at Lawrence University. Most significant are four woodblocks used by Hyde used to create one of her most famous prints, The Chase (also on view). Other prints by Helen Hyde, Bertha Lum, and Lilian May Miller, as well as traditional Japanese prints by Ukiyo-e and Shin hanga artists can be seen.

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