Friday, April 5, 2013

Bringing Information to the Masses 18th Century Style

Visiting the Freer and Sackler Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art have been top on my to do list for weeks. Unfortunately my work schedule kept getting in the way. When I heard about a tour of the Hand-Held: Gerhard Pulverer's Japanese Illustrated Books exhibit, which runs April 6 - August 11, 2013 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, I made a point to attend.  The exhibit contains a collection of printed Japanese books from the Edo period (1615-1868). 
It was a fascinating exhibit and tour led by Ann Yonemura, Senior Associate Curator of Japanese Art. Prior to mass printing books, Japan had a long history of illustrative narrative scrolls that were primarily available for the elite. Woodblock printing made books and information on a variety of topics available to everyone, much in the same way the internet does today. Printing started off slowly in Kyoto, the center for crafts and art, in the 17th Century and then took off and spread to other parts of Japan like Edo and Osaka.

The books are in amazing condition considering they are hundreds of years old.   I especially liked the color prints and couldn't believe how they retained their color over time. The books are arranged by subject, including literature, science, religion, landscaping, and travel.  There is even a little sample of "erotic" books (you might want to rush the little ones past those).

The entire exhibit will be available online one day, but its definitely worth seeing in person. It's amazing to see how these handmade books stood the test of time and get a little window into Japanese culture.


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