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Anniversaries ...

Posted by Dave Bull at   8:04 PM, November 4, 2015 [Permalink]

There isn't really time tonight to do a 'proper' blog post - at least not what needs to be done - but the calendar is demanding that I put something on record this week, so the carving bench will have to wait a few minutes …

It was another crazy day in the shop today, with Print Parties, a visit from a TV producer setting up a shoot next week, a travel agent visiting to confirm plans for a 20-person Print Party next Monday (we'll use an outside rented room for that …), fun visits from supporters/customers (who did more shopping than we have any right to expect!), a Skype consultation with Jed to confirm details of the February print in next year's subscription set (yes, already under 'construction') ... all accompanied by a steady stream of emails/orders/confirmations/questions about the Great Wave project, which is now within a couple of days of wrapping up at last!

But I said that the calendar is demanding a blog post, so let me try to get a few things down here … The Mokuhankan staff and I had a little dinner get-together the other day, on November 1st. As I mentioned the other day in a Facebook item, this was our 1st anniversary - we opened the doors of the Asakusa shop on Oct 31st last year (one day earlier than planned, to fit a request from a backer). The dinner actually didn't go quite as planned; the first hour or so was OK, but a group of asinine young students then came into the room next to us, and made so much noise that we couldn't continue - we quite literally couldn't hear each other speak. I really got upset with the manager, who refused to make any attempt to quieten them down, and I ended up refusing to pay our full bill … Next time, we'll do a bit more research to ensure a nice environment for our meeting …

It was probably just as well though, because all the other members around the table had had a chance to say their words about the occasion, and it was just as it came to my turn that the noise began. (The staff all had a good laugh about that of course, suggesting that the students had been 'sent' by some outside agency …)

I hadn't intended to make a long speech, just give the staff an outline of a few things that they (for the most part) didn't know.

They mostly know Mokuhankan as it exists at present, our little shop in Asakusa, and the workroom in my home back in Ome. They think it's a few years old. They are wrong.

It began in 1998~1999, just as I was finishing up the long ten-year Hyakunin Isshu poets series. The word 'Mokuhankan' hadn't come to mind yet; I didn't have a name for the project I was cooking up. The concept was quite vague at first. I had been doing well with making/selling reproductions of traditional prints via private subscription, but felt that I wanted to 'modernize' things a little. It didn't seem to be so useful to simply keep making reproductions.

Rather than try to explain more here, let me link to an archive copy of a web page that I put up at that time. This was before Facebook, before YouTube, before Google … and I don't remember how I imagined that I would actually reach many people, but there it was.

Please go take a look at the page.

So how did the experiment turn out? Did I get a flood of response from eager and willing designers?

Well, no. I ended up having conversations with two people, both friends from the (then flourishing) Baren Forum I had started a few years earlier, John Amoss and Gary Luedke. Without a strong showing from interested designers, I hesitated to push the project forward, and ended up letting it slide. I did work with both those two friends, incorporating their designs into two of my Surimono Albums. The wider vision of a 'publishing house' was set aside.

We move ahead to 2005. My project that year had been the - very successful - Hanga Treasure Chest, a set of 24 prints that I had issued every two weeks during the course of the year. There were a lot of subscribers, and the bank account was looking quite nice. The 'publisher' idea reared its head again, but this time with a different cast. Instead of trying to set up a subscription series based on contemporary designs, I would take a different approach - I would simply begin to issue prints one at a time as my resources permitted, putting them into an online shop, using both traditional designs, and - if I could find designers - modern work as well. (The internet was now much more advanced, and shopping online was clearly a 'thing' at this point.)

I needed a 'brand', and after some thought, came up with the word Mokuhankan, which can be translated as 'The place for woodblock prints!' I am able to tell the very day when I came up with that, because the domain registration - which I must have done straight away - is a matter of public record: November 5th, 2005.

So that is why I am making this post today. Early November is clearly the most important time in the calendar for us - our Asakusa shop was one year old this week, and I myself will be 64 next week, but Mokuhankan got its start exactly ten years ago tonight.

The first item - catalogue #1 - was a print made from blocks I had carved some years earlier, to make a Gift Print for the collectors of the Hyakunin Isshu poets series. We've come a very long way in that ten years, of course not entirely in a direction I had intended, but that's irrelevant; we are now well and truly established, I think!

I can't leave a blog post this lengthy without putting some kind of image in, so here's a photo given to me by an amateur photographer who snapped me outside a few days ago, while I was preparing to take some video for the next upcoming YouTube episode.

Happy Anniversaries, Dave! :-)

Thanks for all the years of support!




Added by: Margaret Maloney on November 5, 2015 12:01 AM

Congratulations on the anniversaries! It has been wonderful seeing the success of the Asakusa shop and all your endeavors.

Added by: Serge on November 5, 2015 1:37 AM

Congratulations! Quite a long way since the original idea and certainly very positive developments. And you look as young as ever with that twinkle in the eye.....
Best wishes for more success......

Added by: Fumi Bull on November 5, 2015 1:58 AM

You know you are getting old when you are refusing to pay your full bill at a restaurant...! Haha.

Your hair is very flowy in the picture dad, is the last time you had it cut when you came to Vancouver a year ago???

PS. Congrats!!

Added by: Jennifer on November 5, 2015 2:04 AM

Well done for hanging in there when the going was tough, and never compromising on the beauty of the print.

Added by: Sam W. on November 5, 2015 3:27 AM

Congrats Dave, looking forward to celebrating for many years to come! :)

Added by: Jacques on November 11, 2015 5:24 AM

Checking out the source code of the webpage that you refer to in your "the page" link in this post, what particularly strikes me is this: at the end of the last century, neither your nor anybody's else's webpages apparently contained any Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) code at all! It's absolutely incredible how time flies ...

Added by: Jakub Makalowski on November 11, 2015 11:49 AM

It would have been interesting to see how the idea might have turned out back then. Sadly I was much too young to know about these things. But fortunately with Jed on board finding a designer is not much of an issue now.
And wonderful birthdays to you and the shop.

On a side note to Jacques comment, It seems that it wasn't until around 2000 that we started seeing full CSS compatibility, and I feel I remember less than a decade ago it still not being the common thing it is now. I'm also glad I'm not the only one with tendencies to randomly look at source codes.


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