Here, in a series of capsule introductions, are the people behind the prints we are making at Mokuhankan. Not all the people will be involved in every print, and as time goes by I hope to involve a large number of the currently active craftsmen in our project, but here is a start ...
Papermakers: Mr. Ichibei Iwano (and family)
We are now down to the last three families making premium quality paper for traditional printmaking. There are actually hundreds of papermakers scattered around the country, but it is only these three who specialize in the Echizen hosho that has been the standard for top quality prints ever since the mid Edo period. We are using paper made by Mr. Ichibei Iwano, who is the 9th generation of his family to carry that name, and who a few years back received the rare honour of being named a Living National Treasure, as did his father before him.
Iwano-san is now in his seventies, and certainly doesn't produce all the paper by himself. It is a cooperative affair among all family members, who share the labor of preparing the mulberry, dipping the sheets, and finishing them ready for shipping to the waiting printmakers. But no matter which member of the family dipped the particular sheet that forms the print you receive, it is never described as being anything but 'made by Iwano Ichibei' - who stands responsible for everything done in their workshop.
Mokuhankan uses only paper Echizen Hosho - Iwano-san's finest paper - for all our prints.
Printer: Mr. Shinkichi Numabe
I was never in doubt as to who to select for the man to do the first printing jobs for Mokuhankan. Numabe san is not only my age (to within a couple of weeks!), but also shares my concern for the current state of our craft. He too, is disappointed with what he sees becoming the 'normal' standard these days, and is intent on doing what he can to
His main day-to-day work is done in the studio of the Yoshida family, where he works on printing their editions (these days mostly prints designed by the late Toshi Yoshida), but he also takes on 'outside' work, and is perhaps best known for being the main printer of English printmaker Paul Binnie's editions.
Printer: Hirokazu Tetsui
Born in Tokyo into a printing family (his father has been a woodblock printer all his life), Hirokazu has been a member of the professional craftsmen's association since 2007.
In addition to his contributions to the family workshop, Tetsui-san does demonstrations at exhibitions, and in November of 2009 was sent by the Culture Ministry to perform demonstrations and promote traditional woodblock printmaking at a 'Russia-Japan Friendship Society' exhibition in St. Petersburg. He is determined to play an active part in the traditional printmaking field, where the lack of successors is a matter of great concern to all who love this art.
Printer: Yasue Tsushima
We realized quite some time ago that we will never be able to build a flourishing print publishing enterprise by depending on 'outside' printers. There are simply not enough good ones left, and those who are good, are busy. Neither Numabe-san nor Tetsui-san (introduced above) can take on very much more of our work. There is only one way forward - to train our own people.
Meet the first of our
Printer: Ayumi Miyashita
Ayumi-san has come to us from far-off Hokkaido. After leaving high school in the spring of 2012, she headed for the big city with one thought in mind - get some training at becoming a craftsman in the woodblock printmaking field. (Yes, there are still such people!)
Her initial interest was (and still is) in the making of the traditional printer's baren, but she realizes that the process of developing that skill will take a very long time, and even when she is 'ready' and hangs out her shingle, making a living at it might be quite some challenge. So she quite sensibly came to us and discussed whether or not she could work as a printer as well. (And honestly speaking, there could be no better training for a baren maker than becoming a good printer, of course!). She started her training in the early summer of 2012, and very quickly reached the point where her work became ready for our catalogue.
She has become so good at this that the question of her future as a baren maker is perhaps something that we don't talk about much here ... In any case, for the time being, as long as she is willing to study and work with us, she's welcome!
Carver: Tsunehisa Sato
After developing an interest in become a carver in the traditional style, Sato-san began studying and working under the tutelage of Motoharu Asaka, one of the most experienced carvers still working today.
His work is already attracting attention, he has been accepted into the association of professional printmaking craftsmen, and he is clearly at what is just the beginning of what we expect will be a long career in the field.
Designer: Gary Luedtke
When Dave was casting about looking for designers whose work may be suitable for woodblock prints and he came across Gary's images, he was 'on the phone' in short order, asking for permission to use on of them for a Mokuhankan edition.
Gary has internalized the ukiyo-e traditions, and uses them in his designs - the 'empty space', flat colours, and gentle gradations all shout 'this is from Japan'. And yet he has neither been to Japan, nor does he use Japanese scenery in his art. His stomping ground is Hawaii, and the scene in our catalogue - Hilo Bay - that he designed for us was created there.
Designer: Kaori Seki
In her late teens Seki-san became interested in traditional ukiyo-e prints, and soon began creating images in a similar style. She now works as an illustrator, and takes part in frequent design events and exhibitions.
In April of 2011 she participated in the Japan Art Festival in New Zealand, and has a strong desire to help promote Japanese art around the world.
She is the designer of our senshafuda series.
Partner Shop: Yoshida Studio printer, Shinkichi Numabe
Numabe-san (introduced above) has been working as a printer for the Yoshida family for a few decades, originally working alongside Heihachi Komatsu, the printer illustrated in 'The Complete Woodblock Prints of Yoshida HIroshi' on page 175. After Komatsu-san grew too old to handle the work, Numabe-san became the main printer for the Yoshida Studio, which is located in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, and now run by Tsukasa Yoshida (son of Toshi, and grandson of Hiroshi).
The Yoshida Studio no longer issue prints from the blocks prepared by Hiroshi (who died in 1951), but do offer printings of designs by Toshi (who passed away in 1995).
Numabe-san works in a room on the ground floor of the studio itself, and pulls these prints from the original blocks under direct family supervision, using the sample prints (and proofing instructions) left by his predecessors. Each print is stamped with Toshi-san's signature, along with (in the case of the larger prints) an English title. They differ from those issued during Toshi's lifetime only in the lack of the actual pencil signature. The paper used is the identical type, from the same maker who has been providing the Yoshida Studio with paper for decades - Mr. Kazuo Yamaguchi.
Numabe-san's current selection of Toshi Yoshida prints in our catalogue can be viewed here.
Partner Shop: Used book and print dealer, Shingo Ueda
When Ueda-san was in his 20's he began training as a woodblock printer. He has reached a fairly good standard of skill, but in recent years, has become somewhat 'sidetracked' by his other job - as a licensed book/print dealer.
He attends the weekly auctions held in the Jinbocho book district, to which the general public has no access, and searches for items of 'interest'. His own taste runs to finely printed Meiji items - prints, books and albums - but also casts his net wider when he sees things that he feels are of a particularly high quality. He keeps a 'want list' for people, and has on occasion helped me find items to add to my own collection.
He and I have decided that the Mokuhankan catalogue is not a bad place to help him get a wider exposure for some of the things he finds, and we have selected a few from his inventory to show you. We haven't tried to select the cheapest things - those prints are available all over the place these days - but are going to stick to special items; things that you perhaps won't find anywhere else.
Please take some time to look over his selection, and you are welcome to get in touch if you have particular requirements that he might be able to help you with.
Ueda-san's current selection of items in our catalogue can be viewed here.
Partner Shop: Takumi Printmaking Workshop
Mokuhankan isn't the only 'good' workshop in town! :-) One other very interesting place is the Takumi Hanga Workshop run by carver Motoharu Asaka and printer Satoshi Hishimura. They are 'craftsmen for hire', and have done work for such artists as Moira Hahn, and Masami Teraoka.
They also do work for general publishers, and some years back, were heavily used by the Takamizawa Company, which - together with the Adachi Company - issued some of the best work done in the 20th century. Adachi is still at it, Takamizawa has gone under. But in an interesting twist, Dave was chatting with Asaka-san some time ago, and learned that at the time Takamizawa closed, he was able to procure not only a stack of completed prints, but a large number of their blocks.
It is items from this treasure trove that are being offered here in this Mokuhankan 'Partner Shop'. The prints are of two types: the actual left-over stock (printed in the immediate post-war period), and work pulled from the Takamizawa blocks by Takumi in the late Showa period. The former type will of course never be available again; as for the latter, Takumi has no plans at present to issue more re-prints, but the blocks are in careful storage, waiting for possible future opportunities ...
The current selection of Takumi Workshop prints in our catalogue can be viewed here.
Mokuhankan proprietor: David Bull
I don't want to talk too much about myself here. If you have wandered around Woodblock.com at all, you will know something about who I am, and what I am doing. I am starting this little publishing venture with no backing whatsoever, and we are going to try to pull ourselves up by our shoestrings, one print at a time.
Print publishers have come and gone over the years, mostly 'gone' these days. A couple of the Tokyo outfits have dabbled a bit with the internet, but they certainly don't grok the web, and their websites can't be doing much for their business. What is needed is somebody who knows a good bit about printmaking, someone who can bring a fresh viewpoint about what can be produced (instead of re-hashing the 'same old same old' all over again), someone who can communicate with the craftsmen in their own language, someone who has at least some ability to 'get the message out' (both domestically here in Japan, and overseas), and ... perhaps most importantly, someone who is enthusiastic about all this stuff. Can I have a show of hands? ...
I thought so ... Nobody here but me! :-)
So there you have it, the basic 'crew'. Watch this space for further developments!