Zuancho in Kyoto: Textile Design Books for the Kimono Trade

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An exhibition of woodblock-produced books printed in Kyoto ca. 1890-1940, Zuancho in Kyoto: Textile Design Books for the Kimono Trade, opens January 7, 2008 in the Peterson Gallery, Green Library, on the Stanford campus. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, will be on display through April 16, 2008.

The Stanford University Libraries' Department of Special Collections began collecting zuancho (design idea books) in 2004 and over the past three years has acquired more than eighty volumes within thirty titles. The books were published in Kyoto beginning in the mid-Meiji period (1868-1912), when widespread availability of synthetic dyes imported from the West introduced bright, bold colors to the Japanese printing and textile industries. Increased consumer demand for modern designs for kimono and other products in new colors prompted publication of more contemporary design-plan books for use in the textile trade. The customer base for these books consisted primarily of kimono dealers and consumers, wholesalers, dyers, weavers, and yuzen artisans.

The works on display demonstrate the transition that took place in surface design for kimono in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from a painterly style to a graphic approach characterized by kinetic lines, geometric shapes, and abstraction of traditional Japanese themes drawn from nature. In addition to group publications of award-winning designs, such as Seiei (published by Unsodo, Kyoto, 1903-1906), the collection includes titles by known artists, such as Kamisaka Sekka, Kaigai Tennen, and Furuya Korin, a painter and designer whose use of geometric form and dynamic line devoid of the use of the brush helped to establish Japanese "modern design" in the first decade of the twentieth century.  

The exhibition is co-curated by Roberto Trujillo, Frances & Charles Field Curator of Special Collections, Stanford, and Misako Mitsui, Mitsui Fine Arts Inc., San Rafael & Kyoto. Trujillo comments: "In making these books accessible to scholars, we hope to spur interest in the genre for teaching and research on Japanese art and art history, material culture, and industrial, graphic, and textile design history, and perhaps contribute to a new reception for these works."

Kyoto is historically the center of high-end Japanese textile design and production as well as of printing. Although originally created as functional tools for the textile trade, these books were printed from hand-carved woodblocks by skilled artisans, and have come to be viewed as works of fine art. In evidence are refined woodblock-printing techniques, such as fukibokashi, a technique of wiping color from the block before printing to obtain subtle shading effects, as well as thickly applied pigment defining bold shapes and sharp lines, which became popular in the 1930s.

In addition to the volumes shown, a series of prints, made from the original woodblocks for one of the books in the collection, will demonstrate the sequential addition of color in the woodblock-printing process. The display of prints, as well as of an original woodblock, is made possible by Japanese publisher Unsodo, which retains the blocks used to print the 1907 work Korin moyo, by Furuya Korin.

A 40-page color catalogue of the exhibition, featuring photographs by Mikio Matsuo and an essay by Kenichiro Yokoya, Curator, Otsu City Museum of History, is available for $15.00 plus tax and shipping. For ordering information, go to http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/spc/pubs/index.html

For further information about the exhibition, please contact Becky Fischbach at 650-725-1020 or via e-mail at efischba@stanford.edu

LOCATION: Peterson Gallery, Green Library Bing Wing, Second Floor Stanford University, Stanford, CA

NOTE: first-time visitors must register at the east entrance portal to gain access to the library. Green Library's east wing entrance faces Meyer Library. For a map of campus and transportation information, go to http://www.stanford.edu/dept/visitorinfo/plan/maps.html.

HOURS: Exhibit cases in the Peterson Gallery are illuminated Monday-Friday from 10 am to 6 pm; Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 1 to 6 pm. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open and hours vary with the academic schedule. For library hours, call 650-723-0931.