Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Meiji-era Prints in the St. Kate’s Special Collections

Special Collections, St. Catherine University Library

I feel like I keep saying this a lot, but I’m often surprised about the treasures that are hidden in plain sight. When I first arrived at St. Kate’s, Heather Carroll, a graduate student in the Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) Program, told me that we had a few Japanese prints hidden in the library’s Special Collections. It has taken us a year, but we finally picked a day to head down to the library to check them out. As we slowly lifted the prints off the cart, I quickly realized that “a few” was in reality MANY! I took study photographs of about 70 prints just this past October.

There are some exceptions (such as a few examples of sōsaku hanga), but most of the prints we found are Meiji-era (from between 1890 and 1899). A few different artists are represented, but we have a fair number from Chikanobu Yōshū (楊洲周延) (1838-1912) also known as Chikanobu Hashimoto or Chikanobu Toyohara (seen in the top example). Most of our prints at St. Kate’s come from a series about court ladies living in the Chiyoda Palace. As an artist, Chikanobu first studied Kano School painting before moving on to ukiyo-e, where he was a disciple of Keisai Eisen. Later he studied under Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi and then Kunisada. Many of our works have subject matter that hails from either earlier historical periods or from Japanese mythology, but we also have a few prints that conspicuously recognize the changing nature of Japan under modernization with red brick (akarenga) and the Emperor in Western military garb.

Special Collections, St. Catherine University Library

We are in the process of identifying the prints, assessing their condition, and looking for the original donor information. Together, we hope to figure out a better storage solution that will keep them laying flat and prevent them from curling. Long term, it would be great to put together some sort of exhibition to reintroduce these prints to the St. Kate’s community. We have some big idea, so stay tuned!

St. Kate’s Scholar’s Retreat: The Virtues of Writing Socially

During the school year, I always bemoan a lack of time and yearn for summer days when I will be totally free to write that latest book proposal / article / essay / blog / conference abstract… And yet, every time the summer comes, I find it hard to find the focus and motivation to get work done. I know that I’m not alone in my struggles, as it seems to be one of the most common topics of commiseration among faculty both old and new. But I can never help feeling like I am struggling along in front of an empty Word .doc. And before I know it, the summer comes to a close as we turn our attention towards course preps and upcoming departmental meetings. The summer is fleeting.

I’m trying to psych myself out of these ruts by establishing a daily practice, but it is sometimes easier said than done. But this past week, I had a wonderful opportunity to unite with other faculty in disciplines across campus for the St. Catherine University Scholar’s Retreat. The image I had in my mind was “writing bootcamp,” but the actual experience was quite different. It really made me think about the process of writing socially. The two facilitators of our group encouraged us to mix writing and work with periods of dedicated play. We were encouraged not to lock ourselves in a conference room with nothing but coffee, computers, and a laser-jet printer, although that was how I imagined our entire week at the Oakridge Conference Center in Chaska, MN. We had a schedule that stressed balance and we were expected to keep to it to avoid writing binges, structured around “Sacred Writing Time,” or periods of uninterrupted work. This writing time could occur in company (I liked to work in one of the larger rooms with about 6 others), or alone in your room, in nature, or in any other nook. A typical day looked like the following:

7-9am: Continental Breakfast
9-11am: Sacred Writing Time
11:15am-12pm: Small Group Meeting (progress check in and the setting of daily goals)
12-1pm: Lunch
1-2pm: Individual Meeting (if needed)
2-4pm: Sacred Writing Time
4-6pm: Play
6-7pm: Dinner
7:15-9pm: Large Group Meeting (which consisted mostly of public readings of works in progress)

The fact that I got more work done in these dedicated two hour chunks than one of my 8-hour coffee-shop binge sessions was enlightening. I kept thinking, “I can get more work done in two 2-hour chunks than a solid 8 hours of effort?! What magic is this?!” But I really think the process was effective because of breaks and the cultivation of a writer’s community–with people who faced the same struggles and neuroses as the rest of us. This week, I felt like my work was part of something larger. And through the process, an 8-page conference paper blossomed into a 25-page draft (complete with references). More work needs to be done, but I’m going to try my hand at allotting my own Sacred Writing Time during the week, and see how that goes. It begins today.

And as an added bonus of the process? Learning about the scholarly work and ambitions of my other colleagues in fields as diverse as English, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Biology, and Business. As I walk around campus this fall, I now have 13 newly familiar faces to greet me during Opening Workshops. I can even tell you what they are working on!

The more I reflect, the more I think that graduate programs should embrace similar retreats to teach their students and faculty how to establish a healthy writing practice. I try to think about when I learned all of the bad habits that I am trying desperately to unlearn. Was it when I was dissertating in coffee shops across the U.S. and Japan? How about cranking out seminar papers on the quarter system? Did it begin in my undergraduate education? Or in high school? I think that by the time we enter graduate school, everyone makes the assumption that not only can we write well, but that we can do so efficiently. But writing can be a struggle if it is not routine. And since there will never be enough time, we need to protect the time we allot in order to make writing a more mundane part of our schedule.

Because if I am telling the truth, my best work was never the result of divine inspiration. And I bet yours wasn’t either. It was the product of a daily toil and a special kind of perseverance to keep returning to that same draft no matter what frustrations I harbored. And the daily courage to sit down and double click on the document in order to begin.

Grades Are In! Finishing My First Year at St. Kate’s

Grades are in, the seniors have graduated, and campus is unusually quiet. Welcome to summer!

(Did anyone ever notice that Will Smith is wearing a Speed Racer t-shirt? I feel like my students in Global Japan would appreciate this!)
(Also — what a great video to use when talking about the role of the gaze.)

It has been an amazing year at St. Kate’s, and I continue to be grateful to have landed at an institution that has values so closely in line with my own, especially with regard to issues of social justice. After reflecting on my own experiences at co-educational institutions (K-12, undergraduate, graduate), I have constantly grappled with what it means to actually teach at a women’s university. As this year draws to a close, I feel like I am one step closer to understanding the importance of this commitment.

Like most of us in education, I look forward to the summer with relief and anticipation! I have a whole bucket list of things to accomplish over the next few months.

 

My (Ambitious) Goals for the Summer

  • Continue working on the Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection at St. Kate’s and flesh out my previous conference presentation into a full essay on chirimen-bon and US collecting practices. It will be good to get back into the archives without having to run to class!
  • Finish an essay about indigenous representation in gaming, based on conference presentations at Console-ing Passions, Mechademia, and the Popular Culture Association.
  • Begin inputting data I have collected for Traveling Hokkaido for Arnold Henry Savage Landor in ArcGIS. Because his travel was so extensive, this will be a lengthy undertaking… I also need to decide on future figures whose journeys I want to map and include in the project. My end goal is to have 6-8 journeys mapped with illustrations in order to be a useful, comparative, and open-source digital resource for scholarly work in Ainu Studies.
  • Finish a blog post for Art History Teaching Resources for the Fall on using Sutori to create interactive study guides for undergraduate students.
  • Research and pitch a 2000-word essay to First Person Scholar on gacha mechanics in Japanese and F2P gaming.
  • Work with Gabrielle Filip-Crawford in Psychology to develop our new collaborative course at St. Kate’s, All Art is Propaganda: Visual and Scientific Perspectives on Persuasion with our Academic Professional Development Committee Curriculum Development grant. (So excited for this!)
  • Redesign my approach to the Ways of Seeing course to include a significant community or service learning opportunity (#arthistoryengaged #arthistorythat)

 

 

Working with Clay in Art History

Yesterday, with the generous help of my colleague Monica Rudquist, the students in Art History: Ancient through Medieval had the chance to create their own version of a fertility figure in terracotta. They came out great, and we had an awesome time making them together. But more importantly, I think the process gave students a better appreciation for how clay can be worked as a material. Hopefully, the next time they come across a ceramic work of art, they can understand it from the perspective of the maker.

A variety of Neolithic and Paleolithic figures including the Venus of Willendorf, Venus of Dolní Věstonice, Venus of Hohlefels, and other examples of figures from Germany, Syria, and Çatalhöyük in Turkey.

In our lecture content, we recently finished our analysis of prehistoric art, which included examples from both the Neolithic and the Paleolithic periods. One of the themes that emerged time and time again was the relative consistency of small female figures across regions and materials, which included limestone, clay, and ivory. With their heavy breasts and corpulent bodies, there is a lot that will remain a mystery about these small figures. Nevertheless, our goal in making them was to get a feel for the materiality of clay while understanding the many different ways that you can create a 3-dimensional form. Some students found that working with clay came easy. Other students struggled to mold the form into what they desired. Some used their hands to shape a solid mass into their figure while others (including myself) created a core base and attached legs, arms, breasts, and heads. Some students got even more creative, and we have a likeness of Beyonce’s recent pregnancy photo with Blue Ivy and a goddess with a serpentine protector. The longer they worked, the more the clay evidenced their unique personal approach.

We don’t always have the opportunity for this kind of kinetic learning in art history, especially if coverage is a concern. But if the goal is to understand an ancient people who have no written documents and limited material evidence, nothing gets us closer than working with only our hands and nails. I’m now actively looking through my syllabus to see if we might not have another opportunity to get into the ceramic studio moving forward! It makes the techniques we study more real and tangible. In the meantime, check out these awesome clay bodies produced by my class.

Women’s March MN

Women's March 4Like millions of like-minded individuals across the United States and the world, I participated in a women’s march this past Saturday. It was such a sight to see 100,000 people descend upon Minnesota’s capital in St. Paul. Every where I looked, I saw people of all cultural backgrounds, people of all ages, people of all religions and no religion, people of all orientations, and people of all degrees of disability (many of whom participated virtually). And together, we fought for the right to economic opportunity, the right to healthcare, the right to human dignity and personal safety, the right to just immigration policies, the right to representation, and the right to reproductive freedom and care. We heard from our Senators and Representatives, including Illhan Omar, the first Somali American legislator in the United States, and important figures in our local community, such as Sandra Day from the Indigenous People’s Task Force, Raeisha Williams from the NAACP, and Lucila Dominguez from the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha. I was also happy to see ASL interpreting throughout, something that I have become increasingly aware of with regard to my own privilege since arriving here at St. Kate’s. And importantly, we stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Feminism needs to be intersectional in order to practice the kind of equality that it preaches. I am of firm mind that we still have much room to grow in this regard, but I thought this was a great first step for many people in the state and the country. The best of worst times. I was proud to stand with a group of Katies on Saturday, hand in hand with our students abroad marching in Paris and beyond.

So let’s continue to think about the reasons why we march. And continue to protect our first amendment right to do so. It will be a marathon, not a sprint. But I march to protect the ones I love, my students, and those who are most vulnerable among us.

After all, as I saw on sign after sign at the march, a woman’s place is in the resistance. I can’t help but feel that it would have brought a smile to Carrie Fisher’s face.

I find protest photography fascinating, and I’ve long been looking at images from the ANPO protests in Japan in the 1960s. (If you want to see/read more about these images, I highly recommend UCLA Professor William Marotti’s Money, Trains and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan [Duke University Press, 2013]). Like many forms of social activism, protests are most effective when they are visually documented. I wonder what historians will say about photographs of the Women’s March years from now…

Autumn, Art, and Archives at St. Kate’s

It is hard to believe how quickly autumn as come — it feels like  yesterday that I was just getting settled into this office. Our campus is positively gorgeous at this time of year, and I take every opportunity that I can to set foot outside of the brutalist concrete of the Visual Arts Building to soak in the color of the changing leaves. People love this season here in Minnesota, but part of me does miss the seasonal tourism of Japan where whole streets would occasionally be closed to traffic for pedestrians to admire and take photos of the 紅葉 (momiji, maple) and 銀杏 (ichō, ginkgo). When I was at Hokkaido University, they would not only close ichō dōri (ginkgo street) for a couple of days, but they would also illuminate them with floodlights at night. It made the street look otherworldly; a dark sky punctuated by pale yellows and greens. We have some gorgeous side streets in St. Paul lined in vibrant shades of orange and yellow, and I so desperately want to rid them of cars.

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Looking across the lawn at St. Kate’s towards the Visual Arts Building and Mendel Hall

In addition to teaching art history and visual culture, things are finally coming together on a variety of fronts. I’m editing my chapter on artist Kondō Kōichiro to submit for peer review (a long time coming!), I will be guest blogging at the Art History Teaching Resources this spring on digital cartography in the classroom, and I will be presenting the third, and possibly last, iteration of my arcade fighting games and gender project at the Popular Culture Association conference (this time strictly focused on Street Fighter II, Chun-Li, and fashion) before drafting it into an essay. Classes are also now set for Spring 2017. I will be teaching Art History: Ancient through Medieval and Global Japan: Art, Anime, and Visual Culture. It will be such a treat to teach Japanese visual culture again, and based on feedback I received at St. Olaf College, I’m looking forward to reinventing part of my approach to teaching it. All good things.

Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, 1897-1898. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

I also had the chance to visit the Special Collections here at St. Kate’s and take a look at some of the material hiding in the Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection. Imagine my surprise to find a Meiji-era copy of Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, edited by Captain Francis Brinkley and published by J. B. Millet circa 1897-1898. There are 10 volumes here at St. Kate’s. They contain original hand-colored photographs by Tamamura Kozaburo and a few flower colotypes by Ogawa Kazumasa. When Denise Bethel was describing this work, she said, “[It] may be the last great book to be illustrated with original photographs” (1991). Harvard has a brief write-up of their fine art edition of the work that is worth checking out if you are curious.

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The Smiling Book, 1896. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

In addition to this great find, we also have a copy of a crepe-paper book called The Smiling Book by Hasegawa Takejiro published in 1896. I’m fascinated by this work, and I think it would be fun to work more closely with it in the future. Otsuka Nanae has written a few articles on this work and other period publications which use the same images at the National Diet Library: here and here. I can’t help but think that this small crepe paper book is in conversation with research that I’ve done regarding late 19th and early 20th century practices of borrowing and re-appropriating images in Japan. The second page of the work mentions American author Lu Wheat, and I’m curious about the relationship between this female writer (who published The Third Daughter: A Story of Chinese Home Life in 1906 and Ah Moy: The Story of a Chinese Daughter in 1908), the female collector Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch, and the content/imagery of The Smiling Book. I hope I can get back soon!

I have also been to a wide range of exhibitions as of late. All I can say is that I’m continually impressed with the work being done here in the Twin Cities. Exhibitions alone warrant their own post, so I’ll leave you all with this page from The Smiling Book

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The Smiling Book, 1896. Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch collection, Archives and Special Collections, St. Catherine University.

 

New Appointment: Visiting Assistant Professor at St. Catherine University

St. Catherine University LogoI was waiting for my official appointment letter to come through before posting this, but beginning this fall, I will be a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m so thrilled to continue this journey in the Midwest, and to be working with the students of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences at St. Kate’s. After a wonderful year in Northfield at St. Olaf College, I’m curious what it will be like to experience city life once again. One thing is for sure — there are real benefits to teaching art history closer to the cultural center of action. It will also benefit my research to be closer to the libraries at the University of Minnesota.
I will be teaching four survey-level courses in art history and visual culture: Introduction to Art History: Ancient to Medieval, Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to Modern, Ways of Seeing, and Global Contemporary Art. I’m excited to bring a more global perspective to the team in Art and Art History, and encourage a more socially engaged kind of art history practice!

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