Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Exploring Chirimen-bon in Yokohama

I am incredibly thankful for having been invited to give a paper by Mayako Murai at Kanagawa University’s symposium “ちりめん本と女性の文化” (Chirimen-bon and Girl’s Culture), which celebrated the opening of an exhibition of Japanese crepe-paper books in their library. The trip was a whirlwind (I stayed for 5 nights in Yokohama because of my teaching duties here), but I’m grateful for the chance to travel and meet new colleagues who are interested in these quaint, but fascinating works of material culture. I was also introduced to Nanae Otsuka, a librarian who is retired from the National Diet Library, who was an amazing guide and a fast friend.

Me and Otsuka-san at the National Children’s Library in Ueno.

On my first full day in Yokohama, I took the train into Tokyo to meet up with Murai and Otsuka. Together we explored the National Diet Library on a tour with Librarian Yokota Shihoko, who was truly knowledgable about the resources and the space. It was fortuitous timing, because the library was hosting a memorial exhibition featuring some of their rare printed works! I was shocked at the architecture of the building, which was a particular issue during the 2011 earthquake. When we entered the space, we all wore “booties” on our feet to protect the surfaces. It was great to see how their institution processed material, and I was even shocked to learn about the amount of manga they had on their shelves — a true resource for any scholar of popular culture! When Murai left, Otsuka and I ate some delicious eel before making our way to the National Children’s Library in Ueno. It was my first time there, and the building was fascinating. In a nutshell, it was constructed in two halves and you could see the Meiji architecture coexisting with later Showa and Heisei additions. Later, we wandered the streets to find a paper shop that created their own chirimen (crepe paper) and to a historic tofu restaurant that I will not soon forget. I owe Otsuka many thanks. Wandering around with her was a great way to orient myself back in Tokyo — it has been some time, since I avoided it on my last venture to Japan.

On the day of the exhibition, I met up with Otsuka and we made our way over to Kanagawa University. She gave attendees a personalized tour of the space. Not only was I able to see various examples of chirimen-bon in person, but I was also able to learn more about the process and meet others interested in the books, from scholars to collectors. My own presentation dealt with the connoisseurship of these books by Western women who were friends with publisher Hasegawa Takejiro. I also discussed Minnesota artist, Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch, whose family donated her copy of The Smiling Book to St. Catherine University. It was a rare chance for me to see our book in conversation with works existing in Japan, and listening to Otsuka’s paper made me realize that there are new avenues that I need to pursue as I continue this work.

I had very little downtime during the trip, but I did find a day to visit the garden at Sankeien. The site is interesting because many historical buildings from other places have been relocated here. But it was peaceful to walk around on a beautiful autumn day. It was amazing to me that the leaves had not yet changed in November. They happened to be having a flower show on the day I was there. I also explored Yokohama’s Chinatown with Otsuka and even went on a ferry ride with her around Yokohama Bay.

The trip was quick, but certainly memorable. I am excited and even more energized to keep moving along this path. Many thanks to all of the amazing people I met on my trip (especially Murai, Otsuka, and Yokota).

Presentation at the 2nd Annual Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium

Very happy to be presenting some brand new work on Saturday, April 1 at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) for the 2nd Annual Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium from 10am-3pm. The Art and Art History Department at St. Kate’s is a co-sponsor of this event that showcases the current research of local and regional scholars of art history. This will be my second time presenting in the company of these amazing scholars. The event is free and open to the public, so if you are local it might be a fun way to see what art historians in the greater metro area are doing. I’m slightly biased, but totally looking forward to a presentation by my former office mate from St. Olaf College, Christopher Tradowsky. Students currently taking my course on Global Japan: Art, Anime, and Visual Culture should take note of the presentation by Frenchy Lunning.

I was so excited that the student designer at MCAD used some of my archival photographs of The Smiling Book for the symposium poster. Some readers might recall me writing about this discovery on this blog a few months ago. My presentation titled “The Texture of Crepe: Western Women and the Conoisseurship of Japanese Crepe Paper Books (chirimenbon)” will be a meditation on the value of digging locally and the medium of crepe paper in Japan as it pertains to the role of Western women in collecting and connoisseurship. This work is very new to me, and the first project in a while that doesn’t deal with race and representation in Japan. However, it does stick with the timeline of my dissertation (late 19th century).

Can’t wait!

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.

 

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