Japanese items to be topic of ‘Conversations’

Washburn University

TOPEKA — An informal discussion on the Japanese color prints, sword guards and pen and ink containers in the “Few of Our Favorite Things” exhibition will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20, at the Mulvane Art Museum, Washburn University. No admission is charged and the public is welcome to attend this “Conversations: Connecting Art to Our Lives” gallery talk.

Michael Hager, preparator at the Mulvane and art department faculty member, will facilitate the discussion along with special guests Hiroko Komiya and Nobuko Folmsbee.

The items to be examined were donated by Robert F. W. Whitcomb and will be on display in the second floor north gallery through Jan. 17, 2010.

A 1915 graduate of Washburn, Whitcomb spent many years in Japan as a branch officer for a New York bank. During his time there he became interested in Japanese prints, tsubas (sword guards) and yatates (pen and ink containers). Whitcomb collected figure prints from the 1730s-1830s, landscape; genre and Surimono from 1810-50; and prints showing foreigners in Japan from 1860-80.

The primary purpose of a tsuba is to balance a sword and prevent the hand from sliding down the blade. Early tsubas were made of leather in an iron or wooden frame which was sometimes lacquered for strength and stability. Later in the Muromachi period (1392-1572), when tsuba became an industry separate from sword manufacture, the iron tsuba evolved. As time and skills progressed the tsuba evolved into works of art with engravings and piercework.

Yatate are small portable writing sets which provided a carrying box for the ink cotton, a shaft for a brush and possibly a letter opener. Japanese writing was traditionally done using the usual writing set comprised of an inking stone, a small stick of solid ink (which is turned to liquid, usable inkby grinding on the inking stone and watering) and brushes. During the Kamakura era (1185-1333), the idea of ink-saturated cotton appeared. By touching the cotton with a brush, one made it ready to write and by enclosing the cotton in a little box, it was possible to carry the set around without risk of spilling ink.

Whitcomb donated his collections to the Mulvane Art Museum in 1968 and 1975 in honor of Frances Davis Whittemore, director of the Washburn art department from 1912-29.

Museum and ArtLab hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. No admission is charged. The museum is closed major holidays.

The Mulvane Art Museum is located on the Washburn University campus at 17th and Jewell Streets, adjacent to White Concert Hall. For additional information, call 785-670-1124, e-mail [email protected], or go to www.washburn.edu/mulvane/.