Making Your Mark: Visiting Artists Share Rare Art Form with UO Students

Fri, 07/14/2023 - 10:10am

This May, Japanese Studies Librarian Kevin McDowell, Japanese Cataloger and Metadata Technician Kumiko McDowell, Japanese Literature Associate Professor Glynne Walley, the Maude I. Kerns Associate Professor of Japanese Art Akiko Walley, and Business and Entrepreneurship Librarian Genifer Snipes collaborated to bring artists to campus for a week of workshops, class visits, and guest lectures.

The collaboration between librarians and faculty members introduced students as well as faculty and community members to the art of nōsatsu (or senjafuda) printmaking, a practice dating back to the late 18th century. Typically, as described by the National Saturday Club here, this sort of “devotional graffiti” included a small design and a person’s name. Visitors to shrines, temples, and other sacred places would paste them on a wall, gatepost, or entryway as a votive offering to ask for a prayer or to show they had visited.

Over time aficionados formed groups (nōsatsu-kai) that met regularly in the city of Edo, later Tokyo, to exchange slips. For the exchange meetings, individual members of the groups commissioned artisans to produce woodblock printed slips on a particular theme that they then exchanged with other members of the group. By the middle of the 19th century, these exchange slips (kōkanfuda) were collected as miniature masterpieces of woodblock printed art. Senjafuda depict a dizzying variety of themes—one of which was yōkai or Japanese ghosts and monsters—"with meticulous craftsmanship and vivid, stylish graphic design,” according to this Mellon Foundation-funded digital exhibition led by Glynne Walley, UO Libraries, and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

The University of Oregon holds the only known collection of Japanese shrine and temple votive slips in North America, including the Gertrude Bass Warner Collection of Japanese Votive Slips, 1850s to 1930s. As described in this Special Collections blog post by Kevin McDowell, the UO’s “nōsatsu collection represents a significant and important source of primary materials from a time when Japan was in the process of moving into modernity, even as the nōsatsu images look back with a strong sense of nostalgia to traditional Edo period cultural motifs and crafts.”

Students in Charlene Liu's Advanced Printmaking class learn how to make nōsatsu.
Students in Professor Charlene Liu's Advanced Printmaking class learn from visiting artists how to make nōsatsu.

School of Art + Design Professor Charlene Liu led her ARTR 446/556 Advanced Printmaking class through a hands-on workshop on traditional senjafuda printmaking techniques with visiting artists Keizaburo Matsuzaki, Ayumi Suda, and Saeko Nagai on May 22. The artists walked students through the traditional process of senjafuda printmaking. Following the demonstration, students had the opportunity to try the art form themselves and make their own designs on woodblocks created especially for the class. Liu then opened the floor for questions. Students were free to ask anything and everything about printmaking, Japanese artists, and Japanese history.

Kevin McDowell shared that the students “participated enthusiastically during the Q and A session and asked some really interesting questions about printmaking including why they chose woodblock printing and what kind of training they needed to do to become proficient printmakers.”

Some of the students' work after their introduction to the wood block technique.
Some of the students' work after their introduction to the wood block technique.

On Tuesday, May 23, the printmakers headed to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art where they viewed individual senjafuda prints. The artisans were amazed at the skillful design of the prints from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Halfway through the week, the visiting artists gave a public demonstration of nōsatsu and senjafuda printing and carving at the Global Scholars Hall.

“About 90 people showed up to expand their knowledge of the process and history of this Japanese art form. The printmaking demonstration went perfectly, with enthusiastic and continuous participation in the Q and A format that ran through most of the demonstration,” Kevin McDowell said.

Printmaking demonstration at Global Scholars Hall
Visiting artists give demonstration at Global Scholars Hall.

To end the week, printmakers attended a private viewing of select albums from the UO Libraries’ collection in Special Collections and University Archives in Knight Library. Following this, they were able to join Associate Professor Glynne Walley’s class, JPN 410: Culture of Play, and view the select albums with undergraduate and graduate students, who were highly engaged and interactive with the visitors and the art.

Visiting artists give demonstration at Global Scholars Hall.
Visiting artists give demonstration at Global Scholars Hall.

The following organizations generously funded this visit and its related events: 

  • Gordon W. Gilkey Endowed Fund (Department of Art) 
  • Center for Asian and Pacific Studies 
  • Admiral David E. Jeremiah and Mrs. Connie Jeremiah Lecture Series
  • Yoko McClain Lecture Series in Japanese Studies


You can view much of this collection in Oregon Digital.

—By Kate Conley, Communications Specialist, UO Libraries