Monday Morning Muse: Bunraku Doll O-shichi

The following woodblock print of a bunraku doll by Japanese artist Hiratsuka Un’ichi joined the collection in 2010.


One of the most important artists of the sōsaku hanga movement, Hiratsuka Un’ichi was a successful teacher, author, and artist whose individual style and methods influenced many printmakers of the period. This work in particular is emblematic of his techniques and training, as it features traditional Japanese art forms—the bunraku doll and several ukiyo-e prints, including a kacho-ga by Andō Hiroshige, visible at left—rendered in large-scale with jagged, “sawtooth” lines. This style, typical of his output after 1935, was a result of his highly individual technique, which involved a flat knife and V-shaped chisel, in distinction to the curved scraper employed by traditional woodblock craftsmen, like Igami Bonkotsu, under whom he studied around 1915.

image source: Bunraku Doll O-shichi

From the Collection: Photographs by Wright Morris

Wright Morris was an American novelist, photographer, and essayist known for his portrayals of people and artifacts of the Great Plains, and for experimenting with narrative forms. (source)

The following photographs, donated to the Mead in 2013, appeared in Morris’s published “photo-texts” – pairings of his photographs with passages of his writing. The photographs aren’t meant to illustrate the text, and the text isn’t intended as a description for the photographs. Instead, the pairings are meant to enhance and expand the viewer’s own interpretation of each.

Dresser Drawer, near Norfolk, Nebraska2013-01-6“I looked at the odds and ends on the bureau, the pincushion lid on the cigar box, the faded Legion poppies, assorted pills, patent medicines. There was not a thing of beauty, a manmade loveliness, anywhere. A strange thing, for whatever it was I was feeling, at that moment, was what I expect a thing of beauty to make me feel. To take me out of my self, into the selves of other things. I’ve been in the habit, recently, of saying that if we could feel anything, very long, it would kill us, and that we get on by not even feeling ourselves. To keep that from happening we have this thing called embarrassment. That snaps it off, like an antisepsis, or we rely on our wives, or one of our friends, to take the pressure out of the room with a crack of some kind. That’s what I was about to do. For once in my life I didn’t, but as I had to do something I went into Ed’s room and opened the bureau drawer, and called, ‘Oh, Peg!’ When she came in I said–’Ed used to hunt. He used to go off for a day at a time, with a dog and a gun, up the river. When I was a kid there was still a wolf or two around here.’ I said that, then I closed the drawer, making it clear that we could mind his public business, but leave his private business alone.”

 Gano Grain Elevator, Western Kansas2013-01-1“Donaldson’s hitch bar would have to go. So would the split elm and the horse trough full of marbles, the old chain swing. Mr. Cole said the horses would soon go too. Cement paving would wear their hooves to the bone, he said. Willie said, for what did horses have shoes? Mr. Cole spit and said some day the paving would go right out of town. It would go to the east first, and then it would go to the west. He said when Willie had kids he’d bet their kids would ride it for miles. And when their kids had kids they’d ride it clear to Omaha. Willie rolled up his sleeve and felt in the horse trough for marbles. What makes you think, Willie said, that I’m goin’ in for kids?”

House in Winter, Eastern Nebraska2013-01-3“But they never get big enough to hold all the men that left them–the roads lead back, but the travel is still the other way.

I have here, said the man–some beautiful handmade flowers.
He picked one up from the top of the suit box, sniffed at it.
I have just forty-two cents, I said.
It’s a quarter, he said.
It’s worth forty-two, I said.
The lilies, he said, are worth a dollar.
I put my hand out for the quarter one but the man gave me the lily.
I want the other one, I said.
I’m giving you this one, he said.
I’ve only forty-two cents, I said.
I’m giving you this one, he said.
Now listen–I said.
I can give it too, he said.
Now listen here–I said.
I’m not a beggar, he said.
Of course not, I said, you’re in business.
It’s slow, he said, but it’s a business.
But business, I said is business–
I’m giving you this one, he said.
Well, thank you very much–I said.
I can give it too–he said, and walked away.”

To see more of Morris’s photographs and paired writings from the collection, click here.

From the Collection: Watercolor Paintings

Today we’re sharing a random assortment of beautiful watercolor paintings from the collection by artists from around the world:

2001_299The Queen of Spades by Russian artist Mstislav Valerianovich Dobuzhinskii (Doboujinsky), 1931

1961-138Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane by British artist Edward Lear, 1858

1979-104Garden Scene by French artist Horace Castelli, 1860

1977-45Village Scene by German artist Gerhardt Wilhelm von Reutern, July 1827

1953-17Avignon by American artist Ogden M. Pleissner

image sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5


Monday Morning Muse: Empress Octacilia

This ancient marble sculpture of Roman Empress Octacilia from the 3rd century A.D. joined the Mead’s collection in 1941.


“Marcia Otacilia Severa or Otacilia Severa was the Empress of Rome and wife of Emperor Marcus Julius Philippus, or Philip the Arab, who reigned over the Roman Empire from 244 to 249. Severa and Philip are generally considered as the first Christian imperial couple, because during their reign the persecutions of Christians had ceased and the couple had become tolerant towards Christianism. It was through her intervention, for instance, that Bishop and Saint Babylas of Antioch was saved from persecution.” (source)

image source: Empress Octacilia



Monday Morning Muse: She’s Got the Point

This charcoal drawing by American artist John Sloan joined the collection in 1954.


John Sloan first studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then with Robert Henri, before becoming an illustrator for Philadelphia newspapers. He moved to New York in 1902 where he taught at the Art Students League and was affiliated with The Eight. In 1910 he joined the socialist party, and was the art editor of a radical journal called The Masses. Like his colleagues, Sloan was concerned with social issues as he chronicled life in New York. He was particularly interested in the women’s suffragette movement as this lively drawing, “She’s Got the Point,” demonstrates. In this charcoal, Sloan recounts a particularly stirring moment at a rally held by the Women’s Suffragette Party. The image appeared in the October 1913 issue of The Masses.

The Mead holds many works by Sloan, including the following “Self-Portrait” and “Robert Henri Painting a Portrait.”



image sources: 1 / 2 / 3

From The Collection: Feejee Mermaid


Manufactured since the seventeenth century from desiccated ape, orangutan, and fish components by tricksters who passed them off as real dried specimens, Feejee mermaids gained notoriety in the nineteenth century. One celebrated example took London by storm in 1822, before P. T. Barnum acquired it in 1842 and toured it first in the northeastern, and later in the southern, United States.

In his accompanying pamphlet A Short History of Mermaids, Barnum capitalized on the popularity of mermaid-type exhibitions in fairs, circuses, and sideshows, which sometimes featured people afflicted with sirenomelia (a congenital condition that fuses the legs) or dugong (aquatic South Pacific mammals related to manatees). Spectators who purchased tickets to any such live or preserved mermaid display must have been surprised by the exhibits’ lack of resemblance to the bare-breasted beauties illustrated in the advertisements.

Long after science disproved the possibility of such a fish-mammal hybrid, the compelling figure of the Feejee mermaid has survived in the popular imagination, most recently in the television series The X-Files and in the 2003 horror film House of 1000 Corpses. The Mead’s Feejee mermaid (pictured here) was featured in an episode of Mysteries at the Museum on the Travel Channel.


image source: Feejee Mermaid

Monday Morning Muse: Mermaid

This woodblock print by Japanese artist Tejima Keizaburō joined the collection in 2010.


Tejima Keizaburō was born and educated in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands. Both in Japan and internationally, he is a beloved author and illustrator of children’s books, including “Owl Lake,” “Fox’s Dream,” and “Woodpecker Forest.” His woodcut technique lends itself to the rustic natural settings of the stories, all of which take place in the wilds of Hokkaido and feature animals as their protagonists. With this print, Tejima has turned his eye and chisel to the figure of a mermaid, making it unusual for his oeuvre. He possibly drew inspiration for this print from Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid,” in light of the tale’s popularity in Japan and the pose of the central figure, which is reminiscent of the famous statue by Edvard Eriksen in Copenhagen’s harbor.

image source: Mermaid (edition 6/50)