Mount Fuji woodblock inspirations


POSTED: Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Honolulu Academy of Arts' “;Hokusai's Summit: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”; shows to best advantage the museum's capability of making lemonade out of lemons.

In the face of lean economic times, the academy has had to cut back, relying on its permanent collections to fill galleries rather than bringing in costly shows. The Hokusai exhibit is a stellar example of the staff's skill at employing its resources, and the caliber of those resources, as well.





        » On exhibit: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 3

» Place: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St.


» Admission: $10; $5 students, seniors and military; free for children 12 and younger


» Call: 532-8700




The academy possesses more than 500 woodblock prints by Katsushika Hokusai—a gift from the late novelist James Michener—and it's one of the best collections worldwide. It includes a rare, complete set of the renowned “;Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”; series, which includes the famous “;Great Wave Off Kanagawa.”;

The exhibit is organized into several sections for a comprehensive take on the artistic and cultural relevance of Hokusai's Mount Fuji work. These include an introduction to Mount Fuji that features a rare woodblock-printed map of the mountain, assembled into a 3-D model; an overview of Hokusai works that shows their evolution and the influence of Western art; and the “;Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.”; There's also a collection of work by Ando Hiroshige, a contemporary of Hokusai who also focused on Mount Fuji.

One section interspersed in the main gallery, for the first time in an academy exhibit, is an educational segment. Displays include a series of woodblocks and a folding book that illustrates the steps of printmaking; interactive stamp stations that allow visitors to create a three-color print; and a desk equipped with paper and pen, inviting visitors to write haiku about Mount Fuji. A scroll nearby displays the poems.

“;Historically, educational components were separate from the exhibit (and housed) in the Museum Learning Center,”; said Shawn Eichman, curator of Asian art. “;We've been talking for a long time about incorporating education in the main galleries because people don't ... usually go from the exhibit to the learning center, or they go to the learning center but not to the exhibit.”;

Eichman says it was a plus to be working with an in-house collection while incorporating the educational component.

“;The Asian department and Museum Learning Center worked very closely together for several months. Since the prints are a permanent collection here, we were able to study it and take our time to develop (ideas),”; he says. “;It helped that we were exhibiting Japanese woodblock prints. The education department already has a deep knowledge about them and (educational) resources available.”;

The woodblocks and folding book, for instance, were collected over the years. And assistant curator of education Aaron Padilla designed the stamps himself, basing them on a famous print.

“;Having an interactive component in the gallery has changed the way people are viewing the artwork,”; says Padilla. “;Traditionally, the galleries have been a lot more quiet. People internalize; they're passive and silent. At this show, people are staying longer and interacting with each other. It's something new and exciting for us.”;

PADILLA SAID the Hokusai exhibit also attracted to the museum visitors who normally don't attend art exhibits.

“;It really connects with the Japanese community here. They want to see their heritage, so it was a slam dunk to present activities to engage people in a different way.”;

Eichman says that while the haiku activity was designed to encourage visitors to spend more time viewing the art, it has also been a particular source of fun for academy staff.

“;It's been an endless struggle to get people to look at art for extended periods. One study says that people spend 15 to 20 seconds viewing any one work of art. We thought having visitors write poems inspired by the prints would (address) that,”; he says.

“;It's been a lot of fun to read; there's everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. It's marvelous to see the range of responses. A lot of staff have contributed their own poems, so we've gotten to know each other better through the haiku.”;