It was years, years, years ago in this newsletter
that I introduced Matsuzaki Keizaburo san, the printer who has been
giving me advice on printing techniques, but why haven't I also
introduced a carver ...?
As you all know, in the traditional printmaking
field, printing and carving are always done by separate people. 20th
century artist-type printmakers of course 'do it all' themselves,
from 'design' to 'sign', but members of that group of craftsmen still
living in the 18th century are not willing to spread themselves quite
so thinly. They do one thing, and one thing only, and they do it
well. Printers print, and carvers carve.
But over and above that simple statement of
difference, there is another thing that seems to differentiate
printers and carvers, and I suspect it has been so ever since Edo
times. Printers (as a group) seem to be gregarious, open, cheerful
fellows, always eager to talk about their work, willing to share
techniques, and interested in what their fellow workers are doing ...
Carvers (again, as a group) are quite different
people. Although each carver I have met has always been willing to
answer any particular question I pose, none of them have seemed
over-eager to share their knowledge. I do not think this is connected
in any way with my being a foreigner, but simply comes from the
history of their craft. Back in the 'old days', different schools of
carving existed, and each of these groups presumably considered their
particular way of carving superior to the others, and something that
should be 'protected'. Over the years they thus developed fairly
secretive habits, which persist even today, when any such feeling is
actually counterproductive to maintenance of traditions.
Another aspect of this (and one on which my
printer friends will disagree with me most vehemently!), is that
carving is quite a bit more difficult than printing. I have been told
that a standard printer's apprenticeship was about ten years, but
that carvers took up to fifteen years to 'earn their stripes'. Even a
young printer can produce quite attractive work (on simple projects),
but a young carver's handiwork is not so acceptable ... It takes many
years of training indeed before even 'simple' work can be carved
attractively. Carvers feel 'superior' to printers (at least David the
carver feels superior to David the printer!).
As printing requires much more physical strength
than carving, perhaps it attracts (or produces?) a different kind of
person. Am I wrong in seeing printers as 'jolly' and gregarious
workmen, and carvers as fairly 'solitary' and intense types?
Traditional lore has it that printers were at their best in their
40's and 50's, by which age they were well-trained, but before their
physical strength had started to give out. Carvers on the other hand,
could (and do) continue to put out excellent work right up until they
drop at the bench. And indeed, their last work would be among their
So why hasn't there been a 'Visit to a carver' in
this series yet? Simply because there haven't been any visits to
carvers yet! I did have a chance to visit Mr. Susumu Ito one day, but
that was at the request of a TV crew, and didn't allow much personal
communication. And I did 'drop in' unannounced on one of the other
older carvers one afternoon a few years ago, but he was quite busy, I
was perhaps not polite enough, and communication was not warm
But now I'm getting a bit desperate. I came to
Japan expressly for the purpose of spending time with these people!
Nearly nine years ago! When ... when am I going to get a chance to
sit down beside one of these men and watch him work? But they are all
very busy, and don't want to be disturbed. Perhaps they think I will
pester them with a million questions. But I won't, I promise! I just
want to sit ... and watch ... and listen ... And of course, I want to
absorb what I can of their skills.
The best among them are getting older year by year
... Am I selfish in wanting to 'steal' their secrets? Or perhaps I
haven't yet earned their respect?
Maybe this year will be my chance ...