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'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #59 - Spring 2005
Contents of this Issue:


Spring is here in Ome again ... and none too soon; it's been a cold winter here this time. Actually though, when talking to other people I hear that this past winter wasn't particularly cold. Perhaps as I get older it's just that I'm losing my tolerance for the cold? If that's the case, then I'd better get serious about getting this place properly insulated!

Of course we have an Exhibition Report in this issue, along with what will become a standard item in Hyakunin Issho - another David's Choice selection. Those of you who came to the recent exhibition have already seen these items, but I'd like to show them to a wider audience too.

And look at this photo ... an exclusive 'candid' photograph taken at the secret factory where the Hanga Treasure Chests are assembled! Yep - when the family was all gathered here in the short time before the exhibition began, I put them to work!

Exhibition Report

Set-up day for the very first exhibition I held - at the end of the first year of work on the Hyakunin Isshu series 16 years ago - was absolute chaos. I had been offered the free use of a small 'storefront' room not too far from my home in Hamura, and had gladly accepted. When I arrived early on opening day to set up the exhibit of the ten prints though, I found that the owner had 'forgotten' to prepare the room, and it was piled full of boxes, tables, and chairs - there was even a motorcycle sitting in the centre of the room, dripping oil onto the floor. You can imagine how I spent the next couple of hours, trying desperately to get the place ready before opening time at eleven o'clock!

Well this year there was no motorcycle, but it was just as much of a rush trying to get ready in time. The Kotsu Kaikan building doesn't allow access overnight, so there was only about 2 1/2 hours to get everything set up before 11 o'clock, but unlike that first exhibition, where I had done it all alone, this year there was plenty of help. Ten of us worked like beavers opening boxes, building displays, and pinning things up on the walls. Thank you so much to the friends who volunteered to come and help so early in the morning! We just made it in time - even one person less and we would have been late!

Looking through back issues of this newsletter at previous 'Exhibition Reports', I see that nearly every year recently I used a similar phrase: "... media attention was sparse this year ...". In the years when I was making the Hyakunin Isshu prints there was always plenty of media attention, but since the end of that large project the newspapers haven't generally found my exhibitions so newsworthy. (This has of course made me realize that it wasn't I who was 'special', but Hyakunin Isshu itself!)

This year was no different, and there were not many mentions in the press. But am I crying the blues? Not at all! The collectors 'came through' wonderfully again - passing on the exhibition information to friends and acquaintances - and we actually had the busiest show since the big one at the end of the poets' series six years ago.

The New Gallery ...

The move to the Kotsu Kaikan building - forced by the closure of the Gallery Takano in Shinjuku - has turned out very well. Although the amount of floor area is about the same, there is somewhat more wall space, and the fact that the area is divided into two rooms allows us to create different lighting effects and is also a benefit when the Gallery Talk is on; people are able to browse prints at the same time.

For this first exhibition at the new location, we basically used the same display design as previous years, but now that we have a 'feel' for the space, we'll be able to make the layout even more attractive for next time. Set-up volunteers, stand by!

Gallery Talk ...

Because the Kotsu Kaikan only rents their rooms on a one-week cycle starting Sunday, the Gallery Talk had to be on opening day this year. This meant that I had a very busy day indeed: an early start for the set-up, then the Gallery Talk, both on what is traditionally our most crowded day of the week. So I was a bit worried that I might be a bit too frazzled to do a good job. And after the less than stellar performance I gave in the previous two talks, I really wanted to hit a home run this time.

Well, I don't think my ball left the park, but it was a much better talk this year; I stayed a bit more relaxed, didn't jump around too much from idea to idea, and I don't think anybody fell asleep in their seat. One thing that helped to keep it a bit more interesting was input from the listeners: manga artist Mr. Reiji Yamada brought a proof sheet from a comic book story on me that he was preparing for publication, Mrs. Shizuko Matsuyama showed us a calligraphy scroll she had made using one of my prints, and Mr. Nobuaki Sato brought a fat album he had put together containing new year cards and letters I had sent him over the years. I should encourage more of this participation - perhaps for next year's Gallery Talk all I will have to do will be introduce people for a 'Show & Tell'!

The New Series ...

There is actually a bit of a contradiction inherent in each of my exhibitions; ostensibly they are for the purpose of displaying the print series that has just been completed - this year was of course the 'Beauties of Four Seasons' - but for me, those are 'done' and I don't have too much interest in them any more ... what I mostly want to talk to people about is always the upcoming print series - in this case the 'Hanga Treasure Chest'.

Well, I had my chance; I had a sample on display, and was gratified to find that the idea of receiving a fresh print every two weeks was of interest to plenty of the attendees. Orders were good, and this year too, it looks like there will be enough collectors to support my work. Many people expressed concern that I was setting up an unbearable schedule for myself, but I have calculated it carefully and think that it should be doable. And as I write this - with six of the prints having been sent out - I find that the frequent deadlines are indeed helping to keep me focussed on the work. (As if I needed any help with that!)

All in all, it was a very good show this year, and I am looking forward to a long and productive relationship with the Kotsu Kaikan. I had 12 years in a row at the Gallery Takano ... it'll be interesting to see what kind of 'streak' I can put together at this new location ...See you there next year!

David's Choice

Here are a couple more items from this year's David's Choice corner at the exhibition...

  • Title: Kabuki-za Soga Juban 3-piece cutting set
  • Date: Meiji 33 (1900)
  • Publisher: Tokyo Ryokodo
  • Acquired: purchased from Jimbocho (Kanda) dealer
  • Cost: 31,500 yen (silly to pay that much, but I wanted it for this exhibition!)

When I first saw one of these old prints designed for cutting up and gluing into a three-dimensional assembly, I was quite startled; not only was it a bit of a shock to find that the same kind of toy that I had played with as a child was here in Japan, but that it had been here so long ago!

I find it difficult now to remember much about the toys of this type that I had (it was a long time ago!); I think there was an old castle that my brother and I assembled, with an accompanying collection of knights in armor ... This one represents a scene from the play Soga Juban acted at the Kabuki-Za theatre, and from all appearances, it seems that Japanese kids were interested in just the same things we were - drama and violent action!

I thought it would be interesting for visitors to this exhibition to see just what the toy looked like when assembled, but I didn't have much time for such 'play'. Luckily though, my parents and brother visited from overseas to help me with this year's exhibition, so I made a colour copy of the original prints, and asked them to cut it up and glue it together for us. Hardly what they expected to be doing on a trip to Japan, I'm sure!

  • Type: 'Pochi Bukuro' (small envelopes)
  • Date: Meiji 31 (1898)

Perhaps some people think that such trivial items as these envelopes don't belong in an 'exhibition' of woodblock prints, but I disagree! In fact, the existence of things like this is one of the main reasons for making these David's Choice selections - I want to show not just how woodblock printmaking played a part of the daily life of people in this country back in the 'old days', but how tastefully and beautifully it did so!

Pochi bukuro - little envelopes - were most commonly used for enclosing money. In Japan, custom dictates that money being presented must be wrapped, so shops must have carried a huge selection of such envelopes. For me, one of the main attractions of little items like this is the amazement I feel at the way that the printers were able to maintain such a high standard. After all, the work really can be mindless - making batches of woodblock prints in quantities of thousands is a kind of 'robotic' work - yet just look at the delicacy! I think that in years to come - and perhaps not so far off! - prints like this will be considered museum pieces. And if I had my way (and the resources for it!), there would be a 'David's Choice Museum' open right now!


More David's Choice selections next time!

At Random

Some small snippets ... nothing worth a special story by itself!


Everybody knows by now about my switch from the Gallery Shinjuku Takano over to the new location at the Kotsu Kaikan in Yurakucho, caused by the impending closure of the Takano gallery. As Japanese readers know, closings and openings frequently happen in spring and so it was with Takano; their doors closed for good at the end of March. Sadako and I visited Amano-san, the long-time manager of the gallery, to say good-bye and to wish him well in his next job with the company. We also had something else in mind during our visit - to arrange to pick up some of the no longer needed gallery furniture. Many of the display stands, tables and stools were going to be discarded, and Amano-san was happy to see that we were interested in using them.

So long-time visitors to my exhibitions may feel just a bit of deja vu at next year's show - tables and stools in the coffee corner, flower stands ... for us at least, it's going to feel like home! Thank you Amano-san!


I've been here in my Ome home for more than four years now, and during that time have come to learn something about the 'wildlife' that passes my windows over the course of a year. (Although truth to tell, most of it passes by at night of course, so I don't get to see much, just hear the rustling in the undergrowth ...). There are some tanuki living nearby; some quite large and fat snakes pass by moving up the river occasionally; there are any number of small creatures near the river - crabs, etc. - and once when I was down in the workroom very early one morning, a fox bounded by just outside! But the other day I had the best experience yet. I was on the stairs going down from the main level of the house when the noise of my approach startled something in the basement (I had left the outer door open for fresh air). As I entered the room I got a glimpse of a tawny shape bounding out the door, and when I myself got to the door looked up to see a Japanese Macaque hanging from a nearby branch staring down at me! Wow! Monkeys in my backyard!

I had no way to get a photo of him, but saw later that afternoon that he must have been exploring outside my workroom, because his dirty hand prints were all over one of the windows ... I had better get a strong screen door I think; I don't want paw prints on the prints!


Speaking of the workroom, I haven't done much (any!) construction work down there over the past half-year or so, but can report that the insulation work we did last summer did make quite a difference once winter came around. Sadako brought over a tiny electric heater, and that little unit was all that was needed to keep the room useable through even the coldest time.

Come next winter, by which time I'll (hopefully) have the ceiling insulated, it should be the toastiest room in the entire building!


Can you remember the last time I brought you an update on what my two girls are up to? I certainly can't; it's been so long! I haven't seen them in quite a while now, as they are both very busy with their own activities. Himi is now 22 and is enjoying her work on Caribbean cruise ships. She works intensively for seven or eight months at a stretch, takes a couple of months off, then goes back for another session. On one of her earlier cruises she met a 'certain' young man, and it seems that they now plan their cruise assignments to make sure that they are always on the same ship!

Fumi is just turning 20, which means that both of the girls are now legally adults in both of their home countries. Instead of heading out to find work like her sister, Fumi has gone the other way, to hit the books; she is now nearing the end of her second year of college studies. We were joking that this already makes her the most highly educated member of the Bull family ever, but I'm sure she won't stop there! And not only is she studying harder than I ever did, but she plays harder too, snow boarding most weekends with her friends.

Don't know when I'll be seeing them next, but it's enough to know that they are happy, healthy, and working hard!

Sadako's Corner

The other day I found a hole in one of my new socks. As they were very comfortable to wear I pulled out a needle to darn them. A few days later I found a tiny frayed spot on the back of a newly washed sweater. This sweater has many woven layers of thin yarn and is so comfortable that I have been wearing it daily many years. I carefully mended it by picking at the tiny threads and when it was done felt as though I gained something special.

Doing this kind of handiwork is a bit unusual for me and it brought to mind some events from a long time ago. When I was a small child my grandmother often did such work while sitting in the sunshine; it was most commonly socks with holes that she mended. When she had finished darning one she would raise it in the sunshine and say cheerfully, "This one is fixed and perfect for use!" In the evening she returned them to their owners only to have them tossed back at her with some comment such as "patched socks can't be worn any longer!" She would mumble "we shouldn't waste things ...", and quietly put them in her own drawer. Sometimes I would notice strange patterns on her feet as she shuffled along - socks meant for men or young ladies. When she saw that I had noticed this she just smiled at me.

There must have been a time when wearing patched clothes was not unusual at all, but when I was an elementary school student those days were in the past, and you seldom saw a child in patches. I have only one memory of having to wear patched clothes. I had a pleated skirt with suspenders - very practical for a fast growing child. When such a skirt is brand new, it is worn with the waist hitched quite high on the chest, and as the child grows the buttons can be adjusted so that the skirt moves down, with the hem remaining always just above the knee. I hated having the waist so high, and intensely hoped that the skirt would be ruined in one way or another.

As it happened, I had an accident on the very day that I first went to school in it. I snagged the skirt on a nail that must have been sticking out from a chair or desk, and tore a hole in the fabric. It seems that it must have been an expensive skirt because my mother, after awkwardly mending the tear, told me to keep wearing it because the mend didn't show much. The following day I reluctantly went to school in the same skirt hiding the mended place in my hand but soon after I came home I took it off and pushed it deep into my closet. I never saw it again!

Almost a half century has passed since then and fashion trends have changed dramatically. It seems that torn jeans are very cool now, and I see many such items on display, although most of the holes are factory made! Now I have to admit, David had been wearing such 'cool' jeans for many years - the cuffs were worn and ragged and the knees open like wolves' mouths - but he didn't mind and continued to walk around in them in public. One day there was quite a big discussion between the two of us as to whether wearing such jeans was embarrassing or not, but we really couldn't find a common ground on the issue.

Some time after that we were visiting the US countryside, and there, such a discussion seemed pointless. All around us people were wearing tattered and patched jeans, some with so many layered patches it was difficult to make out the original shape, and yet ... they looked so nice in such clothes. I carelessly said "That's cool!" Dave didn't miss this chance and reacted instantly with "See, I told you! Those jeans you threw away could have been worn much longer!"

Well, you are right, you win! Since then I mend his jeans ... sometimes.


As I mentioned, my parents and brother came over this January to help with the exhibition preparation. (My two daughters and my sister didn't make it - they were all too busy with real work!)

My father and brother had been looking forward to the trip to my place as a kind of excuse for spending some 'quality time' together; many years ago they worked together on some home renovations, and they thought that my workshop construction project would provide an opportunity for them to do some more work of that type together. Their plans had to change a bit though, as there was just so much print-project related work waiting to be done that they never got a chance to pick up a hammer!

As you can see by the photo on the front page, the three of them - working together with Sadako - assembled all the Treasure Chest cases. The blue cases arrived from the case maker less than one week before the exhibition started, the acrylic display stands had arrived a few days earlier, and once all the parts were ready, the work began - cutting strips of double-sided tape, applying these to the acrylic panels, mounting them securely into the cases, inserting the first print into the stand, and then carefully wrapping and packing everything into boxes for shipping.

But did you see where the four of them are sitting? Yes, around my hori-kotatsu, the only warm place in this entire four-story building! A few days before they arrived, I arranged for a special 'hot carpet' to also be installed in that room - one with a large hole cut out of the centre for everybody's feet to dangle through into the space under the table.

So now they know what Japanese hori-kotatsu-raifu is like, although instead of the traditional bowl of mandarin oranges on top of the table, it was work, work, work!

I know they enjoyed their time here, but I think that for sure, next time they come it'll be at a different time of year - one that is warmer, and one when there is no work waiting for them!