The Home Coming
color woodblock print on tissue-thin paper, signed in pencil on the bottom margin, copyright 00 [sic] by Bertha Lum, no. 77, self-carved, self-printed, ca. 1905
9 1/2 by 3 3/4 in., 24 by 9.4 cm
Bertha Boynton Bull was born in Tipton, Iowa in May 1869. Her father was a lawyer but both her parents were amateur artists. In 1895, Bertha enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago in the design department, which she supplemented with classes at the Holme School of Illustration, followed by several years studying stained glass design with Anne Weston. In 1903, she married a prominent lawyer in Minneapolis, Burt Francis Lum. The newlyweds went to Japan on their honeymoon. Although Lum had little predisposition towards Japan and woodblock prints, she nevertheless searched for woodblock carving tools on behalf of a friend from the institute and was dismayed to discover the scarcity of woodblock print craftsmen. During her lasat week in Japan, Lum finally found a reproduction studio and shop and managed to glean enough information from her one-hour visit to pique her interest and get her started.
Upon her return to Minneapolis, Lum managed to produce at least nine woodblock print designs on her own, including this evocative work. She was likely aided in her efforts by recent publications on woodblock printing, such as T. Tokuno's Japanese Wood-Cutting and Wood-Cut Printing (Smithsonian, 1892), or even more certainly, Arthur Wesley Dow's 1899 arts manual, Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers.
Although Lum's early prints were highly simplified riffs on ukiyo-e classics, the results are strikingly effective, and as in this case, lyrical. With this design, Lum combines visual references from varying sources. The title, The Home Coming, and the silhouetted descending geese suggest the poetic image of Returning Geese at Katada, a theme from the classic landscape grouping, Eight Views of Omi. While the cropped close perspective of the arched bridge in the background seems to have been lifted directly from a sketch inspired by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) in Artistic Japan, published by Seigfried Bing (1838-1905) in May 1888. Bing's illustration alludes to Hiroshige's print, Kyobashi Bridge, Bamboo Yards from the One Hundred Famous Views of Edo series, an image which was also referenced by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) in his 1871-72 paintings, Blue and Silver: Screen with Old Battersea Bridge, and Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge.
S. Bing, Artistic Japan, No. 1 May 1888, p. 5 (bridge sketch)
Julia Meech & Gabriel P. Weisberg, Japonisme Comes to America: The Impact on the Graphic Arts 1876-1925, 1990, pp. 130-131, no. 91 (The Homecoming) and no. 92 (Artistic Japan I, No. 1, June 1888)
Mary Evans O'Keefe Gravalos & Carol Pulin, American Printmakers: Bertha Lum, 1991, illus. p. 33, cat. 6 (color illus.)
(inv. no. 10-5111)
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