Surimono, privately published woodblock prints, comprise one of the most elegant and literary genres of Japanese printmaking traditions. Commissioned by poetry clubs, typically as gifts in celebration of the lunar New Year, surimono resulted from a unique collaboration of poets, artists, calligraphers, and printing houses. Clever integrations of text and image were combined with the most advanced printing techniques to produce deluxe presentation sheets for a sophisticated and highly literate audience.
The superb collection of Japanese poetry prints formed by Joanna Haab Schoff (Cornell Class of 1955) had its roots in the 1950s when Joanna and her husband, James Stanley Schoff (Cornell Class of 1955), lived in Japan and began to learn about and admire Japanese art. After returning to the US, they first collected Toulouse-Lautrec prints and were led by the Japanese influence on late nineteenth-century French art to seek out Japanese woodblock prints. The elegance and technical sophistication of surimono, along with the literary wit conveyed, especially appealed to Joanna, and her passionate collecting of surimono was underway. In 2000 forty-six surimono from the Schoff collection were exhibited in Tokyo at the Ota Museum of Art and published in an accompanying catalogue, Jewels of Japanese Printmaking: Surimono of the Bunka-Bunsei Era 1804–1830, by foremost surimono experts Joan Mirviss and John Carpenter. Since then the collection has grown substantially. This exhibition presents over seventy prints dating from the pinnacle of surimono production, in the early nineteenth century.
The exhibition is organized by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and guest-curated by Daniel McKee, Cornell PhD candidate in Japanese language and literature, nearing completion of his dissertation on surimono. He wrote the accompanying exhibition catalogue. We are grateful to him for his enthusiasm, research, and expertise, and to Kyoko Selden, Cornell Senior Lecturer in Asian Studies, for working closely with Dan on the poetry translations. Joan Mirviss took a keen interest in this project from its inception, and provided wise counsel and advice at every stage. She also connected us to Fumiko Kobayashi, Hosei University, whose specialized expertise in kyoka poetry further refined the translations and interpretations.
Organizing this exhibition has been a rewarding, educational experience, thanks above all to the generosity of Joanna Schoff, who initiated this project and lent her exquisite treasures for the enjoyment of our visitors.
Chief Curator and Curator of Asian Art