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Overseas Members and their Print Show Experiences

Overseas Members and their Print Show Experiences

Of the 75 or so Overseas Members listed at the back of the CWAJ Directory, there are many who have contributed significantly to the Print Show, in Tokyo, beyond, and much further afield. Some of these individuals (Patty Collins, Marilyn Gosling and Lindy Kerr) have already been highlighted in the monthly spotlight on Overseas Members – and others will soon make an appearance (Laurel Dove, Joanne Fallon and Pat McDonald-Scott). This month we have asked a handful of the many others who have been involved to write a little about their experiences while in Tokyo, and their continuing interest in Japanese print art and the Print Show. All of us in the Overseas Member community continue to be grateful for the many and varied benefits of our years as CWAJ members in Tokyo.

Nancy DiCicco, lived in Tokyo 1985-1991, now in Sarasota, Florida
Blessings by Shinoda Toko

Moving to Japan in the mid-1980s as a family with three teenage sons was something we anticipated with great excitement as all of our prior family travels had been in the US and Europe.  We arrived in Tokyo loaded with our “must have” items including two cats.  The boys settled quickly into ASIJ and my husband immersed himself at work.

What was I to do, I asked myself?

As a floral enthusiast, I began taking weekly Ikebana lessons.  Now, almost 40 years later, this remains a wonderful creative outlet for me as I continue taking classes as a member of Ikebana International in Sarasota, Florida.  Surprisingly, fellow CWAJ member Margaret Boehm, with whom I shared a sensei in Tokyo, is also a member of the Sarasota chapter.

Once engaged with Ikebana, a friend from the US invited me to become a CWAJ member.  While attending the monthly luncheons and meeting incredibly talented women from all over the globe, I realized what an opportunity it was to be part of such a worthy organization. During my first summer in Japan, I volunteered to teach English pronunciation for a week in Beppu, Kyushu, with another CWAJ member from Scotland.  It was an unforgettable and rewarding experience – and amusing for the students as we pronounced the same English words with our respective accents.

My husband and I attended our first CWAJ Print Show and purchased our first prints in the autumn of 1985.  I became intrigued with the process of printmaking and the various techniques, and soon I joined the team organizing the Print Show.  With Chisako Tsutsumi as my co-chair, first we took on responsibility for selecting the designs for the notecards and the calendar. The following year we took charge of show design and finally, in 1988, we co-chaired the 33rd Print Show. Chisako became a dear friend and her talents and connections to the artist community certainly helped make it a successful show. I couldn’t have done it without her. Sadly she died in the early ‘90s. She is much missed.

I collected many prints during the period of my involvement with the Print Show. Meeting the artists and learning about their work increased my appreciation for each work of art. As I look around our home in Sarasota with the many prints surrounding us, they bring back so many wonderful memories of our time in Japan. It is difficult to select a favorite, but the one that stands out and is currently the focal point above our dining table is one of the last prints we purchased before returning to the US.  This print is by Toko Shinoda and it has had a significant impact on our lives. The architect who designed our NY home overlooking Cayuga Lake used Shinoda-san’s print as an inspiration in creating a beautiful contemporary dwelling.

A few years after leaving Japan, I was fortunate to return to Tokyo for a CWAJ luncheon and had the opportunity to sit next to Shinoda-san.  I shared photos of our home and mentioned how much her print has enhanced our lives. Shinoda-san was a world-renowned artist and I believe her spirit lives on as so many people around the world enjoy her inspirational pieces.

In closing, I want to mention the title of her print, Blessing.  How appropriate, as I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to live in Japan, and by becoming a member of CWAJ I have been blessed with so many wonderful memories and lifelong friendships.

Hely Norton, lived in Tokyo 1981 – 1983, now in London, UK
Typhoon by Daniel Kelly

We moved to Tokyo in September 1981, and it was not long before I picked up a Tokyo Weekender and noticed an article about the CWAJ Print Show. Having been interested in art from early childhood, I went to the exhibition – and I never looked back. A few days later I got a call to ask if I was interested in working on the Print Show. I immediately accepted, not only because I was most impressed by the quality of the artwork, but also because I liked the aims and spirit of CWAJ.

Publicity was my first job, a bit of a learning curve as I was not at all familiar with Japanese prints and could not speak the language. My Japanese colleagues were wonderful; CWAJ’s idea of arranging for each of its non-Japanese members to work alongside a Japanese member is brilliant. Next, I worked on the catalogue which I changed from black and white to colour. And the following year, just as I got organized as curator – and had 700 prints at our house – we were moved on to Hong Kong.

Eventually we returned to London, and I decided this was the right time and place to do something about my love for contemporary Japanese prints. Encouraged by my CWAJ friends I opened a gallery and called it Hanga Ten. I really enjoyed rekindling my Japanese contacts: the artists and galleries I had known for such a long time, and of course my CWAJ friends. My husband always said that my main reason for opening a gallery was to give me an excuse to travel back to Japan. I ran the gallery for over 15 years, and I am delighted to be able to report that it is still going strong.

I am most grateful to CWAJ for having given me the opportunity to learn about and work with contemporary Japanese prints. This genre was hardly known in the United Kingdom, and I am very proud that Hanga Ten has helped so many people to learn more and to develop a committed interest.

For more information about Hanga Ten –

Liisa Wihman, lived in Tokyo 2016 – 2019, now in Stockholm, Sweden
New Moon and Sea-C by Iwami Reika

It is now two years since our family moved back to Stockholm from Tokyo, where we had spent the last three years of our eleven years abroad. Soon after our return, the world was struck by Covid-19. It has kept us all distanced from even our closest relatives, making our happy “expat years” seem both unreal and distant.

Still, this forced immobility has rendered our memories even more vivid and precious – the many trips to see cultural sights; the hikes and ski trips in a variety of magnificent landscapes; delicious meals from the different cuisines of Asia. So many experiences to be appreciated and to be thankful for, and as we all so well know today: not to be taken for granted. 

Personally, my time with CWAJ was one of the true highlights of our Tokyo years. Spending time with such a group of highly talented, knowledgeable and friendly women, always ready to share their experiences and to solve any problems in order to further a common cause, to learn something new, or to hike together in yet another beautiful Japanese landscape. I am very lucky to have been part of it all.

During my time with CWAJ, I mainly volunteered with the Print Show committee, first co-organizing an Associate Show, then as a co-chair and later director of the Print Show. But despite these “titles”, my contribution pales completely in comparison to the seasoned committee members, whose in-depth knowledge of hanga, the exhibiting artists and the often complex processes behind the show production became increasingly impressive to me as my understanding of the show grew each year.

What I probably miss most is our working days together – the unwrapping and returning days at the Yamato warehouse; the excitement of the Selection Day; all our meetings (with too many sweets…) at the CWAJ Centre and the Tokyo Women’s Plaza; setting-up days at the Hillside Forum in Daikanyama; the long and busy exhibition days – and then, taking down the show together, already nostalgic for what had been.

During the two last years, the pandemic has erased most of these activities. However, CWAJ and the Print Show Committee have risen to the challenge and showed their true capabilities: despite considerable uncertainty, the exhibition was successfully moved online. For the first time, many overseas members were able to participate in the work, and the show reached an international audience that had not been able to enjoy the show earlier. It has been so impressive to see this extraordinary progress.

This year, I’ve been busy studying for the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London  Postgraduate Diploma in Asian Arts, and have been happy to “be back in Asia” through my studies. During the Japanese modern art lectures, when many of our Print Show artists were presented, it felt like meeting old friends – Shinoda Toko, Yokoo Tadanori, Noda Tetsuya and others, some of whom I was lucky to meet while working with the show. My last essay was about the emergence of the Sōsaku hanga movement during the Taishō period and the early days of creative printmaking, which made me long even more to return to Japan for the CWAJ Print Show.

For the second year running, most of the overseas members will again be unable to travel to Tokyo, but we can at least enjoy the show from anywhere in the world. And while all of us wish this pandemic had never happened, at least it left this positive legacy. I am so thankful for the efforts of all those who made the online show a reality.

Martina Ziesse, lived in Tokyo 2014 – 2017, now in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Wind by Omori Hiroyuki

Joining CWAJ was an eye-opening experience when I moved to Japan in 2014. I had previously lived in Beijing, where I was active in organizing art exhibitions for contemporary Chinese artists. My background is in art history.  I am familiar with the history of printing in Western culture. I know about the renaissance of printmaking in China under the influence of the German expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz in the late 1920s that seeded generations of artists. However, my knowledge about the art of printmaking in Japan was limited to primarily the works of Hokusai and Hiroshige, and I knew I wanted to learn more.

As I found out when I joined CWAJ only a few weeks after my arrival in Tokyo, there was an entirely new world of art to discover. I joined the Print Show team at my first CWAJ luncheon and remained actively involved until I left Japan in 2017. I learned about how embedded the art of printmaking is in Japanese culture, the various styles, the sublime mastership of printing techniques, and the fascinating and boundless creativity of the artists. CWAJ was not only a source of inspiration and an impulse to learn, but I also met exciting people and gained precious long-lasting friendships. During my time with CWAJ, I collected numerous prints that remind me of my time in Japan. My focus is to collect artwork by young artists who may benefit from encouragement and, for me, to witness their development at this formative point in their careers. 

Even though I love all my prints, one of my favorites is a mezzotint by the young artist Omori Hiroyuki.  In his work, Omori explores the properties of water, from the immensity of its expanses down to its molecular state. I bought the print shortly before I moved away from Japan. It now occupies a special place in the hallway in our apartment at home in Düsseldorf, triggering vivid memories of my extraordinary experiences in Japan. 

Margot Bittenbender, lived in Japan 1978-1983, and 2012-2014, now resident in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Nine Circles and Some Orchids, Intaglio print with chine colle, 18 x 24in (NB Margot is not an Overseas Member because she is a printmaker and submits to the Print Show.)

I arrived in Tokyo in 1978 with husband, infant, and toddler. When it was discovered I had studied and taught art, I was quickly introduced to The Tolman Collection, and began to fall in love with contemporary Japanese prints. It was my membership of CWAJ and two years of  involvement with the Print Show that quickly drew me deeper into this vibrant new art. (I still remember sitting at Print Show with two other volunteers in a windowless underground room, sharing phone reports from our husbands of the typhoon that raged outside, and the closing of above-ground trains in the metro area.)

My interest in prints increased, as did my knowledge and, in the next three years my family spent in Nishinomiya (located between Osaka and Kobe), I hosted three shows of Tolman Collection Prints, as well as returning to Tokyo for the annual CWAJ shows. During our next posting, to Bangkok, I began studying intaglio with the Australian printmaker Gaye Patterson. I also delivered a lecture sponsored by the Bangkok National Museum on the history of Japanese printmaking from its origins to present-day printmakers.

Back in the States, I took the next step, taking university and art school classes in drawing and printmaking. I knew at that point I was an intaglio printmaker, and began to pursue the dream begun in Tokyo.

Serendipitously, my husband and I returned to Tokyo as empty nesters for two years in 2012-2014, and I worked at Tokyo Hanga Kenkyujo (Tokyo printmaking atelier). One of my prints was juried into the 2014 CWAJ show! And just last month, I exhibited in New York City as a new member of Prince Street Gallery.

Thank you to CWAJ and Norman Tolman   . . .  and the ever-amazing, inspiring Japan.