UMMA Curator’s Essay in New Book Explores The Role of Michiganders, Women in Transforming Global Art Collections

UMMA Curator’s Essay in New Book Explores The Role of Michiganders, Women in Transforming Global Art Collections

The U-M Museum of Art’s Curator of Asian Art, Dr. Natsu Oyobe, is the co-editor of a new book forthcoming from the University of Florida Press.

The book, Great Waves and Mountains: Perspectives and Discoveries in Collecting the Arts of Japan, focuses on the history of how Japanese art has been acquired both by museums and by private collectors–particularly in North America, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when Japan opened its ports for trade after centuries of isolation.

Dr. Oyobe also wrote one of the book’s essays, “Japanese Unglazed Ware at the University of Michigan Museum of Art: Exchange between Japanese and American Ceramic Artists, 1950s–1960s.” Though her essay touches on themes seen in UMMA’s upcoming exhibition Clay as Soft Power: Shigaraki Ware in Postwar America and Japan,  it’s “more focused on Michigan-based artists' experiences, as well as how the presence of the American women artists became one of the important catalysts for the transformation of the male-dominated Japanese ceramic art world,” says Oyobe. One of these artists, Susanne Stephenson, studied Shigaraki ware techniques in the mid-1960s Japan, and has taught for many years at Eastern Michigan University.

Clay as Soft Power, opening at UMMA in mid-November, will display historic and contemporary Shigaraki ware ceramics and Shigaraki ware-inspired works in UMMA’s collection, as well as some on loan from artists, major museums, and private collections. Shigaraki ware, which derives its name from the town where it originated in the 13th century, is characterized by its earthy brown tones and the rough, unglazed textures of the clay.

Even though Oyobe has studied Japanese art for many years, she still learned new things while editing the volume. “I found out that many museums across the U.S. have significant collections of Japanese ceramics and textiles, which are not very well known,” she says. “Also, some women collectors were as active as their male counterparts in the early part of the 20th century.”

Oyobe co-edited the book along with Allysa B. Peyton, a former assistant curator of Asian art at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida.

Great Waves and Mountains is available for preorder on the University of Florida Press website.

Clay as Soft Power

Shigaraki Ware in Postwar America and Japan

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