West Meets East in the Dana-Thomas House Gallery
September 5, 2012 § 1 Comment
Last week I led a tour through the Dana-Thomas House with eight students from the Ashikaga (Japan) Institute of Technology and their instructor, Dr. Shinji Masuda, who served as interpreter for those who did not speak English. When we got to the gallery, the Americans on the tour and I were treated to an impromptu cultural lesson. Dai Song Han, a Chinese student, was drawn to one of the woodblock prints we have currently displayed on a print table. He identified it as a Chinese print. He interpreted the title on the print as “Mid-Autumn Day.” He went on to explain that Mid-Autumn Day is a major holiday in China which falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar (September 30 this year). The young student excitedly told me that the print is very old and very expensive.
Dr. Masuda then explained the other print on display. It is one of a series by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1859), a very prolific Japanese artist. He created several series showing images along the 53 stopping places or stations on the Tokaido Road, a main highway linking Edo (modern Tokyo) and Kyoto. The print we have on display is entitled “Rokugo Ferry Crossing.” It is an image from Kawasaki, the second station on the road, and was originally published in 1833-1834.
This incident piqued my curiosity. Are these prints originals or reproductions? Did they belong to Susan or were they donations to the site? If they were Susan’s, did she get them from Frank Lloyd Wright? Regina Albanese, Executive Director of the Dana-Thomas House Foundation, told me that the Hirodhige print was a 1990 donation to the site from Donald Hoffmann, author of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana House. When I contacted him, Hoffmann answered some of my questions:
Yes, the Hiroshige print is an original, and I bought it probably in the 1970s from what was then an annual sales show at the Nelson Gallery of Art here in Kansas City (now called the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art). The state of Illinois was acquiring the Dana house about the time I was researching the Robie house and acquired a photograph of the interior showing a Japanese print somewhat like my Hiroshige that I would guess Wright gave to Mrs. Robie. That gave me the idea of donating the Hiroshige to the Dana house–not because Susan ever owned the same view, but because it was the kind of thing Wright gave to clients.
I am still trying to verify the artist and origin of “Mid-Autumn Day.” I suspect it is a reproduction, but I will continue to dig. Stay tuned.