Currently on Display – Japanese Illustrated Books from the Charles Nelson Spinks Collection

Charles Nelson Spinks began collecting books when he lived in Japan.  He donated over 1,000 books to American University Library in the 1970s.  The books cover a variety of subjects including art, history, philosophy, recreation, and travel during the Edo Period of Japan (1603-1868).

Japanese printed books on secular themes date from about 1600.  Some of the earliest books were produced using moveable type but by the middle of the 17th century all commercially produced books were printed from woodblocks.  Many of the schools and styles of Japanese art are represented in illustrated books.  There are a number of different types of books such as gafu ‘drawing books’ which were usually produced by a single artist to give didactic examples of his style.  Artists could also combine with poets, novelists, and travelers to produce illustrated poetry collections, comic illustrated novels, travel guides and erotic books.  Popular titles were probably printed in ‘editions’ of thousands, and were regularly reprinted if there was demand.  Most Japanese books were printed on kozo, paper made from mulberry bark.  Rare Japanese books are defined as those predating 1867.  Numerous earthquakes and fires over the years and the allied bombing of World War II destroyed many old Japanese libraries.

On display are three examples of illustrated books including a gafu and two examples of albums of woodblock prints.  To limit exposure to light, the pages are turned every two months.   The exhibit will be on display through the end of April 2010.