Old blog entry- Japanese Prints: Inventors under Adversity!!

[originally written 2012: see: http://tidge.com/_OLD_SITE/index.html#Japanese_Prints]

These just tickle my fancy, mostly based on what I’m imagining they’re about. You can find them on the Library of Congress website, prints and photographs collection, and reading the notes, you will find they are Japanese woodcuts, dated “between 1850 and 1900,” donated by a Mrs. E. Crane Chadbourne to the Sackler Gallery of Art in 1930.

I imagine the prints to be part of the society-wide remaking of Japan before, during, and after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when the Japanese “westernized” themselves with a vengeance. One of the prints has typewritten notes at the bottom, indicating that the “Department of Education” was somehow involved. These prints are the equivalent of medieval morality plays and Soviet posters from the 1920’s; they are proselytizing pieces of propaganda, intending to teach the viewer how to think about things. They were trying to create a new ethos. An “innovation nation” perhaps? Yes, but the real thing, not the pro-“entrepeneurship” schlock that seems to ooze from every corner of the corporate media machine nowadays.

What I find funny is that all of these Western inventors/innovators seem to be beseiged or a little crazy in every woodcut: are we really supposed to emulate them?

James Watt,
Inventor of the Steam Engine

James Watt Japanese Wood Cut
This is “James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, collect[ing] steam from a boiling kettle while his aunt rebukes him for his nonsense.” Wha-a-a-at?!? I have no idea if this is based on any historical reality. See Watt’s Wikipedia entry.

Bernard Palissy,
Inventor of Enamelled Pottery

Palissy Japanese Wood Cut
“Bernard Palissy, inventor of enamelled pottery, burns chairs to keep the furnace going” while his wife flees in terror and his child flees in good humor. True that, see below:

See Palissy’s Wikipedia entry:
At times he and his family were reduced to poverty; he burned his furniture and even, it is said, the floor boards of his house to feed the fires of his furnaces. Meanwhile, he endured the reproaches of his wife, who, with her little family clamouring for food, evidently regarded her husband’s endeavors as little short of insanity.

Richard Arkwright,
Inventor of Spinning Machiney

Richard Awkright Japanese Wood Cut
“Arkwright sending his wife to her parents because she deliberately broke his spinning wheel.” But, why, honey, why?!?! No idea if this happened or not. See Arkwright’s Wikipedia entry (with juicy patent fights!!).

Thomas Carlyle,
Author and Historian

Thomas Carlyle Japanese Wood Cut
“Carlyle horrified to see his manuscript burn after his dog upsets a lamp.” No idea if this happened or not. See Carlyle’s Wikipedia entry.

John James Audubon,
Bird Naturalist

John James Audubon Japanese Wood Cut
“Audubon discovering that his work was eaten by a rat.” See Audubon’s Wikipedia entry (“After his return to Kentucky, he found that rats had eaten his entire collection of more than 200 drawings”).

John Heathcoat,
Inventor of the Knitting Machine

John Heathcote Japanese Wood Cut
“Heathcote [sic] displaying the first successful result from his knitting machine to his wife.” I admit she doesn’t seem horrified, disgusted, or royally pissed off. But, on the other hand, he’s the only guy on the list I’d never heard of, so fame may depend on adversity. See Heathcoat’s Wikipedia entry

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