Art Around Campus: A Work by Sadao Watanabe
Watanabe, Sadao, 1913-1996
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The following statement, by Renata Carlson, accompanied the video on the University's website: Sadao Watanabe was one of the leading artists in "mingei," the Japanese folk art movement that emerged in the 1930s as an effort to preserve traditional crafts that were fast disappearing in a rapidly urbanizing and militarizing Japan. "Mingei" focused on utilitarian, everyday items that emphasized the natural beauty of the materials used. Watanabe was drawn particularly to traditional stencil-dyeing methods, using handmade mulberry paper and stencils that could last for hundreds of prints. Watanabe's work combines Western ideas with Japanese mediums in a very unique and interesting way. During his entire career, Watanabe printed almost exclusively biblical scenes. Sometimes he even depicted his subjects in kimonos or drinking sake. He believed that combining Japanese techniques with Christian subjects was the best way to bring the Bible to everyday Japanese people. Even after his art achieved worldwide recognition, Watanabe preferred his pieces to hang in ordinary spaces instead of galleries, because "Jesus brought the Gospel for the people." Watanabe's life is a fascinating intersection of history, religion and art. Born in 1913 and fatherless by age 10, Watanabe was first brought to church by one of his primary school teachers. At first he found church to be unpleasantly foreign, but at age seventeen he was finally baptized. He began to come into his own as an artist in the late 1930s, a time of increasing political control. His personal life was seriously affected by World War II; his home was destroyed during the firebombing of Tokyo and he and his wife had to live with her parents in the country. After a difficult post-war period, Watanabe gained worldwide recognition after some Americans discovered his work. His pieces were eventually displayed all over the world. These three prints, which are located on level one of Leyburn Library, are part of a collection donated to Hillel House by Mr. and Mrs. Alan M. Corwin '62.Renata Carlson is a member of the Class of 2013 of Washington and Lee University.