Review of ‘Borrowed Landscapes: China and Japan in the Historic Homes and Gardens of Britain and Ireland’ by Emile de Bruijn

After graduating from Monash University with a major in Japanese language and culture, my enduring fascination with Japan has led me to numerous personal and professional engagements in Tokyo, Melbourne, and the UK. Two decades ago, upon returning to England, a fresh passion emerged — one that involved exploring historic stately homes. This newfound pursuit has taken me across the country, allowing me to appreciate their grand architecture, refined furnishings, captivating artworks, and meticulously manicured gardens. Therefore, it brought me immense pleasure and enthusiasm to read and review the pages of Borrowed Landscapes: China and Japan in the Historic Homes and Gardens of Britain and Ireland‘ by Emile de Bruijn.

This mind-nourishing, exquisitely crafted book delves into the artistic elements borrowed from China and Japan that grace British and Irish houses and gardens, aiming to scrutinize the patterns and mechanisms they unveil. In this blog post, I’ll explore some of the key highlights, bearing in mind the content and stunning images provided here offer only a glimpse of what can be found within the work itself. This extraordinary book, published in association with the National Trust, is a wonderful read and a splendid addition to anyone’s coffee table, be it at home or in an office.

I’d like to express my gratitude to Elle Chilvers, Senior Marketing Executive at Bloomsbury Publishing, as well as Philip Wilson Publishers, and the National Trust for sending me the book and generously permitting me to use the captivating images showcased in this blog post, which are even more splendid within the pages of the book.

A PATTERN EMERGES 1600-1690

Emile de Bruijn, the author, skillfully establishes the narrative tone in the opening pages telling the reader how Marco Polo in the 13th century returned to Italy brimming with enthusiasm; vividly recounting the silk, pearl, and porcelain trade he found in East Asia. Fast forward to around 1600, the Dutch and the British established ‘East India’ trade companies, embarking on a venture to import coveted luxury items. Nevertheless, the cultural significance and integrity of these items were frequently misconstrued and overlooked (p. 10, 11).

De Bruijn goes on to explain how many Asian objects have undergone a redesign to align with European tastes in the past 400 years, with European designers emulating Chinese and Japanese objets d’art. Integrating an Asian stylistic touch, they augmented Asian porcelain and lacquer with precious metals, and reconfigured Asian furniture by dismantling and adding elements, transforming the once ‘exotic’ into something ‘domesticated’ for the European market. Western entrepreneurs, functioning as ‘gatekeepers,’ ordered substantial quantities of specific items from Asia, shaping how Europeans perceived the continent. Renowned cabinet-makers like Thomas Chippendale (1718 – 1779) further refined and marketed their own lines of orientalist furniture (p. 13).

In the 19th century, De Bruijn tells us the Prince Regent (later King George IV) embraced the Chinese ‘style’ to adorn Carlton House, the Royal Pavilion, and the Fishing Temple at Virginia Water. However, a considerable disparity exists between this stylized representation and the authentic culture of Japan and China it seeks to emulate (p. 14). The author notes on page 14 that “Asian objects were copied and adapted with insouciant abandon” during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Despite the divergence from reality, one can at least appreciate the creative ingenuity of these designers.

In the early seventeenth century, the popularity of blue and white Chinese porcelain, known as Kraak-ware, soared as it was shipped by the East India Companies in England and the Dutch Republic (p. 17) (see image 1. page. 18). The cobalt used to craft the distinctive blue pigment originated from the Middle East and was subsequently exported back to the region, facilitating a global cycle of production and consumption.

1. (Image from page 18, FIG. 1). Porcelain dish with blue and white decoration in the ‘kraak’ style, with auspicious motifs within panels around the rim and an image of birds next to a stream in the centre, probably made in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, China, late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, diameter 36.8 cm © National Trust/Robert Thrift

 

Shimmer and sheen played pivotal roles in shaping European appreciation for Japanese lacquer. (p. 20). From around 1580, the Portuguese initiated the flow of lacquer from Japan to Europe. These initial lacquer imports featured inlays of metal foil and mother-of-pearl; a technique honed by the Kōami family of artisans in Miyako (present-day Kyoto) (pg. 20). The tray in image 2. page. 20, crafted in the style of the Kanō school of painting, showcases lions in the centre, symbolising power and protection. The Japanese referred to this style as ‘namban‘ or ‘southern barbarian,’ which was influenced by traders or missionaries from Europe.2.page 20, FIG. 3 Lacquer tray in a lobed leaf or flower shape and decorated in namban style with gold and mother-of- pearl on black, the central panel showing a pair of lions under a tree, Japan, c.1600, 32 x 37 cm © National Trust Images/Dara McGrath

2. (Image from page 20, FIG. 3). Lacquer tray in a lobed leaf or flower shape and decorated in namban style with gold and mother-of-pearl on black, the central panel showing a pair of lions under a tree, Japan, c.1600, 32 x 37 cm © National Trust Images/Dara McGrath

The white porcelain figure, depicted in the image on page 25, exemplifies a representation of the Bodhisattva Guanyin. Originating from Dehua in the Fujian province of China, this particular piece dates back to the period between 1640 and 1690. Notably, it gained popularity in the refined interiors of elite British households during the late seventeenth century. Concurrently, there was a surge in the popularity of Indian gowns and Japanese silk kimono within the Dutch Republic (p. 25).

The author points out how the emergence of orientalism in English silver, decorative paper, and tapestries began to unfold during the 1680s and 1690s.

EMBLEMS OF INSPIRATION 1690-1735

De Bruijn explains how during the mid-seventeenth century, the interruption of Chinese production due to the Manchu invasion and the establishment of the Qing dynasty prompted Dutch merchants to redirect their attention to Arita in Kyushu, Japan. Among the Europeans, only Dutch merchants were granted permission to engage in trade with the Japanese. It was during this period, in the late 1670s, that a distinctive type of porcelain named Kakiemon emerged. Characterized by its fine white porcelain and a colourless glaze, Kakiemon was adorned with vibrant red, green, blue, and yellow enamels.

The Chinese lacquer folding screen in image 3. page 72 at Osterley Park in west London is stunning. During this period, China was widely regarded as an advanced civilization, and this particular screen, probably crafted in Guangzhou (Canton) between 1715 and 1720, exemplifies the opulence associated with the time. It was commissioned, in all likelihood, by a member of the Child banking family, potentially Robert Child — an influential figure as a director and chairman of the English East India Company. According to de Bruijn on page 136, members of the Child family had been investors in and directors of the East India Company for three generations. The author tells us this family had added an impressive array of Chinese and Japanese luxury goods to the family’s collections at the time of Robert Child’s death in 1782.

3. page 72, FIG. 45 Eight-fold lacquer screen decorated in red, gold and silver on black with scenes in and around a mansion or palace, surrounded by pictorial vignettes and representations of the Child family arms, the back with bird-and-flower scenery, probably made in Guangzhou (Canton), China, c.1715–20, 275 x 370 cm © National Trust Images/John Hammond

 

3. (Image from page 72, FIG. 45) Eight-fold lacquer screen decorated in red, gold and silver on black with scenes in and around a mansion or palace, surrounded by pictorial vignettes and representations of the Child family arms, the back with bird-and-flower scenery, probably made in Guangzhou (Canton), China, c.1715–20, 275 x 370 cm © National Trust Images/John Hammond

PEAK CHINOISERIE 1735 – 1760

The word ‘chinoiserie‘ is the term denoting the imitation-Chinese style. During the mid-eighteenth century, Chinese-style garden structures reached the pinnacle of fashion. The era witnessed a widespread emulation of Chinese materials and shapes, and the importation of Chinese luxury products, influenced in part by European taste. Notable examples also include painted enamel, famille rose porcelain, wallpaper, mirror paintings, and miniature pagodas (p. 81).

Two bureaux featuring dressing mirrors at Powis Castle in Wales, one depicted in image 4. page 80, are believed to have been commissioned in England and manufactured in China. However, de Bruijn explains there’s an interesting twist to this hybrid creation because they were sent to Japan for the addition of lacquer. This serves as a noteworthy example of fully hybrid yet prestigious orientalist objects from the 18th century. The absence of mirrors added by the Japanese, replaced instead by scenes of waterfalls, underscores the intriguing lack of cross-cultural communication during this period.

4. page 80, FIG. 53 Tabletop bureau surmounted by a dressing mirror frame, one of a pair, probably made in Guangzhou, China, and lacquered in Japan, c.1730–50, on a later stand, 174 x 80.5 x 50 cm © National Trust Images/Leah Band

4. (Image from page 80, FIG. 53). Tabletop bureau surmounted by a dressing mirror frame, one of a pair, probably made in Guangzhou, China, and lacquered in Japan, c.1730–50, on a later stand, 174 x 80.5 x 50 cm © National Trust Images/Leah Band

Paraphernalia for preparing tea had been associated with China ever since the beverage had been introduced to Europe in the early seventeenth century. Tea was originally drunk as a medicine for headaches, fatigue, and digestion problems but later became an everyday drink for the wealthy. From the 1670s, stoneware teapots from Yixing in Jiangsu province were exported to Europe. Chinese pictorial wallpaper also became popular in the 1740s. The Little Parlour at Uppark was decorated with Chinese wallpaper and serving tea in this room was considered the ultimate display of femininity.

FICTIONS HAVE THEIR OWN LOGIC 1760-1780

In the face of William Chambers’ endeavours to “quell the extravagancies of chinoiserie” during the mid-eighteenth century, the overdoor shaped like a Chinese-style pavilion in the Chinese Room at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire by Luke Lighthouse as depicted in image 5. page 120, stands as “another unashamedly extravagant example of British orientalist design” (p. 121). De Bruijn says this portrayal is described as “completely divorced from the reality of China.”

5. page, 120, FIG. 85 Octagonal porcelain covered jar in a baluster shape, decorated in the famille rose palette, the lid with a lion finial, one of a pair, made in Jingdezhen, China, c.1735–45, 95.5 cm high, on wooden English- made stands © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

5. (Image from page. 120, FIG. 85). Octagonal porcelain covered jar in a baluster shape, decorated in the famille rose palette, the lid with a lion finial, one of a pair, made in Jingdezhen, China, c.1735–45, 95.5 cm high, on wooden English-made stands © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In contrast to the exuberance evident in Lightfoot’s efforts, Thomas Chippendale’s approach appears notably genteel, as exemplified by the pier glass shown on page 133. It’s worth buying the book to see this one.

COMPETING PERSPECTIVES 1780-1870

Page 139 details how, towards the close of the 18th century and the inception of the 19th century, a shift occurred in European perspectives. Their own values and viewpoints came to the forefront, leading to a reversal where the history, society, governing structures, and artistic traditions of Japan and China were now perceived as “signs of inertia, backwardness, repetitiveness, and a mechanical mindset”.

As the First Opium War unfolded (1839-42) between Britain and China, Chinese wallpapers, retained their place of prominence in prestigious British homes. These once deemed ‘exotic’ products had seamlessly integrated into British material culture, thoroughly ‘domesticated’ and expected in elite interior decoration (p. 160). In contrast, European materials and techniques had become ingrained in Guangzhou during this period.

De Bruijn tells us that Owen Jones was one of a few architects and designers who wanted to “identify and expound on the ‘eternal principles’ of good design”. He also mentions how many ‘truly magnificent works of Ornamental Art’ from China to Britain at this time were caused by the destruction of public buildings during the Opium War (1856-60) and the British looting of the Yuanmingyuan Palace complex in Beijing (p.167).

THE AGE OF JAPONISME 1870 – 1900

De Bruijn starts this section by explaining from the early 17th century to the mid-19th century, exclusive trading privileges with Japan were confined to the Dutch and the Chinese, meticulously regulated by the Tokugawa shogunate, the country’s military leaders. In a pivotal turn of events in 1853, the US Navy, under the command of Commodore Matthew C. Perry, arrived off the coast of Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Employing warships, Perry exerted pressure on Japan to open its ports to international trade. This exertion led to the establishment of a new government headed by the Meiji Emperor in 1868. In response, Japan initiated an ambitious program of modernization and industrialization, strategically maximizing exports.

Europe experienced a surge in substantial quantities of Japanese fine and decorative art, a phenomenon that French collector Philippe Burty aptly termed ‘Japonisme’ in 1872. During this period, there was a perceptible shift as the demand for Chinese objects waned, and Japanese items were embraced as both ‘new’ and more authentically appealing.

Famous woodblock prints like this one by Utagawa Hiroshige in image 6. page 171 were viewed “in the realm of tranquillity, beauty and art” (p. 170).

6. page 171, FIG. 120 Utagawa Hiroshige, Koganei, Musashi Province (Musashi Koganei), woodblock print, part of an album of prints entitled Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fuji sanjūrokkei), published by Tsutaya Kichizō, Edo (present-day Tokyo), Japan, 1858, 36 x 24 cm © National Trust Images/Leah Band

6. (Image from page 171, FIG. 120). Utagawa Hiroshige, Koganei, Musashi Province (Musashi Koganei), woodblock print, part of an album of prints entitled Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fuji sanjūrokkei), published by Tsutaya Kichizō, Edo (present-day Tokyo), Japan, 1858, 36 x 24 cm © National Trust Images/Leah Band

We learn that in 1862, Sir John Rutherford Alcock, the British Consul-General to Japan, presented a collection encompassing “prints, books, bronzes, porcelain, lacquer, and enamel” at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. This exhibition played a pivotal role in stimulating heightened demand for Japanese goods among the British public (p. 170).

In 1878, a law in Japan prohibited the public wearing of swords, yet the sustained interest from the West facilitated the continuation of swordcraft by artisans, catering to European and American interiors (p. 178). This extended not only to the skilled metalworkers but also to the reproduction of religious iconography, ensuring that motifs and symbols were preserved and not lost to posterity.

This Japanese cabinet from image 7. page 180 can be found at Hill Top, the Lake District home of children’s author Beatrix Potter. This style of cabinet using geometric patterning called Hakone wood mosaic was sold on the Tōkaidō highway between Edo and Miyako (modern-day Kyoto).

7. page 180, FIG. 128 Cabinet (soshoku tansu) decorated with wood mosaic (yosegi zaiku) and covered with clear lacquer, made in the Hakone area, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, 1870–90, 83 x 89.5 x 47 cm © National Trust/Knole Conservation Studio

7. (Image from page 180, FIG. 128). Cabinet (soshoku tansu) decorated with wood mosaic (yosegi zaiku) and covered with clear lacquer, made in the Hakone area, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, 1870–90, 83 x 89.5 x 47 cm © National Trust/Knole Conservation Studio

Starting from the 1870s, Japanese textile manufacturers embarked on creating exquisite products tailored to appeal to the European and American markets, particularly in the realm of ‘fine arts’. The tradition of pictorial embroidery, cultivated in Japan for centuries and reaching a pinnacle of sophistication during the Edo period (1615-1867), was a common practice found in various items like kimono, kimono sashes (obi), gift-wrapping cloths (fukusa), and textiles used in Buddhist temples. The remarkable level of expertise inherent in this art form is vividly demonstrated in a folding screen showcased in image 8. pages 196 and 197, likely crafted by the Chisō company in Kyoto.

8. pages 196 & 197, FIG. 139 Silk folding screen embroidered with birds and flowers against a black ground, possibly by the Chisō company, Kyoto, Japan, late nineteenth or early twentieth century, 170 x 244 cm © National Trust Images/Leah Band

8. (Image from pages 196 & 197, FIG. 139). Silk folding screen embroidered with birds and flowers against a black ground, possibly by the Chisō company, Kyoto, Japan, late nineteenth or early twentieth century, 170 x 244 cm © National Trust Images/Leah Band

NEW AND OLD ORIENTALISMS – The 20th century

According to de Bruijn, the British statesman George Curzon, during his tenure as Viceroy of India, amassed a significant collection of authentic Chinese artifacts. Subsequently, he generously donated many of these pieces to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Perceiving himself as a British imperial overlord, Curzon likely believed it was his prerogative to acquire and preserve art, including items looted from Chinese palaces, by placing them in museums.

De Bruijn tells us the late nineteenth or early twentieth-century screen showcased at Greenway in Devon, which is featured on the book cover and page 209, epitomizes Chinese ‘imperial’ taste, despite likely being a new creation. In China, such screens, known as pingfeng, served the dual purpose of wind shields while functioning as movable art. Crafted with meticulous detail, they incorporated blue and purple kingfisher feathers, ivory, coral metalwork, and a textile background.

The screen at Cragside in Northumberland, featured in image 9. page 210, serves as the Japanese counterpart to the pingfeng depicted on page 209 and the cover. Painted by Takeuchi Seihō in the Nihonga style (Japanese painting), distinct from the yōga (Western painting) style rapidly emerging in the late nineteenth century, this piece likely functioned as a gift from a high-ranking Japanese visitor during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. De Bruijn tells us Seihō was sponsored by the Japanese government to study Western art in Europe. Seihō imbues this screen with a romantically Turneresque style, while the depiction of the deer symbolizes the essence of autumn.

9. page 210, FIG. 148 Single-panel screen (tsuitate) in red lacquer inset with a watercolour depicting a pair of deer lying in a meadow by Takeuchi Seihō, probably first quarter of the twentieth century, 37 cm high © National Trust Images/Leah Band

 9. (Image from page 210, FIG. 148). Single-panel screen (tsuitate) in red lacquer inset with a watercolour depicting a pair of deer lying in a meadow by Takeuchi Seihō, probably first quarter of the twentieth century, 37 cm high © National Trust Images/Leah Band

Persistently, there exists a “tenacity of orientalist self-referentiality, always preferring fiction over fact” (p. 237). A notable example of this phenomenon is evident in the gramophone showcased in image 10. page 231 within Lady Bearsted’s bedroom at Upton House in Warwickshire. Accompanied by Japanese prints, an imitation-lacquer bed, and a ‘pagoda’ shaped overmantel mirror, this gramophone, encased in an early 18th-century imitation lacquer cabinet, exemplifies how this trend of orientalizing also encompassed new technology (p. 232).

10. (Image from page 231, FIG. 163). Gramophone decorated in imitation red and gold lacquer, 1920s–30s, 59 x 96 x 64 cm © National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

On the final pages, Bruijn summarises the book with this paragraph: “British engagement with China and Japan from about 1600 onwards triggered desire, admiration, inspiration, and imitation; it was also accompanied by appropriation, misunderstanding, dismemberment, and caricaturing.” (p. 240) British and other European commentators took on the role of presumed experts on China and Japan, positioning themselves as self-appointed gatekeepers. In this capacity, they expanded the body of knowledge while concurrently distorting it with their own priorities and preconceptions (p. 240).

Thank you for delving into one of my most extensive yet gratifying reviews to date. This book is truly enthralling, and adorned with magnificent images. It’s a valuable investment and a delightful addition to any coffee table, ideal for sharing with others.

Borrowed Landscapes: China and Japan in the Historic Homes and Gardens of Britain and Ireland‘ by Emile de Bruijn. ISBN-13: 978-1781300985, (256 pages), Philip Wilson Publishers (12 Oct. 2023), hardback £35.00.

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If you’re interested in the fusion of art and fashion within the context of China, I highly recommend “The First Monday in May” on Netflix. Starring Dame Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue since 1988, the documentary delves into the creation of the record-breaking 2015 art exhibition “China: Through the Looking Glass” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curated by Andrew Bolton. This particular Costume Institute Benefit aimed to challenge the orientalist stereotypes associated with China and explore the authentic mutual exchange between China and the Western world through fashion and film.

Beautiful Japan-Inspired Linocut and Woodblock Prints by British Artists at Spencer House Gallery in the Cotswolds

Spencer House Gallery, founded by Chris Woodcock, serves as a distinguished cultural hub that highlights the works of exceptionally talented regional British artists in the UK. This is achieved through a dynamic programme of exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops, talks and events, embodying the essence of the artists featured and their creativity.



The gallery is located in Tetbury in the heart of the Cotswolds. You can view, buy and commission at the gallery not just by appointment or via an online enquiry – you can also visit each exhibition when it’s open. Shows and opening times are on the website, in the window and on Instagram. Typically, when a show is live, the gallery is open Thursday to Sunday – though this can be more sporadic between official show dates. All of the artworks are available framed and unframed.

Spencer House Gallery hosts and supports a growing community of artists and art lovers who are driven to discover and share art from the regions and demonstrate that traditional skills and creative talents still thrive, in many media. Artists range from painters and printers to potters, sculptors and textile artists. The work is distinctive, intelligent and genuinely inspirational. It appeals to enthusiastic, inquisitive art lovers and to buyers who appreciate genuine accomplishment and beauty.

Spencer House Gallery in Tetbury



In this blog post, we’ll explore the works of three artists who are currently showcasing their art at Spencer House Gallery. Alexandra Buckle and Jo McChesney are inspired by Japanese printing techniques, Japanese culture, and the seasons in Japan and Steven Hubbard uses Japanese Kozu-shi paper to bring his creations to life.

 ALEXANDRA BUCKLE

Alexandra Buckle, hailing from Bicester in Oxfordshire, is an expert reduction linocut printmaker. Her technique closely resembles that used in Japanese woodblock printing. Alexandra’s method, however, is to carve her images onto a lino or vinyl block using gouges and chisels. The remaining surface is then inked up and an impression is made. Alexandra’s technique is both unforgiving and complex, as she cuts and prints from the same block to gradually build up an image. Any mistakes made during the cutting process, as the block is gradually reduced, cannot be rectified, affecting both color and cut. Alexandra manages an extraordinarily painterly effect in her linocut prints. She’s a teacher held in high regard and considered to be highly skilful in her field. Alexandra is a regular contributor to renowned galleries and print shows like the Bankside Gallery, the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair, the Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition, the Mall Galleries, the Great Print Exhibition, the Oxford Art Society Exhibition, and many more.

In this short video, Alexandra shows you how she converts a single colour lino block into a multi-block design.



Alexandra’s artworks below were inspired by a trip to Japan in September 2019. Her initial interest in travelling to Japan was triggered by a print Alexandra created in 2010, titled “Gold Pavilion”. This print, based on a friend’s photo of the temple, was chosen to be exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2011.

As you can see in these magnificent linocut prints, Alexandra has perfectly captured “Kinkaku-ji” (Golden Pavilion), “Ginkaku-ji” (Silver Pavilion), and the Ginkaku-ji sand garden in Kyoto in her Japanese Vistas collection. Her Japanese Tea Gardens collection is also splendid. Alexandra produces VERY limited editions of each print – typically just 10. Her artworks are on display until the end of August so please contact the gallery as soon as possible if you’d like to make a purchase. All prices are for framed artwork. Unframed artwork can be purchased at a lower price.

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JO McCHESNEY

Jo McChesney specialised in print after graduating from Bath Academy of Art in the UK in 1985. Jo travelled to Kyoto to study traditional woodblock printmaking and combines her knowledge of traditional Japanese printing techniques with a distinctly Western approach to image making.

Seasonal change in the natural world is a major source of inspiration for Jo. She likes to focus on transient and fleeting moments in time, water, and air, as well as light and shadows in woodlands when she creates her artworks.

Jo’s woodcuts are hand carved from Japanese plywood, using knives and gouges. After inking up, the image is hand burnished and layered into a final woodcut onto Japanese Mulberry paper. Each colour requires a separate hand-carved plate.

The hanko or little red stamp in the bottom corner of each print provides the perfect finishing touch to these prints on Japanese paper. This Japanese-style seal is something Jo learned in Japan when she was studying Japanese woodcarving. It’s carved out of marble and stamped onto a traditional red ink pad and sits next to her signature. The one she created in Japan was with Kanji (Japanese ideograms) so she carved another with her own initials back in the UK. It is a tradition in Japan for all artists to have their own hanko.

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STEVEN HUBBARD

Born in London, Steven Hubbard pursued his studies at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design. He boasts a substantial exhibition history within commercial galleries and, more recently, at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Steven’s artworks below use Japanese kozu-shi paper. This is a style of paper that absorbs and displays, in his case, the hand-printed (rather than press-printed) ink to the best effect. In Japan, Kozu-shi paper is commonly used for traditional Japanese interior doors, such as shoji (sliding blind doors) and fusuma (cupboard doors). Kozu-shi paper is also ideally suited as printing paper for all sorts of hand printing processes such as woodcut, wood engraving, linoleum printing, etchings (drypoint and line etchings) as well as bookplates.

Throughout his career, Hubbard has delved into a diverse range of artistic disciplines. His journey began with watercolor still lifes, which eventually paved the way for a successful venture into portrait artistry. Notably, his achievements include being shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery BP Award, as well as receiving recognition from the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ annual exhibition. These accolades led to a series of notable commissions, including portraits for the esteemed writer, NPG trustee, and Cambridge scholar Sir John Plumb (1911-2001).

These prints are based on his paintings of everyday objects, such as oil cans, tools, and telephones – he calls them ‘things with character, practical things’. His beautiful and precise technique is deliberately reminiscent of the Grovesnor School, lending it a vintage, inter-War-years charm and nostalgia. It also makes full use of colour show-through and thin Japanese papers, where you can change the appearance of the entire work by adding a backing colour when framing.

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VISITING SPENCER HOUSE GALLERY IN TETBURY

Just 25 miles from Bath, Spencer House Gallery is easily accessible from London. This creative space is part of  Tetbury’s growing reputation as a centre of excellence for the arts, complementing the town’s existing fame as a celebrated antiques nucleus.

This gallery provides its artists with a platform to air their ideas, values, and perspectives on life. In fact, you’ll notice some recurring themes in their carefully curated exhibits and artworks, ‘sustainability’ and ‘equality’ among them.

For buyers, pricing is fair and accessible. Artworks can be purchased during regular exhibitions or, outside of exhibition time, viewed on their website and/or by appointment.

Spencer House Gallery is in a wonderful location. Tetbury is the second largest town in the Cotswolds, and it was an important market for Cotswold wool and yarn during the Middle Ages. Today, it’s better known for its fine buildings, boutique shops, antiques, and contemporary art, great food, and its royal connections.

Nailsworth, Stroud, Malmesbury, and Cirencester are within easy driving distance and the gallery is very close to Westonbirt, the National Arboretum, and Highgrove House, the family home of HRH King Charles III and Queen Camilla, with its magical gardens.

The gallery is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and there are many wonderful walks directly on the front door, both around the sights of the town and out into the countryside.

Founder and director, Chris Woodcock, looks forward to meeting you at Spencer House Gallery in Tetbury.

Outside view of Spencer House Gallery in Tetbury, a Cotswold Georgian town in the UK.

‘The View From Breast Pocket Mountain’ – Karen Hill Anton’s Memoir is an Absolute Must-Read

The opening paragraph of Karen Hill Anton’s memoir conveys the promise of a well-written story full of powerful life lessons and inspirational anecdotes, despite the sadness on the first page. Anton explains how she was only nineteen years of age, but already traveling in Europe when everything she owned and valued was burned and ruined in a fire in the tenement apartment where she grew up in Harlem. Anton’s story blossoms and blooms into a delightful memoir covering themes dealing with motherhood, cross-culturalism and cultural homogeneity, courage, creativity, conventionalism, and liberalism, as well as love, loss, and the ability to endure the unbearable with patience and dignity.

Anton’s childhood was daunting. Whenever she sees brightly colored marigolds, she remembers visiting the mental institution where her mother lived full-time. She was raised by her father who worked long hours as a tailor, doing everything he could to provide for his children. This accomplished writer matures early. She delights the reader with stories of her work experience in her twenties in countries such as Denmark and Switzerland where she meets fascinating and famous people like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. She works sporadically while trying to raise her baby as she hitchhikes and rides second-class on trains, wandering from one country to another, before moving to Vermont in the US, “a place that embodies the ideas of a hippie revolution without the accompanying dysfunction.” (p. 89).

Anton’s love and respect for her father are transparent throughout the book. On page 8, she says she has inherited his generous smile. Some people just think about how much money they’ll inherit from their parents, but this kind-hearted author is grateful for her smile that reminds her of her dad every time she looks in the mirror or at a photo of herself. When she hears her father has been attacked and he’s in hospital, Anton rushes to his bedside. Her poignant words describing her distress evoke a keen sense of hopelessness and regret: “I’d never experienced tragedy before. I didn’t know the paradox of how it shows up with distinct, sharp, ugly lines, deep colors, and loud sounds, and then switches into lines that are blurred, vague, gray, and all sound comes through muffled.” (p. 83).

A visit to Boston reunites the writer with her friend and future husband, William (Billy) Anton. They share an interest in books and Zen Buddhism. Billy also introduces her to “the films of Kurosawa, natural foods, the philosophy of Bertrand Russell” (p.76) as well as macrobiotics, vegetarian cooking, and Japanese cutting techniques. (p. 79). Billy accepts an invitation to study at a yoga and martial arts dojo in Japan and the writer and her daughter Nanao decide to join him but first, they decide to take an unorthodox road trip through Europe and South Asia.

Anton expands on the importance of introducing her child to different cultures but she’s also well aware of the dangers and her worries prove she’s a thoughtful and capable mother. She senses that “even with her young eyes she’d see that people are basically alike—not in our cultures, surely, but in our humanity. And I hoped that she would see the world as I did, and find, as I had, that most people are kind and helpful and that the world we call Earth is a wonderful place full of endless lessons” (p. 154/155).

Nanao is five-years-old when they arrive at Haneda Airport in Japan to study at the Yoshida Yoga Doja.  Finally, “we had our place in a group where nothing mattered more” (p. 141). This lifestyle which relies heavily on rules and mundane, repetitive order is just what they need after the uncertainty of constant traveling and not knowing where they were going to rest their heads at night.

Anton and Billy eventually get frustrated with the restrictions placed upon them at the dojo, and they move to a farmhouse on Futokoro Yama or Breast Pocket Mountain. Anton has an unfulfilled desire to start taking lessons in shodo Japanese calligraphy so she presents the honorable eighty-three-year-old teacher Roppo-sensei with a loaf of homemade bread to show her gratitude for being introduced. She’s immediately accepted into his group of willing students. Anton still practices the art of calligraphy today.

The writer remains positive, enjoying her days at the farmhouse and the kotatsu and ofuro bath in particular, but life becomes increasingly difficult. The isolation and lack of modern conveniences are exhausting. She also realizes that “I just had to accept the fact that at no time and nowhere would I go unnoticed” (p. 176) as a gaijin or outsider. However, the fact this farmhouse is mentioned in the title proves that Anton learns significant life lessons and enjoys memorable experiences here. A visit to a fertility expert at this time results in a quick pregnancy and she has a wonderful birthing experience thanks to Dr. and Mrs. Mizumoto who show her the difference between a hospital and great hospitality (p. 181).

The drawbacks at the farm become overwhelming and they decide to move when she’s heavily pregnant with her fourth child Lila into a house with imperial connections in Hamamatsu. “Empress Teimei – the mother of Emperor Shōwa, great-grandmother of the current emperor, Naruhito – had once spent a night there.” (p. 194).

Anton mentions several times throughout the book how much she enjoys the safety Hamamatsu and Tokyo have to offer and she loves the “equality of educational opportunity in this country” (p. 240). These factors are two of the main reasons for her staying in Japan and why she decides to raise her four children here.

Anton goes above and beyond to break down cultural barriers by talking at kominkan community centers in rural areas. She also teaches modern dance and continues to do this for 10 years. There’s a terrific photo on page 24 of the author dancing at George Washington High School. Her body is in flight mid-air, defying gravity, and her face expresses a look of quiet exhilaration. Anton has also written several regular columns for The Japan Times, including “Hamamatsu Highlights” and “Crossing Cultures”. She offers sound advice to anyone living in Japan, explaining the ways she has learned to fit into Japanese society. “I had no desire to be seen as Japanese or even acting Japanese. I would stand out in Japan, always. But I could also fit in. (p. 216).

Anton stresses the fact you don’t need to be perfect in Japan as a mother. Living in the Land of the Rising Sun can be stressful if one is constantly comparing oneself with Japanese women who seem to be able to carry out life’s challenges flawlessly. Anton has learned to fall into line and to adopt the attitude “Do it now and get it over with” (p. 219) when it comes to school rules and requirements. Her life motto is “I’ll deal with it when I get there” (p. 134), making her a courageous and unstoppable force for good. But it’s Japan and the Japanese people who have taught her and her children that depending on others and interdependency is natural and “it supports the smooth functioning of society, and is crucial for our species”. (p. 278).

The Japanese have a proverb “The bamboo which bends is stronger than the oak which resists” or「竹はよわく弯がるが木は剛く立つ」. This book proves that Karen Hill Anton has taken this to a whole new level. Every day, she tries to live her best life with an open and flexible heart. When she faces a difficult task, Anton makes compromises while she tirelessly attends to the needs and wants of her family and friends and the people she meets along the way in Japan or in one of the many countries she has visited along the way.