This posting is another installment in Weird Collections. It really should be called “Vintage Made-in-Japan Landscapes Composed of Bark, Cork, Moss and Paper on Painted Wood”, but that just doesn’t flow well.
These pictures are mid-twentieth century tourist and export goods from Japan. They aren’t very well-regarded, but very little of what I collect would be designated “good” by most of the populace. That’s probably why I collect it, no one else wants it! There is only one picture that has a printed label; the label reads “Ucagoco Japan” and is gold and red foil with a Japanese symbol and stylized border. The rest of the pictures are stamped “Japan” in dark ink, and one also has some numbers next to the “Japan” mark. My frames are simple black, wood frames, with a layer of bark, then a cream-colored mitered flat board with an inner gold pained lip.
I think my grandmother had one of these pictures, yes, the one who owned the flocked deer lamp: Oh Deer. I think the picture was in my parents’ house for a while, but this might be one of those pesky “false” memories.
To continue, I love these pictures because of the “found” nature of their materials. At first glance, they appear to be something any school child could throw together as an art project. But upon further study, there is artistry in these creations that speaks of a higher level of sophistication. To begin with, they have perspective, which is a difficult thing to convey. They also demonstrate an artistic nicety when choosing which materials to use for rocky cliffs, as opposed to smoother granite cliffs. There is a sense of shading in the Sequoia picture—using different colors of bark makes it look as if there is light on the trees. Finally, they don’t have to try to convey depth because they have actual depth, depending on the materials used. The background painting is adequate, but certainly not the star of the show.
I don’t have a lot of these, but if they are in decent shape, I pick them up wherever I find them. They are ephemeral; it doesn’t take too much rough treatment to reduce these pictures to something that resembles a jigsaw puzzle missing many pieces.
These first two pictures are mountain scenes and may be the most common type. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that no two are exactly alike. They aren’t very large, the top one is about the size of a piece of paper (9″x11″).
This next picture is very tall and narrow–21″ tall, which helps lead your eye down the river, and around the bends caused by the hillside. I’m very fond of the little house in the foreground perched precariously over the river. The people living there must be fishermen, or at least completely unconcerned about possible flooding. My beloved spouse doesn’t think that this picture looks like an Asian landscape, but that’s how it strikes me.
The following picture is a gift from Kathy (the only thing we like as much as shopping, is shopping for each other!); she found it at a garage sale which makes it perfect in my mind. The really interesting thing about this one is its subject matter. I’ve never seen one that wasn’t an Asian landscape; this picture resembles Sequoia National Park in Northern California, but that may just be me.
I’m also impressed with the use of light in this picture, it looks like the sun is shining from the left side of the picture. Not bad considering the artist is using bark, which you can clearly see on these close-ups:
**We have some new information about these bark, moss, and wood pictures from Bonnie Harwig on July 6, 2015:
Hello fans of Japan bark pictures..I live in Washigton State and I too have a large collection from my grandmother and mother..and yes it’s in your blood…i find them too at the goodwill’s and at yard sales….but, very few out there……i do know they were made in 1942-45 in Japan…and where made during the WWII, to boost Japan’s Ecomony and i believe they may have been sold to the USA for war debt ….If any one else has more information about these wounderful pictures or would like to sell contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.**
I also included a photo of my only cork picture, which was made in Lisbon. It has the same crafted-from-what’s-available nature, as well as a similar 3-D effect from the layering of material. The picture is made of cork on a painted background. Some of the cork has been blackened, and then scraped to create the intricate building.
December 2015 Bill commented, “your cork picture from Lisbon is the tower of belem.” Thanks so very much for the knowledge!
What do these pictures say about me–who knows? But it does prove that there’s something out there for everyone. My sisters like these pictures too, so maybe it’s a genetic thing that can’t be helped ;- )