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Letters 07-25-2016

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Home · Articles · News · Art · Japanese Woodblocks: Mary Brodbeck
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Japanese Woodblocks: Mary Brodbeck

Kristi Kates - June 29th, 2009
Japanese Woodblock
Mary Brodbeck teaches the printmaking art of Japan
By Kristi Kates 6/29/09

Mary Brodbeck grew up on a dairy farm in southern Michigan, and felt “a magnetic pull” to the ground her family farmed. As a young adult, she wanted to expand her world away from that country life - studying industrial design at Michigan State University and subsequently moving to Los Angeles to work at an architectural firm. But the way she felt about the land and waters of Michigan remained unchanged, and she decided to return.
“After a few months in L.A., I realized that I would have to make a radical change in myself in order to survive there. In essence, I would have to leave the country girl behind. I decided to move back to Michigan - in part because I had never been to Traverse City - I’m not making this up! - and partly because I liked who I was and didn’t want to give up being that country girl.”

REVISING LIFE
Soon after Brodbeck arrived back in Michigan, she began designing office furniture for a manufacturing company in Holland. But it wasn’t long before she felt it was time for yet another life change.
“After a few years in the corporate environment, I longed for a work life that was more meaningful, and Michigan’s Great Lake landscapes had a great pull on me,” Brodbeck explains. “So, in 1990, I quit my job to ‘draw Michigan.’ I drove around the entire shoreline making sketches and taking photographs. It was about that time too, when I made my first woodblock print in a class in Saugatuck at OxBow, a school of art and artists’ residencies which has an affiliation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.”
Brodbeck’s journey towards her art would meander for awhile; she returned to school - this time to Western Michigan University for a Masters of Fine Arts degree in printmaking - and began making plans for printmaking to replace her furniture design career.
“I was drawn to the Japanese woodblock printmaking process because of its simplicity, particularly when setting up shop,” she says. “Japanese woodblock prints are made much the same way today as they were 400 years ago. There are the carving tools, wood, ink (water color paint) rice paste, a few brushes, paper and a hand-held baren (the burnishing tool). Other attractions for me to this process include its non-toxicity, working in color, working with wood, and woodblock printmaking’s inherent reliance on design. The Japanese process is different from Western methods in that is is more heavily based on color and design, rather than mark-making; the Japanese process seemed to suit my interests, experience and temperament, best.”

JAPANESE OPPORTUNITY
While in the graduate program at WMU, Brodbeck sought to study the printmaking process in Japan. She soon got connected to Yoshisuke Funasaka, a teacher in Tokyo, who applied for the prestigious Bunka Cho Fellowship on Brodbeck’s behalf - and she got it. The Bunka Cho Fellowship, funded by the Japanese government, sponsors artists from abroad to travel to Japan to learn a traditional Japanese art, in part to foster knowledge and understanding between cultures, as well as to help keep Japanese arts alive throughout the world.
“It was a fantastic honor to receive the award, and I tried to take full advantage of it,” Brodbeck says. “While in Japan, I spent a lot of time working in my apartment. I enjoyed living in Tokyo very much, and enjoyed Japanese food and culture. Artistically, I was inspired by the Japanese woodblock landscapes series of Hokusai and Hiroshige and always knew that I was going to focus on the landscape too, specifically of Michigan and the Great Lakes.”
Recently, she completed a series of 10 prints of Sleeping Bear Dunes, from a residency she had on the lakeshore in 2006. The prints are on display at the Crooked Tree Art Council’s Art Tree Sales Gallery in Petoskey.

PETOSKEY WORKSHOP
Brodbeck’s Great Lakes prints are highly collectible, and are acclaimed for their “superior craftsmanship and striking design,” as one review says. Brodbeck has chosen to share what she’s learned by teaching Japanese woodblock printmaking in workshops around the country, as well as at her studio in Kalamazoo.
Petoskey will host Brodbeck’s talents at a workshop this July.
No experience is necessary for the workshop, although there is a maximum number of students allowed, so those interested are encouraged to sign up soon.
Brodbeck will take students step-by-step through creating a color woodblock print in the traditional relief printing method, in which the non-image area is carved away from the surface, and the remaining raised surfaces are painted; paper is then placed upon the carved and painted block and pressed so that the desired image transfers to the paper. This is the oldest form of printmaking; the relief method accompanied the invention of paper around 600 A.D.
“Students in the five day workshop will learn the woodblock printmaking basics of design and layout, carving, printing and color registration,” Brodbeck explains. “Each participant will complete at least one print design; I am hoping that everyone will also be willing to exchange with one another.”
“I started teaching this process soon after I came back from Japan,” she says, “I felt it was important to honor the fellowship’s mission.”

More info about Mary Brodbeck and her work may be found at www.marybrodbeck.com; further information on her Petoskey workshop, July 6-10, may be found at www.crookedtree.org, or by signing up at the Crooked Tree Arts Center at 231-347-4337.

 
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