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UMGC Global Media Center Japanese Prints Exhibit Highlights University's Global Reach

Menachem Wecker
By Menachem Wecker
"Study of Two Figures," n.d., woodblock, 13" x 15". Spanish Girl

Selections from an impressive collection of Japanese woodblock prints—donated to University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) by current and former overseas faculty and staff—are on view on the ground floor of the College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Adelphi, Maryland.

“This is an illustration of a global campus,” said Julian Jones, whose 28 years as a faculty member at what was then known as University of Maryland University College included leadership of the university’s the Asian division. “It’s also an opportunity for students, people who pass through the conference center, and faculty and staff to see a collection of amazing woodblock prints.”

Jones belongs to the Overseas Marylanders Association, whose roughly 550 members are active and retired UMGC overseas faculty and staff. He and many other members point to Emory Trosper as their inspiration to collect, and then donate, the Japanese woodblock prints. Trosper was a longtime professor and administrator in UMGC’s Asian division who spent decades collecting Japanese prints. He donated his collection to the university, and the gallery that features the prints on permanent display bears his name.

Trosper owned works by artists now found in major art venues, from New York City’s Museum of Modern Art to the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His enthusiasm inspired UMGC colleagues to learn about and collect woodblock prints, including by some of the same artists. 

“The reason many of us have donated Japanese prints is that he collected them, and they were all over the walls of the Tokyo office,” Jones said, noting that the prints remained in the office even after Trosper retired.  

"Samurai on a Horse," 1980, stencil print, Yoshitoshi Mori

One of the 24 works on view in the new gallery, Sadao Watanabe’s 1973 stencil print “Noah’s Ark,” is a gift from Jones’ collection. Known for religious imagery, Watanabe (1913-1996) depicted two figures—perhaps Noah and wife—on either end of the ark. The inside of the ark reveals an ox, birds, a dog, a snake and a horse. A dove perches on its roof with an olive branch, foreshadowing the end of the flood, as dramatic waves crash below.

Among the exhibition’s most dramatic works are six stencil prints by Yoshitoshi Mori: “Crazed Oshichi Climbing a Fire Tower” (1971), “Lady Oboro” (1976), “Dance of Two Lions” (1977), “Samurai on a Horse” (1980), “Kitsune-Ken” (1981) and “Look of Hell” (1984). Some are black and white; others have color. All have bold lines, suggesting sweeping movement. The prints appear to leap off the wall even from a distance. Mori, who donated the works to UMGC, has art in many major museums.

Jones recalls Trosper’s suggestion to award Mori an honorary doctorate in 1984. He and Trosper approached the artist with the idea, but Mori protested that he wouldn’t be able to give a speech in English. “Emory came up with, I think, the most brilliant solution for a commencement I’ve ever heard of,” Jones said. 

At commencement, Jones introduced Mori, who told graduates in English, “I want to congratulate you on your degrees. I would like you now to stand and turn around.” About 25 of the artist’s prints were on view in the rear of the auditorium. Mori continued: “I hope my art speaks to you” and then he sat down. 

“The shortest commencement speech in history, and maybe one of the most effective,” Jones said.

Through his collecting and Trosper’s influence, Jones learned of the connection between postwar Japanese printmakers and late 19th century and early 20th century Western art. Japanese printmakers talked about Vincent van Gogh the most, he said.

When Jones and others launched the idea of a gallery, UMGC had 123 prints in its collection, 92 of which Trosper donated. This year, Overseas Marylanders Association members added 28 more works to bring the total to 151.

Jones described the association as “an unusual collection of people” with a range of overseas experience, but also one tie that binds. “They moved every eight or 16 weeks—often from one country to another—and they lived on military bases. Some of them taught in war zones,” Jones said.  

Jones met Trosper in August 1972 when Jones arrived in Tokyo. Trosper was an administrator and traveling faculty member. He was also the person who briefed new arrivals.

“Japan was pretty exotic in those days for most of us. One night he took the new faculty out to a restaurant, and he said, ‘This is a sushi restaurant.’ Some of us actually said, ‘What’s that?’”

When Trosper answered “It’s raw fish,” Jones said there was a ripple of “My God” through the group.

Trosper exposed colleagues not only to cuisine but also Japanese museums. “He was one of those people who utterly fell in love with Japan. Its culture. Its customs. The whole thing,” Jones said. He called Trosper a “great intermediary” for colleagues, as well as faculty and university presidents who traveled from Maryland to Tokyo. 

"Geisha/Lady Oboro," 1976, stencil print, 40" x 26".

Jones and Trosper became good friends, and Jones later served as Trosper’s boss. They stayed in touch after Jones returned to College Park in the early 1990s and after Trosper’s retirement in the early 2000s. Trosper died in 2011.

Jones said he learned a good deal about postwar Japanese prints from the book “Collecting Modern Japanese Prints Then & Now” by Mary and Norman Tolman, who had a gallery in Japan that Jones visited with Trosper. The wheel came full circle when the Tolmans’ daughter, Allison,   came to Adelphi to help UMGC better understand its Japanese print collection. Tolman owns and directs the Tolman Collection of New York, a gallery that represents living Japanese artists.

During Tolman’s October 2021 campus visit, she met UMGC Arts Program Director Eric Key, Jones and a client from Connecticut. She noticed a calligraphic work by Mori hanging on the wall outside a seating area in the College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

“I said to them, ‘Oh. Isn’t that nice that Mori wrote that?’” Tolman recalled. “They said, ‘Wrote what?’ It was fun to be able to tell them that it was ‘Congratulations to the University of Maryland.’

“It’s a wonderful, very exuberant calligraphy piece. I guess Mori had a really nice time in Maryland,” she added.

Tolman said Japanese print collections are rare in the United States; the best known collections include works at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Smithsonian. She was impressed by what she saw in storage at UMGC and pleased to see Japanese prints on view elsewhere in the building. She said she hopes UMGC will continue to update its collection.

“This is really a collection preserved in time,” she said. “It’s important to have things that are current, especially at a university where we are teaching people how to grow and be educated.”

Japanese artists who created wood block prints had to be both imaginative and technically adept, which is one reason why Japanese prints tend to come in limited editions. Tolman urges visitors to the Trosper collection of Asian Art at UMGC to remember how much work went into each piece.  

“When art is good, we just look at the finished product. It’s important to keep in mind that all of these pieces, for the most part, were printed by the hand of the artist,” she said. “It was exciting for me to see so many Japanese prints displayed in a university that is doing so much outreach on an international basis.”