This week sees the College Women’s Association of Japan print show approach its half century, as the 48th annual selection of prints goes up at the Tokyo American Club Oct. 17-19. The print show, inaugurated in 1956, began as a fundraiser to send Japanese students abroad; today it’s bringing the best overseas students to Japan for graduate study.

What hasn’t changed is the exceptional quality of the artworks on show. That’s because the CWAJ show isn’t your typical charity event — it’s a major forum for the display and sale of one of Japan’s most characteristic art forms, the hanga (print).

“The show attracts curators and dealers from all over the world, as well as the public,” says Sarah Brayer, an artist who has submitted to the show since 1982 and who received a CWAJ scholarship herself in 1999. “So it’s not only an honor, it’s a chance to have one’s work viewed by a wide audience.”

Only one-third of the total works submitted make it into the show, which this year is displaying 215 prints. Those selected won a thumbs-up from a panel of experts, including Lawrence Smith, Keeper Emeritus of Japanese Antiquities at the British Museum, and curators from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts.

It’s a fair bet, too, that some of the works purchased will find their way into museum and gallery collections around the world. Some 70 percent of pieces sold go to international buyers.

The print show also seeks to further understanding and appreciation of the hanga. This year, mezzotint artist Katsunori Hamanishi and lithographer Misako Shimizu will give demonstrations during the three-day show. For those needing a quick primer on print techniques, the catalog includes a guide to the various printmaking processes: relief (eg. woodblock, linocut); intaglio (etching, engraving, drypoint); stencil (stencil, silkscreen); and planographic (lithograph and offset lithograph). Examples of all these techniques can be found among the exhibited prints.

Brayer’s 1999 grant from the CWAJ enabled her to develop a pioneering print technique. “I was using washi [Japanese paper] as a medium,” she explains. “I wanted to see if I could make an edition using this technique — it hadn’t been done before. The [CWAJ] support was very important in enabling me to explore fully a range of materials and resources which made the project quite successful in the end.” Brayer’s “Blossoms,” a collograph print on washi made by the artist, depicting two kimono-clad women strolling under cherry blossom, is her contribution to this year’s exhibition.

The prints are offered in editions numbering between five and 300, with prices ranging from 3,000 yen to 400,000 yen (850,000 yen for one monumental work by Yoshitoshi Mori in the Associate Show). That adds up to a significant source of revenue of the CWAJ. Indeed, the show meets the entire cost of the CWAJ scholarship program — this year 14 scholarships were awarded totaling 30 million yen.

The profile of grant recipients has shifted toward bringing overseas students to Japan, and this year is the last in which the association will fund undergraduate students other than the visually impaired. (The association is committed to the support of the visually impaired, and one impressive aspect of the CWAJ Print Show is its hands-on program in which five of the displayed prints have been embossed as raised images. There are also staff on hand at the show and the demonstrations to assist visually impaired visitors.)

Among this year’s students are a historian from Singapore, a medical clinician from China specializing in mycology, a researcher in fruit science from Bangladesh and a blind graduate student from South Korea studying at the Department of Barrier Free Studies at the University of Tokyo. All of them speak warmly of the CWAJ’s support, which has made their research possible.

“I have been pursuing my Ph.D. on the Tamarind tree at Tsukuba University,” explains Syeda Shahnaz Parvez, whose work has explored how tamarind fruit may protect against various human diseases and serve as the possible source of a cheap, natural, selective herbicide. “My research is important both for the study of human health and for the environments. As I’m a self-financed student, the CWAJ has helped me continue my studies smoothly.”

The variety of artworks displayed by the CWAJ at Tokyo American Club this week is reflected only in the range of academic endeavor it is striving to support — and in both areas the association is committed to excellence. What better reason to get out your checkbook should something (and something surely will) catch your eye.

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