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Winter 2022

Please note: Because these talks represent work in progress, we do not record or archive our Zoom sessions. We recognize the difficulties this may create for some audience members through scheduling and time-zone conflicts, but hope for your understanding—our aim is to enable speakers to set their own terms and timelines for disseminating their research.

December 15, 2022: Commerce, Collecting, and Circulation

7:00p – 9:00p EST
Via Zoom | Register

The Great Free Exposition: Making and Marketing Japanese Art in 1880s San Francisco”
Nina Blomfield · Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fello
w, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

In 1882, a series of advertisements in San Francisco newspapers invited tourists and locals to
visit Ichi Ban, a “free exposition” of the “Arts and Manufactures of the Japanese Empire.”
Capitalizing on growing consumer interest in Japanese artistic products, these promotional
materials presented Ichi Ban as if it were a national pavilion at a world’s fair. In reality, Ichi Ban
was an entirely private enterprise that retailed folding screens, silks, porcelain, bronzes, and
paper goods shipped from Yokohama, and employed Japanese painters and embroiderers to work
in-house at its Geary Street storefront. The physical presence of Japanese artists and the
performance of their craft was central to later advertisements which boasted a staff of 30 who
“pursue their occupations dressed in native costume in view of all visitors.” By appropriating the
language of exhibition and education, Ichi Ban marketed an artistic fantasy of Japan that allowed
American consumers of varied economic means to participate in wider discourses of art and
global politics.

This presentation takes Ichi Ban as a starting point from which to examine the mobility of
Japanese artists, objects, and aesthetics in late nineteenth century America. Tracking the careers
of Ichi Ban’s American owner, Horace Fletcher, and Ichi Ban Studios artist Yada Issho, I argue
that although American consumption of Japanese craft was cultivated by the Meiji government at
public exhibitions and codified by early museum professionals in Boston and New York, it was
commercial enterprises like Ichi Ban that were most instrumental in bringing Japanese art into
American homes.

“Collected by Foreign Visitors: Tobacco Boxes of the Late Joseon Period”
Seong A. Kim-Lee · Associate Professor, College of Foreign Studies, Kansai Gaidai University, Osaka

This presentation discusses tobacco boxes as an essential material culture popularly collected by foreign visitors to Korea after the Ganghwa Treaty in 1876. Homer Hulbert observed in his book “The Passing of Korea” (1906) that foreign visitors to Joseon often purchased a silver-inlaid iron tobacco box. Based on his observation, this study examines publications by foreign visitors to Joseon and researched museum collections of Korean tobacco boxes acquired directly by foreign visitors. After examining the tobacco boxes in museums, this study concludes that tobacco boxes were generally only available to the yanban or ruling class in Joseon. The tobacco boxes were a popular collectors’ item for foreign visitors and reflected Joseon’s inveterate smoking culture. The places where foreign visitors could acquire these silver-inlaid iron boxes were the curio markets on the main street of Seoul, the packmen in front of hotels and foreign residences, and the second-hand stores. Conversely, tobacco boxes in serpentine and soapstone were rare items and not readily available for purchase in the markets. A few records, like the diary of Dr. Horace Newton Allen (1858–1932), indicate that tobacco boxes were sometimes gifted to diplomats, doctors, and advisors by the emperor of Korea. This research presentation concludes that smoking was universal in Joseon society, but social status in Joseon limited the availability of tobacco utensils in terms of materials

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Spring 2023

  • Forthcoming

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Image Credits:
Top: Embroidered panel, Persia, c. 1610–40. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Bottom: Small egg basket, made by Ira Blount, late 20th–early 21st century. Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

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