Monday, November 22, 2010

Pericopes of the Week: Watanabe

Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996)
The Wedding at Cana, 1984
Hand colored Kappazuri dyed stencil print on Momigami (crumpled) paper, 32/100
University Fund Purchase, Watanabe honorary degree campus visit
Brauer Museum of Art, 87.17.001
 Last Friday marked the end of a truly fine exhibition of biblical stencil prints by the legendary Japanese artist Watanabe Sadeo (1913-1996) at Valparaiso University's Brauer Museum of Art. Richard H. W. Brauer, after whom the museum is named and who taught art at VU for many years, served as the curator for this exhibit, "Heeding the Voice of Heaven: Sadao Watanabe Biblical Stencil Prints." The accompanying catalogue, which also tells the story of Watanabe's connection to Valparaiso University, is edited by my colleague, Gregg Hertzlieb, who directs the museum.  The book reminds us that Watanabe received an honorary doctorate from VU in 1987. At that time he said, "I owe my life to Christ and the gospel. My way of expressing my gratitude is to witness to my faith through the medium of biblical scenes." Gregg was kind to allow me to use in today's blog a few images of these biblical prints from the catalogue. These pictures will serve as this week's pericopes.

The story of Watanabe takes us back to my post of a few weeks ago, when I reported that the current president of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod has threatened to sever his church body's ties to the Japan Lutheran Church (the NRK--Nihon Ryuteru Kyodan), all because the latter is poised to allow women to serve as pastors. Watanabe became a Christian in Japan, was an active member in the United Church in Japan, was a close friend of key LCMS missionary to Japan, Bill Danker (about whom I wrote in the earlier blog), and has influenced many in the Christian churches here in this country. While the LCMS is threatening to break ties with the NRK, thankfully it will be unable to break its own members' connections to Christians in Japan. Watanabe's artwork helps to remind us of these important connections.

A friend of mine emailed me today to share his thoughts on this situation between the NRK and the LCMS. (I should add that he, too, owns a wonderful stencil print, signed by Watanabe, that hangs in his office.) Here's what he wrote:

"I am aware of the JLC (usually called the NRK – Nihon Ryuteru Kyodan) situation and it is unfortunate that the LCMS is not looking at the entire picture/challenge that is currently facing and has been facing the NRK for decades. Simply, an already small and fragile church body is  losing members and is enduring a decades long shortage of pastors. It is well known that less than 1% of the Japanese population is Christian, let alone Lutheran. And, without the work of missionaries in Japan, people like my wife may not have come into contact with the Lutheran/Christian faith, would not have been baptized, etc.. Surely the Great Commission includes all those, men and women, who are called and capable to preach and/or share the Gospel message."

Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996)
Adam and Eve, 1980
Hand colored Kappazuri dyed stencil print on Washi paper, 16/100
Gift of Josephine L. Ferguson (VU 1946) and Byron L. Ferguson (VU 1948)
Acquired from Rev. Dr. William Danker
Brauer Museum of Art, 86.07.002
Today I am grateful for those Christian/Lutheran missionaries who were instrumental in helping Watanabe Sadeo to come to faith in Christ, to be baptized, and to join that small community of Christian believers in Japan. I am grateful for the Christian witness that Mr. Watanabe makes through his beautiful art.

Martin Marty notes in his essay that appears in the catalogue that Watanabe's prints "make the familar strange, and the strange familiar." Marty describes an experience I had, too, when I first came across a Watanabe print, "What's that all about?" "Once grasped by a Watanabe work, alerted or inquisitive viewers linger and muse, for they know how important it is to give new visual art experiences their chance, much as one must be open, curious, and patient with new music" (Martin Marty, "The Masks of Watanabe," in Heeding the Voice of Heaven: Stories from Genesis to Revelation Envisioned by Sadao Watanabe [Valparaiso, Ind.: Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso University, 2010], 16)

Watabe has himself said, "Theology will not take deep root in Japanese soil if it is merely an import. I feel it is my mission to create Christian art for the Japanese people."

Thankfully the art has not remained confined in Japan. Dr. Danker helped to make Watanabe and his work more well-known in this country. Many of the pieces on display at the Brauer Museum normally hang in the homes and offices of several of my friends, colleagues and acquantances, people like Jim and Joanne Albers, the family of Bill Danker, Arlin and Sharon Meyer, Ed and Marie Schroeder, and the family of Robert Schnabel. (My wife, who will not read today's blog, doesn't know that she's receiving a Watanabe signed print for Christmas. So "Jonah and the Whale" [1979] will soon hang in our living room.)

Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996)
Listening, 1960
Hand colored Kappazuri dyed stencil print on Momigami (crumpled) paper, edition of 520
University Fund Purchase
Brauer Museum of Art, 2010.01
  "I have always aspired to portray stories and episodes from the Bible. In this disturbed world, I would like to heed the voice of heaven" (Sadao Watanabe, "The Artist's Comment," in The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation, by James A. Michener [Rutland, VT and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1962], 30).

1 comment:

  1. Hello!

    For all lovers of Watanabes prints: please visit the SadaoHanga Catalogue at: