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The 2000 Album


When I first started planning these Surimono Albums, nearly three years ago now, it was difficult for me to imagine just what the 'finished product' would actually turn out to look like. I wanted collecting the prints to be as inexpensive as possible, so worked hard to devise a format that could be prepared effeciently even in small quantities, and yet which still had a professional feel and appearance. I drew sketches of possible album types, made mockups of sample albums, and went through many revisions of layouts and packaging ideas.

Once the series actually got under way, things had to be tied down firmly, so I made the necessary decisions, and settled on the format you now see. I don't know if you realize it, but absolutely everything about this album is handmade (or should I say 'homemade'!)

I of course make the prints themselves in the traditional manner. As I get near the end of the printing process I write the little story that will accompany the print; Sadako then puts this into Japanese, and the two of us together go through both versions line by line, working to make them as readable as possible. Once this is done, I print the sheets out on my desktop laser printer, ready for making up into the folders that will hold the prints. At the same time I also print out the ancillary material - a list of 'who gets which print' this month (many collectors are working on 'back issues') and the address labels for the packages. I then call Mrs. Ichikawa; she comes over, picks everything up, and takes it back to her home.

Using jigs and tools that I made for her, she glues together the parts of the folders and inserts the prints into them. She then wraps all the packages for shipping and delivers them to the Post Office. We don't make the album covers ourselves, but order them from a small firm in Tokyo, who handmake them to my specifications. You may not have noticed it, but even the label on the front of the album is carved and hand-printed ...

So although we have some high-tech assistance - I couldn't do this kind of 'self-publishing' without my Macintosh computer! - your album is about as hand-made as it could possibly be.

What about the content though? Is that working out in the way that I planned a couple of years ago? To a large extent, it is. Both of the albums I have made so far contain a good variety of prints; themes have included: landscapes, nature pictures, people, still life, old 'tales' ... One point of which I am particularly proud is that the albums are not full of prints by the 'same old' names that we hear all the time. You will find some prints by the Hokusais and Hiroshiges, but at least half of each album is made up of prints designed by people of whom you have never heard (I hope!). I consider this part of my 'mission', to expose as much of the 'unknown ukiyo-e' as I possibly can.

And using that word 'ukiyo-e' reminds me that this is another important feature of these albums - I am including prints that are not strictly ukiyo-e. The print by Mr. Yoshida I sent you a couple of months ago is a good example of this. It may not be what you expected to see when you 'signed up' to receive this album, but my guess is that you weren't disappointed when you opened the package and saw it ...

For this second album I pushed out the boundaries of what images to include, and ranged from 1689 to 1939, a span of 250 years. I don't think I'll be able to stretch the time span much wider than that in upcoming albums, but this won't be too much of a handicap - the museums of the world are packed full of wonderful and interesting prints for me to choose from!

And speaking of 'upcoming albums', in answer to the question that many of you have asked me "What will you do next year ... ?", I have to reply "Keep going, of course!" I've had tremendous fun making these first two Surimono Albums, and am already buried in the planning for the third. Will this become a ten-year series like my Hyakunin Isshu work? I can't say anything about that, as I have no plans at all to fix such a firm outline for this series; I will simply play it year-by-year I think.

I will continue for as long as I myself remain interested; for as long as I am challenged by the work; and of course, for as long as the collectors remain with me!

Thank you very much for your support of this album. I hope you will treasure it, and will enjoy viewing it as much as I have enjoyed making it.

January 2001


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