VALPARAISO, Ind. – Artwork blending East Asian folk art and Christian subject matter will be featured at Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art in the opening exhibition of its 2010-2011 season.
“Heeding the Voice of Heaven: Sadao Watanabe Biblical Stencil Prints,” opening Aug. 24 and continuing through Nov. 19, highlights the work of one of Japan’s most influential artists of the 20th century. The exhibition includes 67 Watanabe prints, the majority from the Brauer Museum’s permanent collection, and offers a comprehensive look at the artist’s career.
Gregg Hertzlieb, director/curator of Brauer Museum, said that Watanabe was a Christian printmaker who won acclaim for his depictions of biblical stories and innovative techniques.
“He was able to combine traditional Japanese printmaking with biblical subject matter in a manner that was both visually interesting and accessible,” Hertzlieb said. “Watanabe’s art shows Christianity through a different filter that what is typically seen in Western culture, and it illustrates the many artistic manifestations that these stories can take.”
Watanabe, who lived from 1913 to 1996,  adapted a style of printmaking traditionally used for printing kimonos so that the process could be used on paper.
“Watanabe’s work, as much as it is about fine art, is also an exercise in anthropology,” Hertzlieb said. “The printmaking style he used evolved from traditional Japanese printmaking, so there’s this deep connection to a people and hundreds of years of history.”
In 1958, Watanabe received first prize at the Modern Japanese Print Exhibition held in New York City, and he was featured in novelist James Michener’s 1962 book “The Modern Japanese Print.” During President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, Watanabe’s prints were hung in the White House.
The Brauer Museum began collecting Watanabe prints in the mid-1970s, and the artist received an honorary doctorate from Valpo in 1987. Hertzlieb noted that the Brauer Museum possesses one of the largest collections of Watanabe prints in North America.
“This is a real strength of the museum, and it demonstrates the diversity of our collection in international religious art,” Hertzlieb said. Visitors will be able to purchase a catalog that contains color reproductions of all 67 prints in the exhibition and an essay by prominent Lutheran theologian Martin Marty of the University of Chicago.
Accompanying the Watanabe prints is the exhibition “Everyday Art: Casual Kimono from Mid-20th Century Japan,” featuring kimonos collected by Valparaiso resident Katherine Kuster.
“This display of selections from her collection is a fine complement to the Watanabe exhibition since both shows offer a blend of traditional and contemporary styles,” said Hertzlieb.
Public events taking place in conjunction with the exhibitions are:
·        Aug. 27 – Opening reception, 7 p.m.
·        Sept. 1 – Video screening for “Heeding the Voice of Heaven” with Pastor James Vehling, a missionary to the Japan Lutheran Church for 20 years and director of the Sapporo Youth Center, 7 p.m.
·        Sept. 22 – Gallery Talk on Watanabe presented by distinguished scholar of Asian art Sandy Kita, author of “A Hidden Treasure: Japanese Woodblock Prints in the James Austin Collection,” 7 p.m.
·        Oct. 6 – Coffee Hour with Katherine Kuster on “Everyday Art,” 7 p.m.
·        Nov. 3 – Coffee Hour with John Ruff, associate professor of English, on “Heeding the Voice of Heaven,” 7 p.m.
More information about Brauer Museum’s 2010-2011 season, including a complete list of exhibition-related events, is available online at The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday during the academic year, which begins Aug. 23. Current summer hours at the museum are Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. (closed Mondays). Admission to the museum and all events is free. Group tours may be arranged by calling (219) 465-7926.