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1 Works on Paper in Collection

Bertha Lum Artist Page


Works in Select Public Collections

Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, IL; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Jordon Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR; Amon Carter Museum of Art, Fort Worth, TX; Portland Art Museum, OR; The British Museum, London, England; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA

Selected Recent Exhibitions

Floating World, The Influence of Japanese Printmaking, Sun Valley Museum of Art, Ketchum, ID, 2013

Included Junks, Mountains, Trees

Visions of the Orient: Western Women Artists in Asia, 1900-1940, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, 2012

Japonisme in American Graphic Art, 1880-1920, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, 2008

Outside In, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, 2006


Bertha Lum by Mary Evans O’Keefe and Carol Pulin, 1991, American Printmakers Series, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991 Gravelos

Born 1869 Tipton, IA
Died 1954 Genoa, Italy

Bertha Lum is widely recognized for popularizing Asian woodblock printing in the U.S. Working at a time when Japonisme was at its height, Lum lived in Japan and China and learned the centuries old techniques firsthand, making luscious prints that combine Art Nouveau curves with Modernist flat planes of flat and Eastern subject matter.

Lum was born in Iowa to parents who were professionals as well as amateur artists. She studied on and off at the Art Institute of Chicago between 1895-1900 and also attended the Chicago School of Illustration, studying with its founder Frank Holme who was interested in printing but had little knowledge about traditional Japanese methods. Lum also absorbed Arthur Wesley Dow’s important textbook, Composition (1899) which presented Japanese color woodblocks as ideal models of balance and composition.

In 1903 she married Burt Lum, a Minneapolis-based lawyer. The couple honeymooned in Japan where Lum sought out a printmaker who could teach her the traditional ukiyo-e method of printmaking. While she didn’t find a teacher on that initial trip she did garner some information from a print shop owner who sold her woodcutting tools. When she returned home she started to make prints, finding information about the process in art journals and wherever she could.

In 1907 Lum returned to Japan for over three months. She was introduced to Igami Bonkutsu who was a block cutter in Yokohama. Traditionally, Japanese prints are made by three specialized craftsmen: an artist draws the picture, a cutter transfers the image to the woodblock, and a printer inks the blocks and produces the finished work. Lum aspired to learn the entirety of the process so after she worked with Bonkutsu, she went on to work for printer Nishimura Kamakichi observing carefully as his apprentices added color to her prints. With little knowledge of the language, Lum’s learning was based on close observation. Returning home she did her own cutting and print work and by 1908 the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston named her a master craftsman, in recognition of her mastery of these processes.

While Lum was married she was very independent and eager to pursue her art. In 1911 Lum found a summer home in Toyko and she and her children stayed in Japan for six months. During this time she began to work cooperatively, hiring other cutters and printers to work with her. In 1912 Lum was honored by an invitation to participate in the Tokyo International Exhibition. She was the only woman included and hers were the only woodcuts by a foreign national.

Lum’s art continued to be recognized in the U.S. In 1912 she had a one person exhibition at the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts. In 1915 her work was awarded a silver medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. In the early 1920s she had work in exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and New York Public Library. Between 1915-1919 Lum returned to Japan twice. Living in Hollywood, California between 1917-22, she made a good living selling her prints in California and Peking Galleries.

Lum’s color woodblock in the Wolfson collection, Junks, Mountains, Trees, 1922 reflects her Eastern influences. The stylistic approach suggests that she had looked carefully at the work of the Japanese ukiyo-e master Hiroshige. The boat filled lake is soft and the colors muted and is seen through a foreground of trees that are only partially in the frame, cropped in the manner of Hiroshige’s The Plum Garden in Kameido (1858). Lum employs repeated patterns of delicate, undulating lines and flat planes of color to define both the mountains and the water. Sailing ships on the water was a subject that Lum returned to throughout her career.

Lum’s subject matter ranged from women and children to landscapes to figures from Asian folklore. Her first illustrated book, Gods, Goblins, and Ghosts, which was based on her travels in Japan, was published in 1922. The same year, she moved to Peking, China and began learning Chinese woodcut methods. Unfortunately, an earthquake in 1923 destroyed many of Lum’s wood blocks so her earlier works are less widely known. By 1928 she and Bert were divorced and for the next thirty years Lum divided her time between California, China and Japan. in 1926, an exhibition of her work was mounted at the National Museum (now the Smithsonian), Division of Graphic Arts.

During the Depression, Lum made a living selling prints and doing illustration for books, newspapers, and magazines, including the New York Herald Tribune and Good Housekeeping. In 1936 she published Gangplanks to the East, a collection of Asian folk tales and stories of her travels. She also wrote a number of articles about her experience in East for newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, by the end of the 1930s Lum’s vision was deteriorating and the last known exhibition of her work mounted during her lifetime was in 1941. In 1953 she and her daughter Catherine moved from China to Genoa, Italy. Lum died in Genoa in 1954.

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