The Distinctive Works of Bertha Lum

We have previously shared some of the fantastic Japanese woodblock prints that grace our collections. They are both elegant and delicate, as well as inspirational. We don’t need to go far to see how Japanese printmaking inspired the work of one particular American artist who studied the technique and developed a unique style of her own.

Iowa-born artist Bertha Lum created colorful works in a style called Japonisme—a term first coined by French art critic and collector Phillipe Burty in 1872 that is used to describe the influence of Japanese design on Western art and artists. Lum devoured art journals and developed an intense curiosity for the processes. Throughout her thirties, she acquired printmaking tools and skills during trips to Japan where she studied and worked with woodblock artists Igami Bonkotsu and Nishimura Kamakichi. The influence of her further travels in China can also be seen in her work. She is known especially for her ability to blend two worlds, east and west, in her art form.

The image below is enchanting and haunting, as the lanterns appear to almost float through the fog in a procession.

The Procession. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49373

The Procession. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49373

Scenes of birds soaring in the skies demonstrate her range. The below image on the left is less detailed but extremely vibrant and rich with color, while the image on the right displays impeccable precision and skill with Japanese woodcut techniques.

Ducks flying over bridge. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1905. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49377

Ducks flying over bridge. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1905. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49377

The Land of the Bluebird. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1916. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.09572

The Land of the Bluebird. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1916. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.09572

There is something about the way she inserts color that is so astounding to me, such as below, where the blues and yellows pop in just the right places. The below snowy image so beautifully conveys a trek through a whitened bamboo road, and the viewer can almost feel the chill and hear the crunch of the snow.

Bamboo Road. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1913. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49385

Bamboo Road. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1913. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49385

 

Fox Woman. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1916. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49371

Fox Woman. Woodcut by Bertha Lum, copyrighted 1916. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49371

Learn More:

On the Road Again: Scouting Out “Roadside America” Sites

When John Margolies gave a talk at the Library of Congress in 2011 about his project to photograph roadside attractions and commercial vistas all across America, he remarked, “If anybody knows if these places still exist, tell me later ’cause that’s very often the only way that I find out whether things are there anymore.” […]

Caught Our Eyes: Autumn in Russia

The following is a guest post by Melissa Lindberg, Reference Librarian, Prints and Photographs Division Now that autumn has begun, it’s natural to look forward to its visual splendor. Searching the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for visual inspiration to match the brisk change in the air, I stumbled upon this autumnal scene from 1911 […]

Artwork by Chicano Movement “Artivist” Mario Torero

The following is a guest post by Katherine Blood, Curator of Fine Prints, Prints & Photographs Division. When Juan Felipe Herrera was exploring Library of Congress collections to share through his Poet Laureate project El Jardín (The Garden): La Casa de Colores, he was interested to learn what we have by Chicano Movement artists. We […]

Camera and Locomotive: Two Tracks across the Continent – John Plumbe’s Dream

The following is the first in a series of guest posts by Micah Messenheimer, Assistant Curator of Photography, Prints and Photographs Division. Two defining technologies of nineteenth-century America—railroads and photography—largely developed in parallel and brought about drastic changes to how people understood time and space. Trains bridged considerable distances with great speed; photographs brought past […]

Buildings that No Longer Exist: Photochroms of a Bygone Time

The following is a guest post by Leslie Granillo, a Junior Fellow in the Prints & Photographs Division, Summer 2017 This summer I’ve been lucky enough to work with a wonderful collection of Photochroms. Going through them has been like taking a vacation through Europe, with the added advantage of being able to travel back in […]

Looking to the Sky: Solar Eclipse 2017

“Thousands of residents stood with necks craned and peered wide-eyed through smudged glass as the moon sped between the sun and earth, gradually shutting off the bright morning light. From President Coolidge to the urchins with bundles of papers under their arms, the city marvelled at the awesome but magnificent sight.”  - The Washington Post, […]