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The College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ) is a non-profit organization staffed entirely by volunteers who provide a variety of support for many causes. The CWAJ Print Show, first held in 1956, is a globally recognized exhibition that features prints from established artists as well as up-and-coming talent and is the CWAJ’s biggest fundraiser. All money raised goes to scholarship programs, and some of the world’s most prestigious print artists have been featured—and indeed discovered—through this annual event. As the 62nd exhibition got underway, The ACCJ Journal spoke with organizers and artists to find out how and why the show has not only endured, but grown stronger over the past six decades.

Way home II, Sohee kim

In 1949, Japanese Fulbright students were having difficulty raising sufficient funds to travel to the United States. At the time, Japanese prints were very popular among Americans, so the CWAJ began selling the prints with the aim of using the proceeds to pay the students’ airfare. From that, the group’s volunteer movement was born.

This led to the CWAJ Print Show, and today more than 700 works are submitted each year, and a jury selects just over 200 prints to be displayed at the exhibition. On October 30, the CWAJ kicked off the 62nd Print Show at a special event at Hillside Forum in Daikanyama, Tokyo. Open to the public, the space provides a vibrant setting for the display of diverse works, all of which were organized, curated, and hung by CWAJ members.

The 2018 Associate Show also opened at Hillside Forum alongside the Print Show. The Associate Show always has a running theme, and this year’s was cover artists. Previous Print Show catalog cover artists were contacted and, if they were still creating work, asked to submit a piece. The print is displayed alongside the artist’s original cover and offers viewers a glimpse of the evolution of the artist’s work. This is a great way to demonstrate the long history of the CWAJ and how the annual show continues to keep up with the landscape of the modern art world.

Daniel Kelly

With 200 pieces on display, the range of art techniques is vast. One is traditional Japanese woodblock printing that has been practiced for more than four centuries and represents some of the most iconic pieces of art to come out of Japan.

“Woodblock prints are actually quite primitive,” explained Kyoto-based US print artist Daniel Kelly, who is featured in this year’s Associate Show. “There are no machines. I spend weeks just making trial proofs; and that is after the woodcarving is done. For a complete edition, the whole process—from shaping and sizing the paper to signing the edition—usually takes 4 to 6 months.” This lengthy process adds to the sensitive and delicate outcome, with the work being printed on washi, a type of Japanese paper made from tough fibers that is registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

Kelly has been a prominent and consistent contributor to the CWAJ Print Show.

“This year, the size limit was made smaller by the committee. I did notice that, but made my usual large-as-possible print. This is the first year my work is not in the Print Show in about 30 years,” Kelly explained.

His first entry to appear in the show, Rolling In (1982), was a knockout seller. That was the encouragement the Idaho-native needed to take the plunge and to go forth as a full-time working artist “against all of the advice of older relatives who were not artists.” As Kelly explained: “I often heard that it might be good to study accounting. Now that makes me laugh.”

Washi paperworks are also popular and are a specialty of Rochester, NY-native Sarah Brayer. She has been a prominent figure in the CWAJ Print Shows and was the first non-Japanese woman to be featured on the catalog cover, in 2007. In addition to washi paperworks, she is known for aquatint, a technique that involves etching a copper plate to create shading that resembles watercolor. Her works have been featured in the collections of the British Museum in London, the Smithsonian Institution’s Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC, the New York Public Library, and the Embassy of the United States, Tokyo.

Oh my mai, Kunio Kaneko

To break in to the art world and become a self-sustaining working artist is no mean feat. The renowned exhibition is a great platform from which young talent can propel themselves into the art world. To help make these dreams come true, the CWAJ presents the ¥500,000 Young Print Maker Award to selected artists each year. The winners then exhibit in the show three years later. This encourages the pursuit of art by providing talented young artists with opportunity and support.

It is in this area, in particular, that Kelly holds The CWAJ Print Show in high regard. “It is a huge lift for young artists, and for that I thank the CWAJ.” The continuity and annual presence, he says, is what makes the print show so special.

“In the world of Japanese print, the CWAJ is an institution,” he added. “It is an educational venture for the public and a support system for artists.” The show has featured so many young, aspiring artists, and is also a warm home for many well-established artists in Japan and abroad.

CWAJ members create braille versions of a selection of works in the Print Show to offer visually impaired guests an opportunity to experience the art.

The CWAJ has done many things to help the visually impaired in Japan over the years. Hands-on Art is a special collection made in collaboration with the Japan Braille Library. CWAJ members create braille versions of a selection of works in the Print Show to offer visually impaired guests an opportunity to experience the art. The guest can take in the scene by feeling raised images and patterns while a guide talks with them about the print and the original artist’s creative ideas.

Fumiko Ishii, a CWAJ member and Hands-on Art volunteer, told The ACCJ Journal why she thinks the project is so special. “In Japan, people with physical challenges have very few opportunities to appreciate art, so we offer them that chance.”

At the end of the show, the braille prints are donated to the Japan Braille Library.

For those with low vision, guided tours of the Print Show can be arranged that highlight the most vivid prints and offer verbal descriptions of each piece. In this way, guests can get a feel for the space and mingle with other guests.

Hands-on Art has also given Rie Yasuhara, a former recipient of the Visually Impaired to Study Abroad scholarship—as well as many other visually impaired visitors—the opportunity to experience art in a way they haven’t before. “I can build an image in a different way by touch. Along with the explanation, it makes it very interesting to form an image of the print,” Yasuhara explained.

Because of the help she received financially and emotionally from the CWAJ, Yasuhara has joined the organization as a member. “I wanted to contribute to the organization and society,” she explained. “The CWAJ has given me a lot. Of course financial aid, but at the same time human aid. To express my appreciation, I thought I would become a member and do something for the organization.”

Two types of scholarships are given to those with visual impairment: one for those who wish to study abroad and one for those who wish to study in Japan. Since 1978, the total amount raised and awarded for these scholarships is ¥108.33 million.

Yasuhara explained how the scholarship helped her pay for university and how CWAJ members assisted with the planning of her trip to Boston, Mass., where she interned over the summer. “I didn’t have any information about it and I didn’t have any friends there. When I talked about my plan to one of the CWAJ members, that person introduced me to a former recipient of the CWAJ scholarship for the visually impaired. This person was studying and living in Boston. With her help, I was able to get a lot of information on proper places to stay, in terms of safety and accessibility.”

Of the money raised from the sale of each print, half goes to the artist and half to the many scholarships and projects run by the CWAJ. As another way to raise money, a section is stocked full of scarves, calendars, bookmarks, and many other things decorated with prints and patterns from the current show. This offering is a sign that members care for the cause and the legacy of this organization, and continue to keep its spirit fresh and modern.

Since 1972, the total amount awarded for the Graduate Scholarship for Japanese Women to Study Abroad is ¥310.7 billion, with each scholarship ranging from ¥1 million to ¥4.83 million per person. And ¥207 million has been raised since 1981 for the Graduate Scholarship for Non-Japanese Women to Study in Japan, with each winner receiving ¥1 million to ¥2 million.

The young women who have received this support have gone on to study a variety of subjects, such as art and medicine.

Fukushima Art Projects provided young children in areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011 with learning sessions at the Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art. The projects were launched as a quick relief response, and ¥2.5 million has been dedicated since 2013.

In conjunction with this, the Fukushima Relief Scholarships were awarded to students at the Fukushima Medical University School of Nursing and Graduate School of Nursing. Eighteen scholarships have been awarded so far, and two more are to be awarded in May 2019. From 2012 to 2018 the CWAJ has raised about ¥9 million to fund these scholarships.

In 2019, the CWAJ is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The milestone will be commemorated with the awarding two scholarships for a two-year program, each worth an impressive ¥5 million. The increase in the award funds is a clear sign that the CWAJ shows no signs of slowing down. While final figures are not yet available, this year’s show has seen a 20-percent increase in sales, and the grand total of money raised by the CWAJ since 1972 is a staggering ¥959.8 trillion.

Not only does the CWAJ provide young people from all walks of life with opportunity and support, it also fosters close relationships for some 450 members. Through the organization, non-Japanese women find a sense of community in a country that is not their own, and forge friendships through giving back to their community—helping those in need.

Megan Casson is a staff writer at Custom Media for The ACCJ Journal.
The renowned exhibition is a great platform from which young talent can propel themselves into the art world.