Pitt Alumnus Donates Rare Japanese Woodblock Prints to Pitt Library System

Issue Date: 
June 8, 2009

Connellsville native and Pitt alumnus Barry Rosensteel, a devotee of Japanese art, has donated more than 100 rare Japanese woodblock prints to Pitt’s University Library System (ULS).
The colorful prints, produced between the 18th and 20th centuries, represent Japanese culture through detailed depictions of landscape, history, and theater. They range from the size of a greeting card to that of a full poster, with some as large as 30 by 9 inches.

“We are very grateful for Barry’s donation,” said Rush Miller, Hillman University Librarian and director of the ULS. “It’s an extraordinary complement to our Walter and Martha Leuba Collection, which contains several 20th-century Japanese woodblock and Chinese prints.”

Rosensteel (EDUC ’76) grew up near the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece Fallingwater and, over the years, became inspired by the famed architect’s work. Wright’s world-class collection of Japanese art, particularly woodblock prints, prompted Rosensteel to begin collecting prints, starting with four he purchased in an antique store in the early 1980s.

By the beginning of this decade, he had amassed more than 800 prints. The 126 he is donating to the University, valued at $115,000, will be known as the Barry Rosensteel Japanese Print Collection.

Created with water, rice paste, vegetative color pigments, and, in some cases, ground precious metals, the prints fade if exposed to light for extended periods of time. They are being cataloged by the Special Collections Department of Hillman Library, where the collection resides. That work is expected to be completed this summer. Each print will be housed in an archival-quality folder and stored in a steel file case. Digitization of the prints is expected to begin this fall, and when complete, the images will be available online. Viewers will be able to use a zoom feature to inspect the artworks’ detail and clarity; the original prints will be available for scholarly research.

Selected prints will be featured in an exhibition at the University Art Gallery this October during a symposium titled “Japan’s Cultural Imagination and Its Contribution to the World.” Students enrolled in a museum studies course in Pitt’s Department of the History of Art and Architecture in the School of Arts and Sciences will assist a professional curator in mounting the exhibition. The symposium comprises two days of film screenings, a teachers workshop, and panel discussions.

Although extensive collections are housed in many of the world’s largest museums, early Japanese woodblock prints are usually not shown for extended periods of time because of their fragile nature.