Posts belonging to Category Historical Tidbits


The Seattle Art Museum has a wonderful new exhibit titled “Fleeting Beauty” featuring a private collection of Japanese woodblock prints.

In a word, they are stunning.  

The Japanese term for these prints is “Ukiyo-e” – which literally means Pictures of the Floating World.

What is this floating world, and why do we call it ‘fleeting’?

The images depicted in these prints are scenes in and around the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo), during the late 17th to mid19th centuries.

They are from a time in Japan’s history that no longer exists.

In that sense, they are fleeting.

Just like weekends, or vacations that never seem to last quite long enough, these images of life in historic Japan, seem to have floated on by.

During Japan’s Edo period, the Shogun ruled the land, and Samurai warriors were in force. Their home base was Edo, a bustling, thriving metropolis.

In short, the Samurai warriors, far away from home and family, needed to be ‘entertained’ during their free time.

Hence the so-called “Pleasure Quarters” – a distinct area outside the main city, where courtesans, and Kabuki actors offered an enjoyable escape from everyday life.

It is here where the inspiration for the Ukiyo-e prints takes place.

I addressed the printmaking process in an earlier post, describing my own, amateur efforts at the craft.

However, the creation of a woodblock print is extremely complex, a process that involves four different artisans.

It begins with the Artist, who is responsible for the overall design, then moves on to the Carver, who carves the intricate details out of blocks of cherry wood, then on to the Printer, who magically applies the colors according to the Artist’s vision.

Keep in mind that a different block of wood needed to be carved for every single nuance of color visible in the final print.

In the print shown, by Hiroshige, we see varying shades of blues and greys, plus yellow, red, purple and black . What seems fairly simple, might actually involve up to ten different blocks of wood.

The white of the snow was the basic color of the paper – meaning one less block that needed to be carved!

It was the Printer who was responsible for perfectly aligning (or registering) the different blocks of color. In other words, if this individual was not dedicated to his craft, a woman’s red lips might not be properly positioned on her face, or her elaborate hairdo might appear slightly askew and not quite sitting on her head.

Clearly, that would not uphold the high standards that these craftsmen adhered to.

The final step of the process was the Publisher. The early prints were bound into books; it was only later that they were sold as individual sheets that served as advertisements, if you will, for attracting customers.

Much like the present day poster.

Some even served as the equivalent of gift wrap. (In their day, these Ukiyo-e prints were not considered fine art).

The woodblock prints in this exhibit focus on courtesans, kabuki actors, and landscapes. The latter came into favor towards the end of the 18th century, when the prints of the pleasure quarters were gradually being phased out.

On view are majestic scenes from Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mt. Fuji”, not to mention Hiroshige’s “53 Stations Along the Tokaido Road”

A road, by the way, that still exists for the intrepid traveler.

The Ukiyo-e prints capture a way of life gone by. They are at once magical, beautiful and yes, fleeting.


I’m betting that you have a sofa somewhere in your home.

Most likely it is one of several focal points in the living room (the others being a fireplace or TV), and the one piece of furniture that everyone gravitates towards.

Perhaps it is incredibly comfortable, inviting you to cuddle up in a corner with a good book?

Then again, maybe it is the style of your sofa that is so appealing?

Or perhaps it’s the well-worn fabric and cushions, that have seated generations of your family before you?

Do sofas really have a secret life?

Well, maybe not in the sense that some people lead secret lives, but if your sofa has any kind of history, who knows?

Let me share with you a little bit about the origins of the sofa, and you will see what I mean.

Sofas have been a standard fixture in our homes for only a little over three hundred years. The sofa made its first appearance during the reign of King Louis IV, of France, during the late 17th century.

The sofa was a French invention, ushering in a new age of greater comfort in home furnishings.

It wasn’t long before it became all the rage among the upper levels of society. Of course, the royal household benefitted first with the Queen, herself, an avid promoter.

With the arrival of the sofa, this was the first time in history that an upholstered, padded piece of furniture was available that could actually seat two people!

At the time, this was considered incredibly daring.

The sofa developed a reputation of being rather racy. It was seductive and sexy, inviting the kind of tete-a-tete that had not been possible before this time.

Even women’s fashions changed as a result, as it was not possible for a stiffly corseted woman, to lounge back on a sofa. Women’s dresses thus became more relaxed, allowing for the body to move more naturally.

It is interesting to note, that across the pond in England, stiff, upright, and un-upholstered seating was still the norm. It took a while before the English finally succumbed and accepted this revolutionary new kind of furniture into their homes.

So let me ask you, do you love your sofa?

Does it envelope your body and invite you to relax at the end of the day, in complete comfort?

Or is it the opposite?

Have the springs and cushions gone flat? Is the fabric frayed and worn and tired?

If that’s the case, here are my suggestions for remedying the situation. It really boils down to two choices, so here they are:

Re-Upholster Your Existing Sofa.

This really only makes sense if the sofa you currently own is of good enough quality to justify the expense. I say this because re-upholstering your sofa could easily equal the cost of a new one, and the quality may not even be the same.

If your present sofa has ‘good bones’ there’s no need to replace it. Selecting a new fabric and having the piece re-upholstered, will breathe new life into what you already have.

You will likely be pleasantly surprised and wonder why you didn’t do this sooner.

Plus, by recycling a good piece of furniture you will protect the landfills!

Replace the Sofa Entirely

If you paid very little for your sofa when you first purchased it, then it’s time for an upgrade.

If there ever was a time to splurge this is it!

Why is this so important?

Because the inexpensive sofa you purchase today, will likely need to be replaced a few years down the road. You could spend many years and thousands of dollars replacing an entire series of inexpensive sofas.

Instead, be daring, just like the sofa in its’ heyday.

Focus your attention on quality construction, comfort, and of course style, knowing that this sofa will last well beyond your lifetime, and maybe even those of your children.

If you really want to go all out, pamper yourself with the luxury of a custom design.

Having your sofa customized to fit your body’s size and its’ various quirks, and perfectly sized to fit your room, is the ultimate design experience.

Go on, you’re worth it!