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3529Re: NYPL digital collection

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  • Jake Benson
    Mar 23, 2006
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      Thanks for sharing that information about the NYPL web site. The Spencer collection at
      NYPL is home to some very interesting and unique works of marbling. Last summer I was
      able to visit and see a small two small Japanese manuscripts that were made with
      suminagashi paper. The first was Jap MS 1-48-1, a copy of Shokubutsu ze-no-doku
      (Pictures of Plants). c. 1700. (neglected to note the pagination, binding stucture- I believe
      it is a pamphlet wrapper). It is described as "an herbal for the care of man or beast". The
      outer paper wrapper of the book was an example of suminagashi that was applied over a
      piece of kumogami or "cloud paper". This is a kind of decorative paper made during the
      paper-making process. Basically, Indigo blue pulp fibers are poured in and produce soft
      mottled bands of blue within the sheet. Kumogami was often used for tanzaku by poets.

      The way the marbling was applied was juxtaposed to the pattern of kumogami-a band of
      blue in the kumogami. The distance and juxtaposition of arcs within the suminagashi
      pattern and the kumogami banding effectively rendered the aesthetic sense of a kind of
      abstract landscape. Or better yet, perhaps a "seascape" of ocean waves and clouds. I have
      never seen suminagashi combined with kumogami before, so this was very intriguing to
      me and visually quite stunning.

      the second item was a Japanese booklet decorated with suminagashi. The item number
      for this book is JAP 88-1 (may also be 1-88-1). It is a copy of Kindai Shuka, which is
      described as "an ancient anthology".

      It is a kind of two-section style of binding. I looked up the style in the book by Kojiro
      Ikegami, but I didn't see anything exactly like it. It is similar to the ledger or receipt book;
      only two sections are sewn together, through the folds, instead of just one. They are sewn
      at four sewing holes, and I think the thread makes a “figure eight” pattern through both of
      the sections. In through the top, out the hole to the bottom, out the hole, back to the top,
      turn around at the end, and so on. After asking japanese book conservator Kiyoshi imai
      about the specific style of binding, he replied that it might possibly have been something
      of a "one-off' booklet that was made after the scholar who wrote took their notes.

      The outer folios of both of the sections were wrapped with 2 laminated suminagashi
      papers. Hence the pattern on the front cover did not match the back of the cover, nor
      were they conjoined. The pattern seen on the first section was composed of a more
      traditional suminagashi pattern over a paper that had been printed in an abstract pattern
      using silver colored pigment (possibly tin? It was not tarnished like silver and looked very

      The pattern on the back cover was very unusual variation of a more common pattern. It
      was of a long narrow horizontal oval of concentric blue and black rings. Only in this case
      the outermost band was stylized in a manner reminiscent to combing seem in Islamic and
      Western forms of marbling. The hair was used to tool only in a short depth- to the next
      band, and that was all. This was repeated around the entire circumference of the oval.
      After observing the pattern I theorize that the marbler may have used a single (horse?) hair
      to accomplish this. So I will have to try out my theory and see if I can reproduce the

      As a result of the way that the pattern was applied to the paper, and then the way that the
      paper was used in the binding, you only see half of the oval as a result on the back cover.
      The application had a very unusual aesthetic about it, unlike other examples of
      suminagashi I have seen applied in books and manuscripts.

      There is more to write about what is in the Spencer collection, but I have to stop here for
      now. Unfortunately these images are not featured on the NYPL web site. There is also a
      collection of decorated papers that I had no time to go through. Has anyone else on this
      list possibly taken the time to rummage through those boxes NYPL? Care to share with us
      what you saw?

      Jake Benson
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