Helena Cox
Affiliation. Position

'Reflections of Japan in East Yorkshire' – Reaching out, going digital and showcasing private collections of Japanese art and craft at Beverley Art Gallery

Beverley Art Gallery is based in the East Riding of Yorkshire, northern England. Its history is linked to Marcus Huish and British Japonism in the 19th century. As part of the official ‘Japan-UK Season of Culture 2020’, we planned an exhibition of Japanese arts to celebrate the Tokyo Olympics. The pandemic made this impossible – but instead of cancelling the exhibition, we developed an exciting way of reimagining ‘Reflections of Japan in East Yorkshire’ virtually.

As the lead curator on the project, in this talk I will show the gallery’s historic ties to Japan, but most importantly I will demonstrate how we discovered several private collections of Japanese materials in East Yorkshire, and how we created both online resources and a physical exhibition based around these collections.

The most striking among these is a collection of several hundred Japanese traditional toys and craft items from across the whole of Japan. Other collections include precious kimono, shibori textiles, ukiyo-e prints, and contemporary manga, among other.

Celebrating the bonds between the local community and Japan, we invited the collection owners to co-curate the exhibition with us. In person at first, and then virtually during the pandemic, we produced digital content in collaboration with Ochanomizu University (Tokyo) featuring items from both the Gallery collection and private collections. We worked together with the local community on creating the storyline for the exhibition, which will finally open physically in October 2022. We wanted the exhibition to tell the story of what Japan means to East Yorkshire residents, what they love about Japanese art, and how their collections came about. We also partnered with the contemporary artist Laura Boswell, who produced a series of Yorkshire landscapes depicted in the traditional ukiyo-e style. This project uncovered the great resources and hidden treasures of private collections in East Yorkshire.