Kuniko Yamada McVey
Harvard university. Harvard-Yenching library. Librarian for the Japanese Collection

Serizawa Keisuke’s Ehon Don Kihote (A Don Quixote Picture Book, 1936) and his quest of mingei art

Harvard has five of the 75 lavishly produced copies of “Ehon Don Kihote” (1936), featuring stenciled illustrations by Serizawa Keisuke; Harvard also holds the stencils used in its production. The story behind its existence touches on many strands of affiliation and culture.

In the early 1930s Carl Keller (1872-1955, Harvard class of 1894), a renowned collector of editions of Don Quixote, was not satisfied with some two dozen Japanese translations and editions that he had acquired from Japanese dealers and others. One of these sources was Jugaku Bunsho (1900-92), an English literature scholar and bibliophile, and member of the mingei (art and craft) movement conceptualized and led by Yanagi Sōetsu (1889-1961). Keller had met Yanagi in 1930, during the latter’s year at Harvard, and it was through Yanagi that Keller involved Jugaku in his Don Quixote project.

Keller decided to commission a new book. Jugaku and his friend and potter Kawai Kanjiro reached out to Serizawa Keisuke (1895-1984) for the job. The result was exquisite. Serizawa situated the story in early modern Japan, and made the protagonist a samurai. The story is depicted in 32 scenes in tanrokubon style, utilizing traditional katazome stencil dyeing. Serizawa cut the stencils, printed on washi paper, designed the front and back covers with brilliant vermillion lacquer and gold, and made the chitsu case covering with textile he had dyed with indigo.

The project could only have come to pass via Keller’s chance meeting with Yanagi, the connection with Jugaku, and Keller’s ambition (for the “right” book) and personal resources.

Keller donated his Don Quixote collection to Harvard library, and all the stencils to the Harvard Art Museum. Serizawa would continue to perfect the katazome technique for books and textiles, which was recognized as “Important Intangible Cultural Asset” by the Japanese government in 1956.

芹沢銈介の『絵本どんきほうて』 (1936年刊) および民藝の探求