Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Helen Hyde: American Artist, Asian Identity

Helen Hyde
1868-1919
Helen Hyde embodies the art movement known as japonism: the artistic, historic, and ethnographic study of Japanese art. Hyde was raised in San Francisco and began her art education with artist-teachers in The City. As a child, she was exposed to Asian culture there and copied the beautiful and delicate Japanese prints. Hyde joined the Sketch Club and was a developing watercolorist while she studied at the California School of Design. Helen also spent time honing her craft in New York, at the Art Students League from 1888 until 1889, after which she traveled to Berlin and Paris to continue her art studies. Felix Regamey, one of Hyde's French instructors, was instrumental in exposing her to Asian art through his extensive Japanese art and artifact collection and, under his tutelage, she became part of the japonism movement.

While she lived and studied in Paris, Hyde most likely saw the 1893 exhibition of Mary Cassatt's color etchings which were inspired by the Japanese use of color, content, and perspective. By 1894, Hyde had returned to California and began to sketch likenesses of women and children in San Francisco's Chinatown. Through the Sketch Club, Hyde met, and became friends with another artist, Josephene Hyde (no relation) who was an etcher. Together they attempted color etchings, and in 1899, the two women settled in Japan to learn that country's painting techniques.

Helen Hyde
Baby Talk
 ca.1908.
Color woodcut
11 3/8 x 18 1/4 inches.
Josephene returned to America, while Helen spent the next fifteen years working in her Tokyo studio situated in an old temple. In Japan, Hyde learned the Japanese woodblock printing techniques from masters such as Emil Orlik, a European artist living in Japan. Hyde lived in Japan from 1903 through 1913 and refined color woodblock printing to a fine art.

Helen Hyde
An April Evening
ca.1910
Color woodcut
3 5/8 x 4 7/8 inches

Hyde studied for two years with the last of the Kano school artists, Kano Tomanobu, and learned the Japanese style of painting. She became skilled at the creation of woodblock prints and was invited to execute a kakemono, is a Japanese scroll painting mounted usually with silk fabric edges on a flexible backing, at an annual spring exhibition in Tokyo.


Helen Hyde
Going to the Fair
ca.1910
Color woodcut
7 3/4 x 19 inches
Because of the extensive collection of letters and prints saved by both Hyde and her relatives, an examination of her life provides a window into the experiences of an American woman who selected her subject matter and was faithful to the development and representation of her subject and style. Her women-centered artwork was filled with figures who were mothers or workers. She did not explore the prevailing Japanese women depicted by many male artists during the latter nineteenth century: the Geisha.

Hyde belonged to the Tokyo Woman's Club, at the time, however, the club did not admit Japanese women to membership. Japanese women were slowly gaining public recognition and acceptance to the Tokyo Art Institute. Hyde makes no mention of Japanese women artists or friends in her letter to her family. Hyde created a charming, pre-industrial world in her prints and preferred the traditional Japanese dress to the increasing popularity of Western clothing the was worn by many.


Helen Hyde
New Year's Day in Tokyo
ca.1914
Color woodcut
3/8 x 17 5/8 inches
Helen Hyde produced seventy-one color woodcut designs during her time in Japan which resulted in as many as 16,000 prints. She was a respected member of the art community and worked with a number of well-known and well-regarded artists and craftsmen there. Thanks to the care of her personal effects and artwork by her family, Hyde's prints are found in museums and her letters and printmaking tools are preserved in the California Historical Society.

Helen Hyde
The Furious Dragon
ca.1914
Color woodcut
 5 7/8 x 6 1/2 inches
Helen Hyde had been battling cancer for several years and by 1914, she became discouraged because she tired so easily and found it difficult to work. She returned home to the United States and died five years later. in Pasadena, California. 
 
Hyde's popularity has enjoyed a resurgence. Her prints are still sold at public galleries, and a vast collection of her works are included in the archives of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Hyde's works can be seen at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C as well. Two of her award-winning works are A Monarch of Japan and Baby Talk. In 1901, A Monarch of Japan took first place in the Nihon Kaiga Kyokai exhibition and the piece is now located at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 1909, Baby Talk received a Gold Medal at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition and it is now housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.      

__________________________________________
Sources
Conrad Graeber, Fine Art: Helen Hyde, http://www.conradgraeber.com/Hyde.html, retrieved 5/714.
Yesterday and Tomorrow: California Women Artists, edited by Sylvia Moore, Midmarch Arts Press, New York, 1989, 93.
Women Artists of the American West, edited by Susan Ressler, McFarland and Company, Inc., 2003, 245-246.
Women Artists of the American West, Helen Hyde Printmaker, Joan M. Jenson, http://www.cla.purdue.edu/waaw/jensen/hyde.html, 1998, retrieved 5/8/14.
Artelino, Japanese Prints, Helen Hyde, http://www.artelino.com/articles/helen-hyde.asp, retrieved 5/8/14.