Shima Tamami

Shima Tamami 島珠実 (1937-1999) 


Sources: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, Merritt, Helen and Nanako Yamada, University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu, 1992 p. 142; The Modern Japanese Print - An Appreciation, James Michener, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1968 p. 36-38; and as footnoted. 

There is surprisingly little information on this well-regarded woman sōsaku hanga artist who passed away in 1999. Born in Hirosaki, Amori Prefecture on August 11, 1937 she graduated from Tokyo Women’s University of Arts (Women’s College of Fine Arts) in 1958. There is no information about who she studied with and what led her to the create woodblock prints, but she was sufficiently talented to have received a travel grant in 1962 from the College Women’s Association of Japan and to have her print Tori B (Bird B) included in James Michener’s 1962 seminal book and print portfolio The Modern Japanese Print, An Appreciation. In commenting in his book on the two women artists included in the portfolio, Iwami Reika (b. 1927) and Shima, Michener notes, ". . . for two women to win prizes in a competition such as the present one signalizes a triumph of no small proportion. It has never been easy for women to attain prominence in Japanese art, and for two such young ones to have done so is indeed an accomplishment." 

Additional information available about the artist tells us that in the early 1960s she was “married to another print artist and living in Tokyo”1 and, at some later date, moved to the USA.2 

Notable in many of her designs is extensive use of the natural woodgrain of the plywood blocks to impart “textures [that] are tactile”3 to her prints. Many of her prints feature birds, fish or horses.

An interesting, and unexplained, aspect of Shima’s work, is how a number of the woodblocks she created were transferred to the artist Takagi Shirō (1934-1998). Dr. Ross F. Walker states in his brief bio of the artist provided on his website that her family was unaware of Takagi’s use of the blocks until Walker brought it to their attention in 2005.4 This collection’s print Pacific Saury and Eggplant, is an example of a print in which Shima’s blocks were apparently re-used by Takagi who may have known Shima (or perhaps was the unnamed artist husband Michener referred to), as he and Shima were both born in Hirosaki.

A web search shows that Shima created over 60 woodblock prints. 

Collections (Partial List)

Portland Art Museum; Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Carnegie Museum of Art; Minneapolis Museum of Art; Weatherspoon Art Museum, The University of North Carolina; National Gallery of Victoria, Australia; Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, British Museum; Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum; Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; National Gallery of Australia; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts

1 The Modern Japanese Print - An Appreciation, James Michener, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1968 p.36.2 website of Ohmi Gallery [accessed 11-28-2023]3 op. cit. Michener, p. 374 op. cit. Ohmi Gallery

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Typical Signatures of the Artist

Prints in Collection

click on thumbnail for print details

Birds B, 1959

IHL Cat. #1336c

Castle, 1961

IHL Cat. #1408