In 2018, Arthur Tress donated his collection of Japanese illustrated books to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. It included over 1200 titles and several thousand volumes of printed books, manuscripts, and ephemera, representing the vibrant world of the Japanese illustrated book.
Acclaimed photographer Arthur Tress (b. 1940) began collecting Japanese illustrated books in 1965 when he was visiting Kyoto. Tress built the collection “on an artist’s shoestring budget,” as he says, and “pour l’amour de l’art.” Over more than fifty years he amassed an extensive and important collection of over 1200 titles dating from the late 17th century through the 1930s. Recognizing a kindred book-lover, he contacted Julie Nelson Davis about a home for his remarkable collection, and in June, 2018, Tress gave the entire collection to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Now housed in the Kislak Center, the collection is being studied by Davis’s seminar students in preparation for an exhibition slated to open in October 2022.
This website describes the collection and features some of the books that students considered for the exhibition. It also includes regular updates to our project and to the collection processing. At present a selected number of titles are available in full digitization here.
In November 2020, Arthur Tress, Julie Davis, and students Aria Diao, Eri Mizukane, and Derek Rodenbeck talked about the collection and curatorial seminars: Rare Books in the Hands of Penn Students
Arthur and Julie met again to talk about the collection and Arthur’s photography for the Third Thursday Lecture Series at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures in March, 2021.
And from September to December, 2022, our exhibition in the Goldstein Gallery featured selections of Arthur’s illustrated books paired with some of his photographs.
We continue to study these wonderful books. . .
Accessing the collection
All books in the collection may be found by searching the Penn Libraries’ portal http://www.library.upenn.edu/ and inputting a selected artist, writer, or title along with the keyword Tress. Books may be viewed in the Kislak Center reading room by making a request through the special collections Aeon system.
Please note that cataloging is in progress and as yet digital images are not available for the entire collection, however, selected titles have been fully digitized. We are continuing to improve the cataloging data as well as pursue support for more complete digitization as well as conservation initiatives.
Related websites on Japanese art and curatorial practice
The History of the Book in East Asia
Japan and Paris/Paris and Japan
Kislak Collection of Japanese Prints
Our Sense of Place for the exhibition, A Sense of Place: Modern Japanese Prints
Spiegel-Wilks Seminar: Venice Biennale