In 2018, Arthur Tress donated over 1400 Japanese illustrated books to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.
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 1400 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 a forthcoming exhibition.
This website features some of the books that we’re considering for the exhibition and documents our process.
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.
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. Please note that cataloging is in progress and as yet digital images are not available for the collection. We are working on improving the cataloging data as well as pursuing support for digitization and conservation initiatives. Books may be viewed in the Kislak Center reading room by making a request through the special collections Aeon system.
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