Bertha Lum Biography

Bertha LUM (1869-1954) Born in Tipton, Iowa. Bertha Lum entered the design department of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1895. From 1896 to 1901 she received instruction at the school of Frank Hoime, and at the studio of the stained glass artist Anna Weston. Then she returned to the Art Institute where she studied figure drawing. Chicago in the 1890s was at the heart of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and Arthur Wesley Dow's efforts led to the spread of the woodblock print.  
Lum first traveled to Japan in 1903 on her honey-moon. She sought out ukiyo-e prints and printmakers, and immediately before her return to America, she met an old printmaker in Yokohama. During the very brief time remaining, she studied printmaking techniques, and purchased carving tools and brushes. Upon her return to America, she studied from Dow's book and created small woodblock prints. Lum returned to Japan in 1907, spending fourteen weeks in the country on this trip. Through an introduction by the art historian Toru Iwamura, she studied under the block carver Bonkotsu Igami for three months, and spent several months studying with the printer Kumakichi Nishimura. Around this time, she took the Japanese characters for "orchid dream," which can be pronounced like "Lum," for her artistic name. For several years after her return to America, she created works that she both carved and printed herself. Lum then re-visited Japan, this time with her two young daughters, at the end of 1911. She rented a house on this stay and employed a block carver and printer to assist in the creation of her works.  In May 1912 her Fox Women (1907) was entered in the 10th exhibition of the Taiheiyo-gakai (Pacific Group of Western-style Painting). Lum was strongly influenced by the stories recounted in Lafcadio Hearn's render-ings of Japanese traditional tales, and Fox Women is a typical work in this vein.  
Lum then stayed in Japan a few more times, visiting China in the fall of 1922, where she rented a house in Beijing with her daughters. At first she employed Chinese woodblock print artisans, but as it was difficult to create color woodblock prints under these conditions, she contrived the "raised line" method whereby she printed un-inked, raised lines on damp paper and then hand-colored the results. In 1931 Lum visited Java, Singapore and the Suez, and in 1936 she returned to Japan for her seventh visit, this time to re-print her woodblock prints. She spent the World War II years in America, but in 1948 she returned to Beijing where her daughters lived. Lum left Beijing in 1953, and then died the following year in Genoa, Italy.  
Source: Eyes Toward Asia, 1996 Yokohama Art Museum exhibition catalog.