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Community of Learners: Printmaker Matt Brown's Transformative Encounter at the Hood

Hood Quarterly, spring 2013

The Hood’s statement of purpose includes the following: Our mission is to create an ideal learning environment that fosters transformative encounters with works of art. Sometimes transformative experiences take the form of new knowledge or a particular insight. Sometimes they are more far-reaching, as in the case of printmaker Matt Brown, whose career and life work was changed by a vision he received while seated on a bench in one of our galleries.

In the winter of 1993, the museum exhibited The Great Tokaido, a series of fifty-five woodblock prints designed by renowned Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige that was created in the 1830s and shows special places along the road connecting Tokyo and Kyoto. Matt, who at the time was a building contractor and cabinetmaker, visited that exhibition several times. The visits not only enhanced his knowledge of woodblock printing but also changed his life. Though he was a college art major mired in the struggle of making a living in the building trade, he was still only thirty-three years old, and a new parent—to Matt the world seemed full of possibility. And in front of one of Hiroshige’s landscapes, a thought occurred to him: “I wonder if I could figure out how these prints are made?” The ensuing investigation led Matt to become a printmaker. Three years later, he gave up his work as a builder entirely, and he has been making woodblock prints using the traditional Japanese method ever since from his studio in Lyme, New Hampshire.

In 2003, the Hood displayed an exhibition of ukiyo-e prints curated by Dartmouth art history professor Allen Hockley. We invited Matt to give a talk, short demonstration, and tour of the exhibition to enhance visitors’ understanding and appreciation of the printmaking process and the prints themselves. Professor Hockley also arranged for Dartmouth’s Media Productions Department to produce videos of Matt making a print for the museum for teaching purposes. These fabulous videos, which demonstrate the carving and printing processes and the way a multicolor woodblock print is created, are available as an online resource for visitors to the current exhibition, The Women of Shin Hanga: The Judith and Joseph Barker Collection of Japanese Prints.

While The Women of Shin Hanga is on view, Matt will provide training for docents who teach public audiences in the exhibition. In turn, docents will then pass on this knowledge and expertise to visitors during tours of the show. We are thrilled that an encounter with works of art on view at the Hood played a transformative role in Matt’s life, and thankful that he continues to share his expertise so that it may help transform the lives of others as well.

If an encounter with a work of art at the Hood has proven transformative for you, in ways large or small, we would love to hear about it. Please share your experience by emailing [email protected].

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