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Biography: IWAMI Reika (岩見禮花)

photo of Iwami Reika
Iwami Reika circa 1982
(Tolman Collection)

iwami Reika signature


Iwami Reika

Iwami Reika (岩見禮花 1927-2020) was born in Tokyo in 1927, but lived in Kyushu for five years and later in Kanagawa. From the age of 23 she worked for 13 years as an office employee at the Athenee Français language institute, while also studying doll-making and prints at the Sunday course of Japan's first co-educational school, the vocational Bunka Gakuin (文化学院), from which she graduated in 1955. Iwami also studied at other workshops, including an eleven-year apprenticeship as a doll-maker with the female painter-turned-dollmaker Hori Ryûjo (堀柳女 1897-1984, born Yamada Matsue). Iwami finally devoted herself to printmaking beginning in 1954.

Iwami cited the influence of Onchi Kôshirô and Sekino Jun'ichirô, but, above all, Shinagawa Takumi (品川工 1908-2009), in particular, his collage work as well as his use of driftwood. She was also a haiku poet who recognized a relationship between printmaking and poetry: "Haiku is a disciplined study. It forces one to eliminate what is not necessary, and that's why I use it as a spiritual exercise for my prints." [see Tolman ref.] Iwami was a prolific artist who achieved recognition at the same level as her male colleagues. The novelist and collector James Michener (1907-1997) called her "the first woman in the history of Japanese prints ... to attain full stature." [see ref. below]

First exhibiting in 1953 with the Japan Print Association (Nihon Hanga Kyôkai: 日本版画協会), Iwami then showed her prints from 1957 to 1964 at the Tokyo International Print Biennale, and, from 1957, every year at the print exhibitions held by the College Women's Association of Japan in Tokyo. Her name and printmaking style became well known in the West after her inclusion in Michener's The Modern Japanese Print. An Appreciation (1962) with "Winter Composition No. 2" selected as one of the winning entries. Iwami's abstractions based on water, sky, rock, and driftwood forms were readily appreciated by a wide global audience and she remains popular to this day.

As one of the nine founding members of the Joryû Hanga Kyôkai (Women’s Print Association: 女流版画協会), also referred to as the Nihon Joryû Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Women’s Print Association: 日本女流版画協会), Iwami participated in the group’s debut exhibition in October 1956 featuring their etchings, relief prints, and lithographs in a Tokyo gallery. For ten years, until its disbanding in 1965, the society continued to stage exhibitions, culminating in a show in New York City in 1965, before its members went on to pursue solo careers.

Iwami's best known prints make extensive use of embossing, driftwood patterns, mica, and applications of gold or silver leaf. She occasionally used collagraph, when, for example, she printed from fishing nets pasted on blocks. Her designs are confident and precise, her style refined and expressive. In the work shown above right, Mizu ni mau (Dance in the water, 水に舞う) from 1981, several of her signature compositional elements are present. There is the prominent driftwood form and the large circle, along with a gold-leaf wave pattern, granular texture in the gray sky, and an intense black shape in the foreground, all combining to enhance the impact of the design.

Iwami's prints can be found in many private collections and museum's, including the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Art Institute of Chicago; Birmingham Museum of Art (Alabama); British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Cincinnati Art Museum; Harvard Art Museums (MA); Hayama Museum of Modern Art; Honolulu Museum of Art; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura; National Museum of Asian Art, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA; Worchester Art Museum (MA); and Yale University Art Gallery.


  • Blakemore, Frances: Who's Who in Modern Japanese Prints. New York: Weatherhill, 1975, pp. 54-55.
  • Merritt, Helen and Yamada, Nanako: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1992, p. 48.
  • Michener, James: The Modern Japanese Print. An Appreciation. Rutland: Tuttle, 1962 (deluxe portfolio) or 1968 (trade edition), pp. 44-46.
  • Petit, G. and Arboleda, A.: Evolving Techniques in Japanese Woodblock Prints. Kodansha, 1977, pp. 56-57 and fig. 28.
  • Smith, Lawrence: The Japanese Print Since 1900: Old Dreams and New Visions. London, British Museum Press, 1983, pp. 4-5, 111, 114, 129, nos 102-103.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Contemporary Japanese Prints: Symbols of a Society in Transition. London: British Museum Press, 1985, pp. 30-31, , no. 14.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, p. 26 and no. 112.
  • Tolman, Mary and Tolman, Norman: People Who Make Japanese Prints: A Personal Glimpse. Tokyo: Sobunsha, 1982, pp. 15, 30-43.
  • Yoshida Tôshi and Yuki Rei: Japanese Print-Making. Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle: 1966, p. 101 (Plate 17) and 157.

The text provided here is based in large part on John Fiorillo's web page: