Bertha Lum

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Bertha Boynton Lum (1869 – 1954) was an American artist known for helping popularize the Japanese and Chinese woodblock print outside of Asia.

Personal life[edit]

Bertha Boynton Bull was born May 1869 in Tipton, Iowa. Her father, Joseph W. Bull (1841–1923), a lawyer, and her mother, Harriet Ann Boynton (1842–1925), were both amateur artists.[1]

In 1890 she lived in Duluth and listed her occupation as artist. She enrolled in the design department of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1895.[1] A few years later she studied stained glass with Anne Weston and attended the Frank Holme School of Illustration.[2][3] From November 1901 to March 1902, she studied figure drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago and was influenced by the Japanese techniques of Arthur Wesley Dow in his book Composition, which was published in 1899.[1]

She married Burt F. Lum, a corporate lawyer from Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1903. They spent their seven-week honeymoon in Japan, where she searched for a print maker who could teach her the traditional ukiyo-e method.[4] Toward the end of her stay in Japan, she found a shop that reproduced old prints. The shop sold her some woodcutting tools that she began using upon her return to Minneapolis. On January 23, 1907 she went to Japan for a 14-week stay. With help from a professor at the Imperial Art School in Tokyo, she was introduced to the block cutter Igami Bonkutsu (1875-1933) in Yokohama. Lum worked with Bonkutsu for two months. After she learned how to cut blocks, Bonkutsu introduced her to the printer Nishimura Kamakichi, with whom she worked for another four weeks.[3]

For three years in the U.S., Lum cut blocks and colored and printed her work herself. The Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston named Lum a master craftsman in 1908. After returning to Japan in 1911, she began to hire cutters and printers who worked in her winter home in Tokyo.[3]

She visited Japan again from 1915 to 1916 and again in 1919.[1]

Lum lived in California (San Francisco and Hollywood) from 1917 until 1922 when she moved to Peking, China. For the next forty years she divided her time between California, China, and Japan. She divorced Burt Lum in the 1920s.

Her younger daughter Eleanor "Peter" Lum married the diplomat Sir Colin Tradescant Crowe and became an author. In 1936 her elder daughter Catherine married Antonio Riva, an Italian pilot during World War I who was executed in 1951 in Beijing for an alleged plot to assassinate Mao Zedong. Lum had been staying with Catherine at the time of Riva's arrest and was herself placed under house arrest.

In 1953 Lum left China and moved with Catherine to Genoa, Italy. She died in Genoa, Italy in February 1954.[1]


In 1912 Lum was the only female artist to exhibit at the Tokyo International Exhibition.[5] She was awarded a silver medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition for her color woodcuts.[2] She also exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1920 and at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Society of Etchers, as well as the New York Public Library.[6] Her work has received honors in Rome, Paris, and Portugal. She made her last known print in 1935; her print of the god Daïkoku was published in The Peking Chronicle in December 1937. She continued to show her work in the United States and China until 1950.[1] Her works are held at the Library of Congress and in private collections.

Lum was a member of the Asiatic Society of Japan, California Society of Etchers (now California Society of Printmakers), and Print Makers Society of California.[1] She published two books, Gods,Goblins and Ghosts in 1922 and Gangplanks to the East in 1936.


See also[edit]

Other western women who lived in Japan and made woodprints


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Gravalos, Mary Evans O'Keefe & Carol Pulin. Bertha Lum American Printmakers series (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991) p. 102.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b c Paths to the press : printmaking and American women artists, 1910-1960. Seaton, Elizabeth Gaede., Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art. (1st ed.). Manhattan, Kan.: Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University. 2006. ISBN 1890751138. OCLC 71842315. 
  4. ^ Wright, Helen (March 2018). "Bertha Lum's Wood-Block Prints". The American Magazine of Art. 8: 408–411. 
  5. ^ Milton, Hughes, Edan (1986). Artists in California, 1786-1940 (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Hughes Pub. Co. ISBN 0961611200. OCLC 13323489. 
  6. ^ Jules Heller and Nancy G. Heller, editors (1997). North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. Routledge. p. 350. ISBN 1135638896. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gravalos, Mary Evans O'Keefe & Carol Pulin. Bertha Lum, American printmakers (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991)
  • The Studio Magazine, January 15, 1908.
  • The Far Eastern Times, November 10, 1923.
  • Los Angeles Times, November 28, 1926.
  • The Leader, November 27, 1927.
  • Saturday Night, May 25, 1929.
  • Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1929.

External links[edit]