Yesterday at 3 p.m., in his official residence, Fumihiko Togo, the Japanese ambassador, opened a black lacquar box, removed a decoration, unhooked its silk ribbon, and placed it round the next of Un'ichi Hiratsuka. It only took a moment Un'ichi Hiratsuka place hands' on knees and bowed. The ambassador bowed back. For the first time in recent memory The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Third Class, had been given to a Japanese artist and expatriate. The honor had been ordered by the Emperor of Japan.
Hiratsuka is 81; his tecniques are much older. The forgotten Japanese who 1,000 years ago printed for their temples tiny images of Buddha established the traditions that Un'chi Hiratsuka has extended and enlarged. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] tr. fr. add one Hiratsuka Style Sat Cap [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
He still carves into wood, employing the same chisels he has used for half a century and he prints by hand. The ukiyo-e artists, whose woodcuts so impressed Degas and Cassatt, were attracted by bright colors, but Hiratsuka prefers the old austerities of deep black and bright white.
His methods are antique, but his images are not. Often in his prints one sees the banks of the Potomac, the monuments, the Mall, the Library of Congress, landmarks of this city, which has been his home since 1962.
The ukiyo-e printers were seen as second class; as artisans, not artists, Hiratsuka is famous for diminishing that prejudice. It took three men to make a ukiyo-e print, the designer, the carver and the printer. Hiratsuka does it all himself.
The Japanese, to Westerners, seem somehow schizophrenic, equally attracted to the old and to the new. The old techniques were dying when the young Hiratsuka patiently revived them. The Emperor has honored him because he helped make woodblock printing a contemporary art.
The Order of the Sacred Treasure is given in six classes. A supreme court judge might get the first, a university president the second. When the Emperor's birthday honors were announced on April 29, Un'ichi Hiratsuka was the only artist, and the sole expatriate, to be given the third class.
"Such an honor is, well, rare," said an ambassadorial aide.
Goblets of champagne were poured, many bows were bowed. Franz Bader of the Bader Gallery, Hiratsuka's dealer, and Tom Lawton of the Freer Gallery of Art, were present for the ceremony. So were the artist's wife, Teruno, and his daughter, Keiko Hiratsuka Moore.The father's words were translated by his daughter. "I owe this honor," said Un'chi Hiratsuka, "to those around the world who, by cherishing my prints, have encouraged me to try to imprve my art."