When Charles Lang Freer founded the Freer Gallery of Art in 1906, his collection of Japanese paintings and ceramics was accompanied by an important collection of rare books from Japan. Since then, the Freer Library Japanese Rare Book Collection has attracted scholars from around the world, and over the years the Freer and Sackler Galleries have continued to acquire important examples of Japanese books. In 2007 the Freer Gallery acquired the Gerhard Pulverer Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books, the most important private collection of Japanese woodcut books outside Japan. This online publication, focusing primarily on the works of Katsushika Hokusai, is the first stage in the museums’ ongoing project to provide full online access to this critical research resource for scholars around the world.

The Pulverer Collection includes 938 titles (2,184 volumes) dating from the Edo period (1615–1868) and Meiji era (1868–1912), the golden age of woodcut printed books, with some important examples of twentieth-century books by leading print artists. These books are beautiful, handmade works of art, many with illustrations of an aesthetic quality equivalent to paintings. Other books contain highly imaginative sketches and cartoons indicative of their contemporary culture. The books from the Edo period are particularly important for their preservation of Edo literature. They also constitute a significant body of research material at a time when scholars are reevaluating the role of the woodcut printed book in Japanese visual culture.

Dr. Gerhard Pulverer, a medical researcher at the University of Cologne, drew on the advice of such highly regarded experts as Jack Hillier, C.H. Mitchell, and Tim Clark to assemble his collection. Most of the Pulverer material was acquired from European collections, many of which were formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Pulverer was able to acquire the very best examples of illustrated books available on the market in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

A debt of gratitude is owed to many colleagues around the world for their help with this project. Professor Akama Ryo, director of the Art Research Center of Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, was an early supporter of this online catalogue project. The Center has been a pioneer of digital technology in humanities scholarship. Professor Akama and his colleague, Professor Matsuba Ryoko, provided instruction in digital capture and cataloguing techniques that resulted in the successful digitization of every page in the Pulverer Collection, thus creating the indispensable foundation of this online catalogue.

We are deeply indebted to Professor Suzuki Jun, who, in his capacity as deputy director of the National Institute of Japanese Literature (Kokuritsu Kokubungaku Kenkyū Shiryōkan), led the first international team of scholars to conduct research on the Pulverer Collection when it still resided in Germany. Following the Freer Gallery’s acquisition of the collection in 2007, Professor Suzuki graciously shared the extensive research results assembled by his team, and that information is being incorporated into this catalogue.

This project would not have been possible without the financial support of the Getty Foundation, which generously supported our work through its Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI). Being included in OSCI has proven key to advancing the Pulverer online catalogue, since it meant we could take advantage of the insights and expertise gained by the other OSCI participants as they grappled with similar issues and shared solutions to common problems. Meetings organized by the Getty Foundation, as well as shared reports and project updates from all the OSCI project teams, were other significant aspects of OSCI’s participation. We thank Deborah Marrow, Getty Foundation director, and Joan Weinstein, deputy director, for their overall guidance of the initiative, and to program officers Christina Olsen, Kris Kelly, and Anne Helmreich for their careful oversight of the project and their sage advice over the years. Hilary Walters, Foundation program assistant, and Christina Lopez, Foundation senior staff assistant, have always been ready with answers and help on matters large and small.

Several key scholars have offered guidance as this project developed over the five years that we first imagined and then built this ambitious (and slightly daunting!) website. Among them are Tim Clark, Curator of Japanese Collections at the British Museum in London; Matthi Forrer at the University of Leiden; Roger Keyes, an independent scholar; and Ellis Tinios, Honorary Lecturer in History at the University of Leeds and Visiting Researcher at the Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the anonymous peer reviewers who contributed their time and expertise to reading and commenting upon the essays on this site.

A number of outside specialists played important roles in this project. Blue Green Sky helped with an early version of this site. Kyle Jaebker and his team—Rita Troyer, Matt Gipson, and Gray Bowman—at IMALab at the Indianapolis Museum of Art have been our stalwart partners in implementing this significant project. We have benefitted from their close understanding of OSCI, their creativity, patience, and collegiality. Blue Bear Films and Hillman and Carr shot and produced the videos for the site, and Ann Grogg was our heroic outside editor.

Two groups of graduate students spent their summers at the Freer, carrying out rapid capture digital photography on the Pulverer Collection. Their meticulous work in handling, photographing, and organizing thousands of pages of delicate books is commendable. The team in 2011 included Madeline Gent, Suzie Kim, Rebecca Merritt, Travis Seifman, and Vanessa Tothill; in 2012 the team was Susan Dine, Madeline Gent, Suzie Kim, Rebecca Merritt, and Holly Rubalcava. Martha Smith provided conservation oversight during the photography project. In addition, Giovanni Bottero furnished invaluable research assistance in compiling the bibliography and in locating and annotating historical maps of Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

A project of this magnitude crossed departmental boundaries and involved colleagues throughout the museums. Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, has supported this project from the beginning. James Ulak, Senior Curator of Japanese Art, and Ann Yonemura, Senior Associate Curator of Japanese Art, provided curatorial oversight and vision. In addition, Ann wrote catalogue entries and contributed an essay, and Jim was the creative force behind the video component. Jane Lusaka, Editor-in-Chief, and Nancy Eickel, Writer/Editor, helped shape various drafts of the text. John Tsantes, Head of Photographic Services, and Cory Grace, Digital Asset Manager, oversaw the photography of the entire collection. Jeffrey Smith, Assistant Registrar for Collection Information, worked tirelessly to ensure the collections data was accurate, complete, and accessible. Emily Jacobson provided conservation oversight, and Reid Hoffman offered guidance and layouts for the site’s appearance. Liz Cheng, Webmaster, and Melda Washington, Web Developer, shepherded the online catalogue through years of technical development, served as our liaison with the Smithsonian’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, and created the content management system. Alice Tracy, Foundations Gift Officer, contributed to the project in many essential ways. Nancy Micklewright, Head of Scholarly Programs and Publications, and Katelynn Chambers in the Office of the Director provided essential project management. Lastly, the generous support of the Anne van Biema Endowment Fund proved essential to the creation of this online catalogue of Japanese illustrated books in the Gerhard Pulverer collection.