Extremely Large, Rare, Japanese Kanban | Brush Makers Shop Sign | Fude-ya | 1930

This Japanese Kanban, (shop sign), was made for a brush store, (Fude-ya). It is three-dimensional and represents a large calligraphy brush, which has traditionally been considered one of the artist’s four treasures, along with ink, inkstone, and paper. This imposing Kanban was an architecturally independent unit hung to specifically attract customers to the shops wares. In the Edo period, most upper-class women and men were just developing the ability to read and write, and the general population could not read at all, so signs became an important element by which to inform customers about the products being sold inside. The lasting decorative value of these Kanban, successfully wedded to their practical function, yet becoming a highly-prized sculptural piece of art, and set a standard to which modern advertising art could well aspire.

Brush shops proliferated in the Edo period, catering to the flourishing art of calligraphy, which required the finest materials. This Kanban is stylized, yet represents one of the many types and shapes of brushes available in a typical shop. This shop sign is polychromed wood, and beautifully crafted, allowing it to be considered as a fine piece of craftsmanship. Identified by its shape, it was probably either suspended in an open frame or hung alone as shown in our image of an Edo brush shop. This piece was produced around the 1930s, and has Fude-ya, (Brush Shop), carved, painted and incorporated into the piece. Overall, the sign is in very good condition, consistent with age and use. Dimensions: 36-0” L x 6-0” dia. and weighs 36lbs. It will require special handling and packaging. Note: A similar piece  formerly belonged to Harold Stern, the later curator of the Freer Gallery of Art and featured in the publication: Kanban, Shop signs of Japan by Levy, Sneider & Gibney.

Historical Information —

Kanban,(signboard in Japanese), became an effective tool in support of retail sales. The Japanese Kanban is a folk art all its own. Its function-as a symbol and a service-maximizes the traditional arts of carpentry, calligraphy, and often of wood-carving and painting as well. The appeal of these signs is not only as bold and ingenious graphic design, but also as a record of the commerce and tastes of the merchant classes in the Edo and Meiji Periods. Shop signs are of particular interest, revealing the first contacts with the West and those important Japanese products.

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