Cape Elizabeth Middle School’s Festival of Curiosity

Friends of Aomori had an absolute blast last week at Cape Elizabeth Middle School’s Festival of Curiosity!
FOA held a workshop educating students on the art of printmaking, talked a bit about the influence of Japanese woodblock printmaking on the art form, and posed the question: “How does sharing global art affect our local communities?”
Of course, we also talked to some of them about the unique Sister State relationship between Aomori and Maine that we foster. It was a busy day, but the kids were a great crowd!

The Japanese Woodblock Printing Process

In line with the opening of the 2017 MAPS exhibition, this weekend’s written feature will be focusing on the process of making traditional Japanese woodblock prints. While not all of the prints in the MAPS exhibit are made in this manner, the process and its cultural resonance in Japan are certainly an integral part of and influence on printmaking worldwide.

(To see more details about MAPS 2017 see our home page)

Before delving into the process, first a brief introduction into the history of woodblock printing in Japan:

“Woodblock printing came to Japan during the eighth century and became the primary method of printing from the eleventh to the nineteenth centuries. As in China, the technology was first used to duplicate Buddhist texts and then later, books of Chinese origin. It was not until the 1500s that books originally in Japanese began to be printed. Black and white illustrations were a part of these early texts, to which color was sometimes added by hand, but eventually colored prints developed around 1765 as printing techniques improved. The first colored prints in Japan were original works of art, which soon led to the publishing of the popular, single-sheet ukiyo-e” (Khan Academy).

The woodblock printing process and the artistry of it that developed in Japan led the country to develop it’s own unique style, perspective, and craftsmanship in woodblock printing – a style which became known as ukiyo-e, or “images of the floating world”. While artists now are based less around the traditional ukiyo-e style, the technical process developed in Japan is still in use today.

The technical process of making a traditional woodblock print is intricate and requires an intense amount of concentration, accuracy, and skill. Listed below is the step by step methods of making such a print:

  1. The block carver begins with a flat piece of wood – typically cherry – and take the prescribed drawing and place it face down onto the block
  2. The piece of paper thus applied would then be made transparent by rubbing it with oil and then removing the paper so that the reverse image of the ink was transferred to the block
  3. The carver would then outline the areas that were to be inked/printed black and, after doing that, would carve away the areas that were to be left blank
  4. This part of the process creates the block which would be used to print the black lines and is known as the “key block”
  5. This process would then be repeated for every color that would be used within the image, resulting in different blocks for each different color.
  6. In order to retain accuracy in the printing of the different colors onto the single image/page, a registration key is used – typically a kagi (a raised “L” shape which fits to one corner of the block and into which a corner of the page is placed) and a hikitsuke (a raised bar usually laid along the long-side of the block and into the corner of the hagi)
  7. The printing process of a single sheet continues by using the various blocks and colors and re-registering the sheet until the entire image was completed to the artist’s satisfaction

To see the process described above with more intricate detail, watch a video here!


For more information on the history, techniques, processes, as well as more examples of Japanese woodblock printing, please see the following references:


MAPS 2017 is Fast Approaching!

The First Showing of MAPS 2017 is Coming Right Up! the Yarmouth Historical Society, which is hosting the exhibit from May 1 to June 1, wrote a little introductory piece about the exhibit on their page to shed some light on what MAPS is all about. Check out their press release by clicking here!

Hope to see you on Thursday, May 11th!


Volunteer Spotlight: Rachel Powell

April is almost over, but there’s still time for another volunteer spotlight! We’re featuring our newest volunteer, Rachel Powell, who has been a wonderful addition to the team. Rachel has jumped right into volunteering with FOA’s tabling activities and uses her artistic skill to assist with promotional materials. Get to know her below!

Volunteer Spotlight: Rachel Powell


Q: Tell us about yourself!

A: I am currently a Liberal Arts major at SMCC, and plan to continue to a Bachelor’s in Japanese at UNC in Chapel Hill. I first began college as a Film major at Emerson College in Boston, but after realizing film wasn’t for me, I spent a semester in the South of France painting and learning art history. While in France, I studied Van Gogh and learned of his love and inspiration from Japanese art (which I fell in love with!). Eventually, I realized I wanted to live and work as an English language teacher in Japan, which has led me to where I am now. I’ll be traveling to Japan for the first time this Summer, where I’ll be taking an intensive Japanese language course in Nara and making lots of deer friends!

Aside from academia, I love to cosplay, draw and paint, play video games, and snuggle up with my two kitties Kato and Jiji.

Q: How did you get involved with Friends of Aomori?

A: I first found out about Friends of Aomori through their VP Jeff Badger while at SMCC. I then went to the Bath Culture Day and the MAPS (Maine Aomori Printmaking Society) Exhibit at the Patten Free Library in March, where I met Friends members Briar, Elizabeth, and Hannah. I was so excited to learn about MAPS and Friends of Aomori that I asked if I could help volunteer!

Q: What kind of volunteer work do you enjoy doing for Friends of Aomori?

A: I’ve helped take down the MAPS exhibit in Bath, worked the Friends table at Maker’s Day in Portland, and am currently helping design a promotional postcard for the organization. Being a new volunteer, I’ve loved helping with anything I can, as well as meeting other volunteers and learning more about Japan.

Q: What has been your favorite moment from volunteering with Friends of Aomori?

A: I loved helping with the MAPS exhibit in Bath. Once I learned about the print exchange from Jeff, I knew I wanted to get involved. I love Japanese art, and being able to even help be a part of such a fantastic cultural exchange was so exciting for me. Plus I got to see every print up close!

Q: What makes volunteering important to you?

A: Volunteering has helped me get more involved with my community, and it’s been so fun to meet other people who love Japan and Japanese culture as much as I do. I’ve made so many great relationships and connections already in my short time with Friends, and I’ve been able to help with some very creative projects.

Volunteer Spotlight: Briar Pelletier

We’re livening up the week with another Volunteer Spotlight!

This Spotlight features Briar Pelletier, FOA’s Secretary and an avid volunteer. Briar began as an intern with FOA for the Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society (MAPS) exhibition here in Portland, Maine,  and continued to do so during her semester abroad at Hirosaki University in Aomori, Japan. She is a driving force here at FOA, so let’s learn some more about her:

Volunteer Spotlight: Briar Pelletier


Q: Tell us about yourself!

A: I am an Art History student from the University of Maine, but I currently live in Portland. If you REALLY want to get to know me, I have a cat, collect vinyl records, and I can’t pass up on a great vintage dress.

Q: How did you get involved with Friends of Aomori?

A: I answered an ad looking for an intern. The ad explained that a non-profit organization called “Friends of Aomori” was looking for an intern to help with various tasks that could pertain to their interests. I lived in Orono at the time and spoke with then-board members Patricia Parker and Thomas Bahun over the phone. I told them I was an art student studying cross-cultural perspectives in Japanese printmaking, and they were shocked to hear it: they then told me about the MAPS exhibition and what it was. It was kismet: I drove right down to Portland the next day to interview and they brought me on.

Q: What kind of volunteer work do you enjoy doing for Friends of Aomori?

A: When I signed on as an intern, I latched onto the MAPS project because I thought it was just this amazing concept. I helped design promotional materials and exhibition labeling and assisted with the show’s planning and installation at SPACE Gallery. After that, I left Maine to study and conduct research on cross-cultural artistic exchange in Aomori, Japan. When I came back, I joined the FOA Board and now help continue MAPS as a touring exhibition in Maine. I created the MAPS digital collection and also help with our website, social media, educational outreach, and recruitment. I love what we do!

Q: What has been your favorite moment from volunteering with Friends of Aomori?

A: Meeting some of the Aomori artists featured in MAPS, who visited Maine during our first MAPS reception, was really exciting and solidified the scope and consequent reach of the exchange for me.

Q: What makes volunteering important to you?

A: Volunteering for something you believe in is truly invigorating. I never see my volunteer work for the art exchange as a chore and being a part of something that brings my local community together with a global connection helps not only me, but those connected by it.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jeff Badger

This week’s Volunteer Spotlight features Jeff Badger, FOA’s Vice President and creator of our international print exchange, Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society! We are gearing up our second installment of the MAPS project with twenty brand new prints to be exhibited in Yarmouth, Eastport, and York, and we couldn’t do it without Jeff! Get to know a little more about our VP here:

Volunteer Spotlight: Jeff Badger


Q: Tell us about yourself!

A: I am an artist, educator, and independent curator living in Cape Elizabeth with my wife and two children. I am the Co-Chair of the Fine Arts department at Southern Maine Community College where I teach studio art classes and serve as the Coordinator of the Global Studies Center. I currently serve as the Vice President of Friends of Aomori.

Q: How did you get involved with Friends of Aomori?

A: I became involved with Friends of Aomori through my experience creating international art exhibitions. In the past, I have organized projects that have facilitated the sharing of artwork between artists in Maine and artists in Greece, Spain, and Japan through my independent business Tetra Projects. From this experience, I was introduced by board member Ann Thomson to the Friends, and became involved primarily with the cultural exchange aspect of the group.

Q: What kind of volunteer work do you enjoy doing for Friends of Aomori?

A: My focus has been spearheading MAPS – the Maine-Aomori Printmaking Society – and all of the organizational elements the project entails. As I have moved into a leadership role, I’ve become more invested in the mission of Friends of Aomori, and more involved in the broader direction of the group. Presenting art exhibitions and working with artists and the public is my favorite aspect of working with Friends.

Q: What has been your favorite moment from volunteering with Friends of Aomori?

A: In March of 2016 we were able to welcome five artists from Aomori for a residency program in Portland. Hosting and spending a week with these artists while showing them around the city was wonderful, and the warm welcome and support we received from a varied group of local organizations and businesses made me very proud of our community.

Q: What makes volunteering important to you?

A: Quite simply, I believe that cultural exchange leads to a more peaceful world.

Towada-Hachimantai National Park

With spring fast approaching both Maine and Aomori, it seems appropriate to look at an aspect of Aomori’s culture that resembles that of the State of Maine. Maine is renowned for its vibrant natural environment  and abundance of outdoor activities – especially in its national and state parks, which are enjoyed by both locals and visiting tourists.

So, how about Aomori’s natural environment and outdoor culture?

In the interior of the Tohoku region and spreading across the Prefectures of Aomori, Akita, and Iwate, resides Towada-Hachimantai National Park. The park is split up into two separate areas: the Northern area known as Towada-Hakkoda (which is within both Aomori and Akita), and the Southern area known as Hachimantai (which is within both Akita and Iwate). Each area – North and South – has equally stunning scenery and a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking trails, rustic hot springs, tourist boat rides, snowshoe hiking, winter/spring skiing, camping, and nature tours.


Natural Features: Mount Hokkada, Lake Towada, Oirase-Keiryu (mountain stream & gorge), The Hakkoda Branch of the Tohoku University Botanical Garden, volcanic land formations

Wild Habitats for: Asiatic Black Bears, Golden Eagles, and the Japanese Serow (resembles a deer, but is a member of the cow family)


Natural Features: Mount Hachimantai, a highland marsh/Hachiman pond, Mt. Iwate, Mt. Akita-Komagatake, Mt. Yake-Yama, the Hachimantai Aspite line (corridor of snow – so winter only!), Juhyo (frost-covered trees – so winter only!), volcanic land formations

Wild Habitats for: Golden Eagles, the Japanese Serow (resembles a deer, but is a member of the cow family), Forest Green Tree Frog (species unique to Japan), and a variety of alpine plants

Like the woodlands of Maine, Towada-Hachimantai National Park is admired for it’s ability to appeal to the visitor regardless of the season. Whether it be Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter, people are drawn to these mountains, lakes, and woods in order to experience the power and beauty of nature.


For more information on Towada-Hachimantai National Park and it’s different areas, please check out the links below!


(All photo’s belong to the Ministry of the Environment: Government of Japan: