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Calligraphy of a Poem
Calligraphy of a Poem, Early 17th century
Hon'ami Kōetsu, Japanese
Gold, silver, and ink on paper; mounted as a hanging scroll
7 1/2 x 6 3/4 inches (19 x 17.1cm) Mount: 33 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches (85.7 x 29.8 cm)
Purchased with the Henry B. Keep Fund and with gifts (by exchange) of Mrs. Andrew B. Young, Mrs. Henry W. Breyer, Sr., and Karen Myrin, 1988
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Looking Questions

  • What colors do you see? What mood do they create?
  • Look for the poem card in the center. Can you find some curvy lines that could be a river? Pretend that your hand is a brush and make curvy, horizontal lines in the air like river water. Move your hand up and down as you trace the brushstrokes of the calligraphy.
  • What do you see in the painting behind the poem card? Find shapes that could be clouds and water. Is there a horizon line?
  • Read the poem aloud. Do the paintings describe the poem? How do the poem and the paintings relate to each other?

Research Idea: Japanese Short Poems

In Japan poetry is a highly revered, ancient art with many forms. The form of the poem on this card is called waka. A Japanese short poem form that is still in popular use today is called haiku. These poems, though short, are infused with deep meaning and beautiful images from nature. Research the form and content of Japanese haiku, and spend some time composing several of your own.

Art Project: Scroll Painting

Give students various-sized pieces of white paper and then use light washes of watercolor to paint a landscape of their favorite season using simple designs. Next, students should find a short poem or create their own and write it on their card. Try to have students use words so that they harmonize with their painted landscape. Mount the poem card on top of a wider strip of colorful wrapping paper. Use glue or tape to attach the top and bottom to dowels or chopsticks. Attach a long piece of yarn or string on each end of the top stick. Use the string to hang the scroll or roll the scroll to store it.

Group Activity: Poem Card Collaboration

Kōetsu was the leader of a group of artists that worked collaboratively to create works of art. Have students work in teams to create poem card scrolls. In teams of three, have students select (or compose) a short poem that they like. All members should agree. Then, have one team member paint a piece of paper that will become the stationery. Another team member can write the poem on the paper, carefully choosing the handwriting style. The third team member can create a scroll out of wrapping paper (see art project above), on which the poem card will be glued. Display these scrolls around the room and talk about the process of collaboration. What is difficult about it? What is easy? Would students do it again? Why or why not?

For more information, please contact The Division of Education by phone at (215) 684-7580, by fax at (215) 236-4063, or by e-mail at .

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