Browse Exhibits (73 total)

Button Gallery


Welcome to the Button Gallery of the Modern Graphic History Library
at Washington University in St. Louis

Here you will find images from our collections that have been featured in our favorite buttons.

Click on the image to learn more about the artist, publication, publication date, and collection.

Childhood in the Floating World: Utamaro's Prints of Women and Children


Sex. Glamor. Famous and beautiful people. Actors. Courtesans. Fabulous parties. The latest fashions. Political satire. Romance and intrigue. These salacious themes inspired countless popular prints during Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868). Centered on the pleasures of the moment, these prints are know as ukiyo-e, literally ‘floating world pictures’ referring to the utter transience of floating on a river, swept up by the current, unconcerned with what lies downstream. 

During the later part of his career, the exceptionally successful and famous print designer Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) produced a significant amount of compositions including and sometimes focusing on babies and young children and the women who care for them. This subject matter is surprising coming from an artist most well known for his designs of beautiful women of the pleasure quarters. This exhibition endeavors to interpret this unusual subset of ukiyo-e by contextualizing them within the broader socio-political culture.

The political climate in which Utamaro designed these prints plays a crucial factor in their interpretation. Through a feudal system of inherited power, the government sought to maintain societal stability. The economic realities often clashed with the prescribed social hierarchies based in Confucian philosophy, which ranked samauri, farmers, artisans and merchants from high to low. Government reforms attempted to correct the social order, often in part by restricting wealthy merchants from acting above their status—frequently targeting the glamorous popular culture. The Kansei reforms, issued in 1790, forbade ostentatious printing, erotic subject matter, and commentary of contemporary figures.[1] In addition to restrictions, the government stridently emphasized traditional Confucian morality, focusing especially on filial piety.[2]

While Utamaro continued creating less explicitly provocative images of beautiful women throughout the Kansei Era (1790-1801), it is also during this time that he begins creating his women and children prints. These prints defiantly respond to the Kansei reforms and the accompanying resurgence of Neo-Confucian in two important ways: first through their playfulness, and second, with the continued eroticism of the women. Neo-Confucian thought held that raising a child is a serious matter and that too much indulgence of children would render them incapable of learning responsibility and would doom them to failure as adults. In his prints, women play with and tease the children. They also tease the print viewers with their alluring sensuality.

Utamaro again flouted social norms by creating a link between highly sexualized women and reproduction. The pleasure district industry—in which men paid for the façade of romance as well as sex—hinged on the distinction between sex for reproduction and sex for pleasure.[3] During Utamaro’s time, households strategically arranged marriages for political and economic reasons. Family and society expected couples to cooperate; they were not expected to fall in love. Fertility was generally the goal for these unions. Not so in liaisons with courtesans or prostitutes, who strove to avoid pregnancy and childbirth.

The fantasies of childhood and childrearing that Utamaro’s prints offer feature both courtesans and wives, often blurring the lines between these roles. Though titles, style of dress and hairdo can help distinguish courtesans, wives, and single women, as scholar Nobuo Tsuji astutely observed, “all women portrayed by Utamaro appear as erotic as courtesans.”[4] Utamaro presents each of these women for visual delectation, highlighting their sensuous beauty through their postures and poses, selective dishabille, and further encourages the viewer’s gaze through his incorporation of mirrors into the compositions. These prints are not simply excuses to create more images of beautiful women, legitimizing the exposure of their bodies with the addition of children. Utamaro’s lively and clever compositions seem to delight in the antics of the children, which argue against their presence as merely perfunctory.

These prints depict a range of emotional tones, characterizing the relationships between women and children as variously dutiful, humorous and warm. The seriousness of Neo-Confucian texts on childrearing finds a leavening rebuke in Utamaro’s playful prints. His sunny images of positive outcomes may also have served to sooth expecting parents’ fears about and complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Through these prints, Utamaro addresses the concerns and standards of his time regarding childrearing, creating his own fantasies and critiques.

The design of this exhibition isolates four themes within Utamaro’s women and children prints: (1) Legendary Motherhood, Heroic Childhood: Yamauba and Kintaro; (2) The Playful Child; (3) The Nurturing Caregiver; and (4) Infants in the Workplace. The first theme deals with Utamaro’s depictions of Yamauba and Kintaro, figures from folklore, though they are somewhat anachronistically portrayed. The rest of the themes deal with contemporary culture. The boundaries of each category are somewhat porous as Utamaro cross-references his own work, and the line between play and duty is sometimes difficult to draw conclusively. These thematic divisions aim to provide a useful framework for exploring how Utamaro transformed the ideals and realities of his time into his own floating world fantasy of childhood.



[1] Julie Nelson Davis, Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007), 63-65.

[2] Noriko Sugano, “State Indoctrination of Filial Piety in Tokugawa Japan: Sons and Daughters in the ‘Official Recors of Filial Piety,’” in Women and Confucian Cultures in Premodern China, Korea, and Japan, ed. Dorothy Ko, JaHyun Kim Haboush, and Joan R. Piggott (Berkeley, Calif. ; London: University of California Press, 2003), 170–89.

[3] William R. Lindsey, Fertility and Pleasure: Ritual and Sexual Values in Tokugawa Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007).

[4] Nobuo Tsuji, “The International Evaluation of Utamaro’s Art,” in The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, trans. Timothy Clark ([Tokyo] : London: Asahi Shimbun ; British Museum Pressfor the Trustees of the British Museum, 1995), 20.

Class, Race, & Sheet Music at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition


In 1904, the city of St. Louis, Missouri hosted the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a world’s fair commemorating the Purchase and celebrating the world-changing idealism, energy, and ingenuity of the United States. While marking the nation’s economic and geographic expansion, the Exposition’s presentation of the United States as Europe’s cultural heir struggled to balance elite, Euro-centric cultural values with the expanding relevance of a popular culture partially rooted in non-white traditions.

Gaylord Music Library’s collection of sheet music from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition demonstrates how the intersecting values of education and entertainment, high and low culture, class and race played out in the musical publications surrounding the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

Three Musical Styles explains the various kinds of sheet music available in the U.S.A. at the turn-of-the-century.

How can sheet music explain popular culture? Westward Expansion presents Neil Moret's march, A Deed of the Pen, as a multimedia commemoration of the Louisiana Purchase.

Education and Entertainment intermingled at the Exposition. Learn how the fair's sheet music demonstrated the appeal of non-white music as a source of entertainment, even though European traditions were still prized as the source of intellectual ingenuity.

Exposition sheet music was full of references to European culture, particularly pieces published in St. Louis. Read about these European Ambitions here.

White Popular Culture included certain stock figures who appear all over Exposition-themed songs and stories.

While the Exposition was not officially a segregated event, Jim Crow laws made it difficult for African American patrons to participate fully in the fair. Even so, Black Popular Culture contributed significantly to the Exposition's sheet music production.


About the recordings featured in this exhibit:

Wherever possible, we have provided links to period recordings, so that you can hear the music as it was performed and recorded by performed by early twentieth century artists.

Period recordings are not available for all of the pieces. An Innovation Grant from the Washington University Libraries funded a live recital of music from the Exposition in November 2016. These performances by student and local musicians were recorded for this exhibit. Washington University makes these recordings available to the public under the terms of the Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 license. 


Please do not distribute them without crediting this exhibit and the performers.

Depicting Devotion


Designed to introduce the viewer to the illuminations that accompany the essential texts found in Books of Hours.

Enjoyment In Libraries With The Candid Pencil of David Friedman


Enjoyment in Libraries features sketches of patrons in St. Louis area libraries, drawn by David Friedman during the 1960s.

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F.B. Eyes Digital Archive: FBI Files on African American Authors and Literary Institutions Obtained Through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

FBEyesFew institutions seem more opposed than African American literature and J. Edgar Hoover's white-bread Federal Bureau of Investigation. But behind the scenes the FBI's hostility to black protest was energized by fear of and respect for black writing. Drawing on thousands of pages of recently released FBI files, William J. Maxwell’s book F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature exposes the Bureau's intimate policing of five decades of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels. Starting in 1919, year one of Harlem's renaissance and Hoover's career at the Bureau, secretive FBI "ghostreaders" monitored the latest developments in African American letters. By the time of Hoover's death in 1972, these ghostreaders knew enough to simulate a sinister black literature of their own. The official aim behind the Bureau's close reading was to anticipate political unrest. Yet, as F.B. Eyes reveals, FBI surveillance came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the twentieth century.

The F.B. Eyes Digital Archive makes available for the first time a collection of 51 FBI files on prominent African American authors and literary institutions, many of them unearthed through William J. Maxwell's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Now part of the public domain as unrestricted U.S. government documents, these once-secret files are arranged on this site as they were at FBI national headquarters, under the names of individual authors and institutions.

The collected files of the authors alone comprise 14,289 pages, or the rough equivalent of forty-seven substantial PhD theses. If this seems a strange comparison, it should be noted that the average length of the 46 author files reaches above 300 pages. FBI ghostreaders genuinely rivaled the productivity, if not always the insight, of their academic peers. The Bureau’s copious files addressing twentieth-century African American writing are documents of troubling state surveillance and sometimes-illegal counterintelligence. But they are also recognizably literary-critical documents, analytical encounters that cannot always resist the pleasures of the enemy text. 

More detailed information on the contents of the files and on the means used to collect them can be found in the introduction to F.B. Eyes: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i10321.pdf.

William J. Maxwell is a professor of English and African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where he teaches modern American and African American literature. He is the author of New Negro, Old Left: African American Writing and Communism between the Wars and the editor of Claude McKay's Complete Poems. He can be reached at wmaxwell@wustl.edu.

F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature is published and distributed by Princeton University Press: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10321.html.


Facing Despair: Expressionist Portraiture in Wartime


Expressionism, reliant as it is upon the subjective emotional approach of the artist, has a powerful ability to reflect the circumstances of the world around the artist. Portraiture in particular shows the emotional response of both the subject and artist to their particular personal and historical contexts. As a movement, Expressionism had reached its peak in influence and popularity during the pre-World War I and interwar years, and many of its main practitioners were in the later stages of their careers by the time Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933. In the late 1930s, many German Expressionists, such as Max Beckmann, were forced to flee Germany due to Nazi persecution. Expressionists working elsewhere in Europe, like Georges Rouault and Paul Klee, were also overwhelmed by the specter of war and Fascism that haunted Europe during that time period. This exhibition will explore the portraiture of these three artists—Beckmann, Rouault, and Klee—on the cusp of the breakout of World War II.

Professionally, these artists had achieved fame and success for their contributions to Expressionism long before World War II. But the rise of Nazism jeopardized their place in European culture and society and threatened the forms of expression that they had worked with throughout their careers. Though always dealing with fraught, subjective, and deeply personal subject matter, the prospect of devastating war and the muzzling effect of totalitarianism permeated both the subject matter and the emotional underpinnings of the artists’ work.  Though they had lived through and been deeply affected by the horrors of World War I, the rise of Nazism threatened their style of expression in new and terrifying ways. They used techniques they had been using for years but now applied them to much darker themes and experiences.

While they have common themes like numbness, isolation, darkness, and dread, the works are also a study in contrasts. Klee would die in 1940, and his The Man of Confusion shows a fearful, isolated figure floating in undefined ether, reflective of the emotions of a dying man in uncertain, frightening times. Rouault’s Chinois was part of a series of works called “Miserere et Guerre” (“Misery and War”) that dealt with the emotions of the individual in suffering and strife, heavily influenced by the artist’s Christian faith. The last work is Beckmann’s Acrobat on Trapeze,which he painted while in exile in Amsterdam in 1940 after fleeing Nazi persecution and the label of “degenerate.” The figure of the acrobat, long a source of inspiration for Beckmann’s work, is represented as a reclusive, shadowy figure who is entirely removed emotionally from the adoring crowds below—a reflection of Beckmann’s state of mind in exile. Together, these paintings show the attempt of these Expressionists to communicate the melancholy experience of the individual in a continent on the precipice of immense human disaster, on the grand scale and for the individual.

Higher Ground: Honoring Washington Park Cemetery, Its People and Place


The history of Washington Park Cemetery reveals within its microcosm of events, a complicated tangle of social injustice, racial politics, and imbalance of power.  

Washington Park Cemetery, located near Lambert St Louis Airport in the city of Berkley, MO was established in 1920 as a burial ground for African Americans at a time when rigid segregation was common practice. For nearly 70 years, it was the largest black cemetery in the region, the final resting place for many prominent African Americans as well as lesser well-known citizens. The cemetery’s long and tragic history reveals a complicated tangle of social injustice, racial politics, imbalance of power, and dismal neglect. 

On three notable occasions, the peace of the grounds was disturbed: first in the late 1950’s with the construction of Interstate 70, in 1972 when Lambert Airport acquired nine acres for its use, and again in 1992 when bodies were disinterred to make way for the Airport runway expansion and MetroLink’s extension to the airport. 

This exhibition is in part protest, in part tribute, and in part, historical documentationThe work offers an effort and a promise toward acknowledging the cultural and historical significance of Washington Park Cemetery, and toward honoring the people touched by decades of oversight, neglect, and disruption.

Hokusai and Hiroshige: The Art of Bird-and-Flower Prints

Vibrant colors, luxuriant flowers, animated birds, intriguing compositions, and technical precision and detail all have their place within the tradition of representations of nature in the art of Japan. This is especially true for the genre of Edo period (1615-1868) woodblock prints, or ukiyo-e (literally “floating world pictures”). However most studies of ukiyo-e explore the typical genres of entertainment and pleasure, featuring kabuki actors, the Yoshiwara district, depictions of courtesans and beautiful people, and representations of famous places and travel. Nevertheless, another rich theme found within the culture of the “floating world” is bird-and-flower prints (kacho-e). The two artists most celebrated for their kacho-e are Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). It is the goal of the present exhibition, “Hokusai and Hiroshige: The Art of Bird-And-Flower Prints” to illustrate how the kacho-e of these two artists are evocative of this “floating world” popularized in the Edo period, as they capture fleeting moments in time.

Bird-and-flower pictures (which can be referred to as either kacho-e or kacho-ga) have a long tradition within the history of Japanese and, even earlier, in Chinese art, spanning media from painting to decorative arts. The traditional genre of bird-and-flower pictures is not limited in fact to representations of birds and flowers; rather, its subjects include insects, animals, fish, reptiles, grasses, and trees. In Japanese culture, birds and flowers carried symbolic meanings that largely derived from Chinese and Japanese literary sources.

Particular flowers acquired specific significances in relation to the four seasons.[1] For example, the plum or cherry blossom was associated with spring, the peony with summer, the chrysanthemum with autumn, and the camellia with winter. Certain birds were also frequently paired with specific flowers: including the sparrow with camellias, and the peacock with peonies.[2] Some of the Japanese artists most known for their bird-and-flower pictures and their depictions of nature who had the greatest impact on bird-and-flower prints include the Kanō school artists, the artists associated with the Rinpa aesthetic, and Itō Jakuchū. Several historical circumstances occurring during the Edo period also played a significant role in the genre’s evolution.

The city of Edo (present-day Tokyo) thrived after being made the governmental capital of Japan by the shōgun, or military ruler, Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603. The city became a growing metropolis. There was also growth in particular social classes, including the chōnin, the townsmen who worked as merchants and artisans, whose services were needed in order to accommodate the growing population and the increased commercialization of the city. It was in this context that a popular culture was developed in Edo. It was the chōnin who were largely responsible for its prosperity, as they began to have time to devote to leisure. More and more the common people of the Edo period thought that everyday life was fleeting and that they should enjoy the banal to the fullest.

Therefore ukiyo-e (literally meaning “pictures of the floating world”) refers to images that depict the lives of commoners. This culture that developed was centered on sex, violence, and humor, and ukiyo-e came to be known as representative of the pleasure and excitement of the city: its brothel quarters and its beautiful people, its theater and its actors, and its sumo wrestlers.[3] Other themes common in ukiyo-e include depictions of famous places and landscape prints.

Many of the first works classified in the category of bird-and-flower prints in Japan were distributed in the form of elaborate, privately issued and disseminated albums (surimono).[4] Bird-and-flower prints became increasingly popular after the introduction of full-color woodblock prints (nishiki-e) around 1764. Nonetheless, it was not until the 1830s that they reached their height of production and popularity with Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Of Hokusai’s oeuvre, two series of kacho-e are recognized today as noteworthy: commonly referred to as the Large Flowers and Small Flowers series. From the works that survive, it appears that Hiroshige was significantly more prolific in the genre of bird-and-flower prints, in comparison to Hokusai. Hiroshige principally produced individual sheet prints that were not part of larger series. Whereas Hokusai focused on a high level of realism by magnifying a few blossoms, Hiroshige tended towards somewhat of a simplification of forms, and was very interested in presenting the individual personalities of his subjects.

The exhibition “Hokusai and Hiroshige: The Art of Bird-And-Flower Prints” will consider a selection of ten bird-and-flower prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige. As these artists are today acknowledged as the most skilled kacho-e artists and have the largest surviving bodies of work, it is appropriate to focus on their kacho-e production. The prints selected for this exhibition are all commercial kacho-e, meaning that they were not privately produced surimono, but instead marketed to the general print-buying public. They have been selected for their quality, their accessibility, and for their appropriateness to the exhibition’s thematic sections: Color Complexities, Compositional Variations, Atmospheric Perceptions, and Technical Impressions.

These sections will be used in order to examine the technical innovations made by these artists within this genre of kacho-e woodblock prints. By carefully assessing Hokusai and Hiroshige’s use of color, formats and compositions, printing techniques, and attention to detail, this exhibition will investigate how these two celebrated artists created a nuanced interpretation of nature in their bird-and-flower prints. As the kachō-e of Hokusai and Hiroshige focused on capturing single, fleeting moments of the natural world, they deserve their rightful place in the history of the “floating world” of Edo-period ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

[1] For more information on the significance of the four seasons in Japanese culture see Haruo Shirane, Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

[2] For a longer list of associations see Bogel, Hiroshige, 13.

[3] Harold Bolitho, “The Edo Period, 1603-1868,” in The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, by Amy Reigle Newland (Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2005), 17–35.

[4] Ellis Tinios, “Diversification and Further Popularization of the Full-Colour Woodblock Print, C. 1804-68,” in The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, by Amy Reigle. Newland (Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2005), 215.

In Character: The Life and Legacy of Mary Wickes


    This site is a digital companion to an in-person exhibit that appeared in the Main Lobby and Gingko Room from October 2013 to March 2014. The items in this exhibit are from the Mary Wickes Papers and other collections housed in the University Archives collection. Our archive is comprised from more than 300 unique collections, chronicling the history of Saint Louis. Please visit our website to learn more about our collection. Please go to the introduction to start exploring this exhibit.