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Maki Haku (1924-2000)

Prints in Collection

Symbol No 2
Symbol No 2, 1957
IHL Cat. #2050
Ox, 1962
IHL Cat. #1336h

Poem 70-86, 1970
IHL Cat. #1720

Poem 70-92
IHL Cat. #1719

71-1, 1971
IHL Cat. #1717

Poem 71-5 (仁)
Poem 71-5 (仁), 1971
IHL Cat. #1718

Poem 72-3
Poem 72-3, 1972
IHL Cat. #2516

Poem 73-112 (Snow)
Poem 73-112 (Snow), 1973
IHL Cat. #2048

IHL Cat. #2275

Zen-2, 1995/1999
IHL Cat. #1982 

Biographical Data


Maki Haku 巻白 (1924-2000)

photo, mid-1990s
CWAJ 1997 Print Catalog
Most of Maki Haku’s prints are immediately recognizable by their subject matter – often stylized kanji characters, ceramic vessels or fruit – and their deeply embossed images and velvety colors. During his almost fifty year career, Maki created approximately 2000 different print designs, with an average edition of 100 prints. His work was, and still is, extremely popular with collectors world-wide and is held by major museums around the world.
Tortoise , 1977

I have ... tried to give our cultural heritage of such ideographs a modern feel, but in an Oriental style.- Maki Haku, 1966

Popular Print Subjects for the Artist 

Collection 885, undated
 8.7 x 8.7 in. (22 x 22 cm)
Iron, c. 1976
10.7 x 8.9 in. (27.25 x 22.5 cm)
Persimmon, 76-40, 1976
sheet: 9.5 x 9.5 in. (24.1 x 24.1 cm)


Sources: The Life and Works of Haku Maki, Daniel Tretiak, Outskirt Press, Inc., 2007; 44 Modern Japanese Print Artists, Gaston Petit, Kodansha International Ltd., 1973; Evolving Techniques in Japanese Woodblock Prints, Gaston Petit and Amadio Arboleda, Kodansha International Ltd.,1977

For an artistas prolific and internationally popular as Maki Haku, surprisingly little hasbeen written about his early life. Themost information we have in English has been gathered by the Maki collectorDaniel Tretiak in his 2007 book The Lifeand Works of Haku Maki and much of what follows is condensed from that book.  

Maki was bornin the small town of Asomachi in Ibaraki Prefecture, about 80km northeast ofTokyo, on September 27, 1924 with the birth name of Maejima Tadaaki. His fatherlikely died before he was born and he was raised by his mother.  Towards the end of WWII he was trained as akamikaze pilot, but was saved by the war’s end. After the war he graduated from Ibaraki Teachers' College in 1945 andbecame vice-principal of an elementary school there. In 1954 he married Takako Umeno. They wouldremain married throughout his life and were childless. Takako assisted herhusband throughout his printmaking career along with her sister, who assistedin the printing process until sometime in the 1980s when Maki began hiringlocal assistants.

c. 1960s
While Maki had no formal art training, according to Petit he first started oil painting as a child and made his first prints as New Year’s cards, a popular custom of the time. What training he did receive was from two years of study with the pioneering sōsaku-hanga artist Onchi Kōshirō (1891-1955) attending meetings of the Modern Print Study Society (Gendai Hanga Kenkyūkai 現代版画研究会), founded in 1950 by Onchi and Kitaoka Fumio (1918-2007) under the auspices of the Nippon Hanga Kyōkai.1 He also may have participated in the last of Onchi’s First Thursday Society (Ichimokukai), meetings.

In the late 1950s, he selected the art name () Haku Maki (literally, “white roll,” with connotations similar to “airhead”) to promote himself as an eccentric artist who lacked academic training.2 According to Tretiak “Maki had few friends among the Japanese modern art community,” quoting his wife and his niece as saying “he had no close relationships with his contemporaries.”3

Maki first started making single-sheet prints, initially woodblock prints, in the mid-to-late 1950s and continued almost up until his death in 2000. Maki’s wife remembers his most prolific years as the twenty year period from 1964 to 1984, although sometime in the 1970s he developed pain in his arms, hands and shoulders that impeded his work, leading him in the mid-1970s to favor printing from carved woodblocks, a printmaking method he used early on in his career, rather than more arduous printing required using his blocks of molded/carved cement over wood. In 1975, again likely in response to physical limitations, Maki started working on a group of small (with images as small as 2” x 2”) woodblock prints which were issued into the 1980s in eight sets of twelve prints each with the overall title of San Mon Ban.4 The prints included in volume 1, issued in 1975 in an edition of 365, are shown below along with the cloth covered box containing the prints, each of which was tipped to an 8 x 8 inch mat board. His wife Takako remembers that “San Mon Ban was created usingas models certain large prints he liked and [he] made them into smaller prints forSan Mon Ban or used San Mon Ban creations to make larger prints later.”5

An early Maki woodblock print
Symbol 2, 1957
16 1/8 × 12 3/8 in. (40.9 × 31.5 cm)
sheet: 19 11/16 × 16 1/16" in. (50 × 40.8 cm)
Museum of Modern Art, 64.1959
San Mon Ban (portfolios of small prints)
Volume 1, 1975
each image 2 x 2 in. (5.1 x 5.1 cm)

In 1962 his woodblock print Ox (see this collection’s print IHL Cat. #1336h) was one of tenprints chosen for James Michener’s seminal work and portfolio of prints The Modern Japanese Print: AnAppreciation. This book alongwith the 1969 award-winning (receiving the Mainichi International PublishingCulture award) book Festive Wine, a translation of twenty-one 5th to 9thcentury poems, each accompanied by a Maki print, popularized his workinternationally and increased the audience for his prints.

Festive Wine: Ancient Japanese Poems from the Kinkafu

Festive Wine, 1969 containing twenty-one Maki prints

The works he is best known for are his prints of kanjicharacters drawn in calligraphic form, sometimes producing characters that bearminimal resemblance to the actual character. In commenting on Maki’s style, oneof the authors of Festive Wine wrote:

Maki himself referred to the style he based his hanga on as shōkei moji which is the Japanese translation of hieroglyphics. What he meant by this was that he took kanji in their current shape and used his imagination to create what he thought may have been the original pictograph behind them.  This is especially evident in his renderings of the character for Woman 女 (Poem 5) and Wife  (Poem 21) [both shown below], where he imbues them with feminine grace and suppleness.6

Donald Jenkins in Imagesof a Changing World: Japanese Prints of the Twentieth Century tells us thatMaki was “Not acalligrapher in the strict sense of the word, Maki is a student of ancientChinese ideograms and characters. He derives ideas for prints from them,although he may alter the characters to enhance the overall design.“7

Maki himself in discussing his print Ox states: “I have here tried to give our cultural heritage of suchideographs a modern feel, but in an Oriental style. This means trying tocapture the typically Japanese expression of the beauty of space, the sense ofreverence for and persistent pursuit of boundless space, while at the same timetaking advantage of the boundary provided by the beauty and life of the paperitself.”8

This collection's print
Poem 71-5 (仁), 1971


"ren" benevolence
(esp. as a virtue of Confucianism)
This kanji is easier to read than most of the stylized characters appearing in Maki's prints. Like many of his calligraphic kanji, it looks like the "seal script" form of this character. Maki has also used the character in the print's title, something rather rare to find in one of his print titles. 

Beyond these “kanji” prints, Maki chose pottery (particularly,ceramic vessels such as tokkuri, sake cups, tea bowls), ancient clay funeraryfigures and fruit (particularly pomegranates) as favorite subjects for many ofhis prints. Large numbers of his prints also carry the title “Poem” followed bya number, perhaps in homage to his mentor Onchi many of whose prints carry thetitle poem or were inspired by poetry. Late in his career Maki also producedprints depicting multi-color goboards and some geometric pattern works and a small number of prints depictingMount Fuji. His last known prints were simple woodblocks of traditional sail boats.

One of Maki's last prints in the year before his death.
Work Z - 446b, 1999

While Maki created some prints from woodbocks, both early andlate in his career, the bulk of his works were created from his unique combinations of woodblock, cement and sometimes cardboard as a printing block. These amalgamations consisted of a base of plywood, or sometimes cardboard, covered with a mixtureof Portland cement, water and a bonding agent, which he molded and carved tocreate images and backgrounds. The resulting prints show deep embossing ofimages and, on some prints, a deeply embossed pattern as background. It is adifferent look than what can be achieved through woodblock printing. On occasion,he will cut shapes from heavy cardboard and glue them to the woodblock,creating a collage of forms.

Several authors have offered slightly varying descriptions ofMaki’s printmaking process.  The belowbrief description is drawn from Gaston Petit’s detailed description in Evolving Techniques in Japanese WoodblockPrints.

In the early 1960s Maki developed his own process of reliefprintmaking using woodblocks and cement. He first carved a conventionalwoodblock and then placed a cement mixture around the areas raised in relief onthe block. Before the cement was set, Maki would texture it and after it driedhe carved and chiseled the cement into the desired shape. After the cementcompletely dried, the entire surface of the plate was shellacked.

He would then roll his colors, which could include poster paints, oil paints and offset printinginks, onto the relief areas of the block, using stencils to define the areasto be inked. He often applied a film of red oil paint or cobalt blue slightlydiluted with turpentine over his colors, which added a deep velvety appearanceto the final print.

Paper is placed on the inked block and is first hand-rolledwith a soft roller to adhere it to the printing block and then passed throughan etching press, where heavy pressure was applied to emboss the paper and printthe images. He then would take a second piece of paper covered with diluted ricepaste and hand bond it to the printed paper using a hand-roller. He followed this with twoadditional passes of the bonded papers through the etching press, laminating the two sheets and creating even deeper embossing on the paper. On three sheets of paper would be laminated together.

Occasionally, he would hand-apply color to specific areas of the print.  As a last step, Maki added his artist seal. which he viewed as part of the composition.

Tretiak quotes a number of Maki acquaintances, all of whomsaw Maki as modest, kind and gentle. Lawrence Smith describes him as “A man ofvery independent spirit” who “remained devoted to large editions at low pricesavailable to ordinary people…” even as his fame grew.9

In 1998, Maki underwent surgery for stomach cancer, which wasto take his life in 2000. He worked, with the assistance of his wife, almostuntil his death.

Signatures and Seals

Maki used anumber of seals, many of which he carved himself. Tretiak reports  that early on in his career he used a sealwith his given name, Maejima Tadaaki, as well as his artist’s name, but gavethat up by the early 1960s. Maki, as did many Japanese artists, considered hisseal part of the design. 

Commonly seen signatures on Maki prints

Maki's seals - scripted seals reading either 巻 (Haku Maki), or just 巻 (Maki) or 白 (Haku)
scanned from The Life and Works of Haku Maki, Daniel Tretiak, Outskirt Press, Inc., 2007, p. 26.

Organizations, Galleries and Museums

During his career Maki’s work was shown in at least fifteengalleries in Japan, including the well-known Red Lantern and Yoseido Galleriesin Tokyo. Starting in 1957 he consistently participated in the Japanese Print Association (NihonHanga Kyōkai) Exhibition), an organization which he became a member of in 1958, and in the College Women's Association of Japan (CWAJ) annual print show starting in 1960.He also participated in international shows wining several prizes andrepresenting Japan in the 1967 Venice Biennale.10 

In 1991 he and his wife visited San Francisco for a galleryexhibition and followed that with a visit to Yosemite National Park. Makivisited the US again in 1995 and 1996 for shows in a Seattle gallery.

Maki’s work isheld by museums world-wide including the British Museum; Art Gallery of GreaterVictoria; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum; The PhiladelphiaMuseum; Honolulu Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Cleveland Museum ofArt; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College; Harvard Art Museums; Museum of FineArt, Boston; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum, PortlandOregon; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art,Haifa.

Online Resource

Item Title:
Haku Maki Catalog Raisonné database.
Craft, Robert ;  Tretiak, Dan
numerous color ills.
Exhibition List:
Link to digital online content:
Content Note:
The database was revised and uploaded in 2018. It now contains over 1,400 records, and will be continually updated and supplemented.

Entries give catalogue number (based on date and number within year for the period 1960-1980, with modified dating patterns for other "named" print series), year, title, edition, keyword, dimensions in inches, original DT file label.
There is a search and find function allowing sorting by selected critera.
Public Note:
The online catalogue is a work in progress. Information is based on the research of Dan Tretiak (who published a first monograph on the artist in 2007) and his wife, Lois Tretiak.
This research was put up on the present website by Robert Craft.

My Personal Favorite
Poem 70-72, 1970
Sheet: 61.5 x 44.4 cm (24 3/16 x 17 1/2 in.)
Image: 57.6 x 40.5 cm (22 11/16 x 15 15/16 in.)
Cleveland Museum of Art 2003.318

1 Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, Helen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1992, p. 185
2 Honolulu Museum of Art, introduction to the 2017 exhibition "Maki Haku and the Poetry of Form" website http://honolulumuseum.org/art/exhibitions/16323-maki_haku_and_poetry_form/
3 The Life and Works of Haku Maki, Daniel Tretiak, Outskirt Press, Inc., 2007, p. 26.
4 Some sources report eight sets and Tretiak reports 7 sets.
5 op. cit. Tretiak, p. 66.
6 op. cit. Tretiak, p. 23-24.
7 Images of a Changing World: Japanese Prints of the Twentieth Century, Donald Jenkins, Portland Art Museum, 1983, p. 132.
8 The Modern Japanese Print - An Appreciation, James Michener, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1968, p. 54.
9 Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989, Lawrence Smith, British Museum Press, 1994, p. 30.
10 Honolulu Museum of Art web introduction to their 2017 exhibition Haku Maki and the Poetry of Form http://honolulumuseum.org/art/exhibitions/16323-maki_haku_and_poetry_form/

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