By Philip Montgomery
Head of the McGovern Historical Collections
The Christmas season is here along with damp, grey skies. My to-do list is longer than usual, and my cure for holiday despair is eating sweets or spending money. First of all I am grateful I can do both, but neither one is a cure for what ails me. Since other people may also have the pre-Christmas blahs, I thought a little bit of sunny, glorious spring might chase the blues away and get me back into the holiday spirits. So here is a little present from the McGovern Historical Center to you.
This Meiji Period (1868-1912) color woodblock print is of a Japanese morning glory. The print is located in MS 67, The William J. Schull, PhD Papers, box 123, folder 12.
My good friend Izumi HIRANO did some research on this woodblock print. Izumi is a doctoral candidate in archival science at Gakushuin University in Tokyo. She called upon some of her friends to answer questions about the print.
Izumi said, “First of all, the letters on the left-side show the variety of the flower.There is a rule for the elements that consist of the name, from the top, ①leaf color ②pattern on leaf ③quality and form of leaf ④color of flower and pattern on petal ⑤the way the flower blooms ⑥information on petal layers
“Thus,①青水晶 Ao-sui(or zui) shoo・・・leaf color
②斑入 Fuiri・・・・・・・・pattern on leaf
③菊水爪巻葉 Kikusui-tsumemaki-yoo・・quality and form of leaf
④照紺 Shookon（or Terikon）・・・color of flower
④髭交 Hige-majiri・・・・・・・・・・・pattern on petal
⑤鳥甲入 Torikoo-iri・・・・・・・・・・the way the flower blooms
⑥獅子牡丹 Shishi-botan・・・・・・・・・・information on petal layers
“When you read the long name from the top, that is the name of the variety. Everybody involved know the rule and how you call a particular feature of a flower, so one could guess what a particular morning glory look like by reading its name.”
Evidently, Japanese horticulturalists fell in love with the lowly morning glory just as the Dutch fell in love with the tulip. The Japanese gardeners raised the morning glory to an art form.
There is a little more to the story of this print including its relationship to the science of genetics and the hunt for this particular print. So enjoy. Have a happy holiday, and while you dream of sugar plum fairies, take a stroll through an imaginary garden filled with morning glories.