The University libraries were recently given a collection of more than 1,300 books on Japanese art and Japan. The gift came from Shirley and Marilyn Luber, wife and daughter of the late 1940 Wharton graduate and renowned Philadelphia art collector Gilbert Luber.
The collection includes journals, magazines and books, and it covers techniques, individual artists, specific collections, the history of collecting and Japanese culture.
The family also created the Gilbert, Shirley, and Marilyn Luber Endowment to help support and enrich the collection. Right now, the endowment is paying for the cataloguing and processing of the books. According to Kristin Winch, associate director of Penn Libraries’ Office of Development and External Affairs, the endowment will eventually be used to buy more materials related to the collection.
Julie Davis, an art history professor who specializes in East Asian art, said the Luber’s donation is “one of the broadest and deepest private collections of books about Japanese prints I have ever encountered.”
The Lubers began collecting Japanese art books and prints in the 1970s. When they traveled to Japan for their 25th anniversary, they fell in love with different types of printmaking and returned home with several purchases. Gilbert then began researching ancient Japanese prints through the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“It was a hobby that turned into a career,” Shirley said.
The couple eventually opened the Gilbert Luber Gallery at 12th and Walnut streets and continued to travel to Japan to buy more art books and prints. The gallery was the first in Philadelphia to house works from contemporary as well as classical Japanese artists.
Gilbert Luber passed away in 1999, and his wife closed the Gallery in 2000. She now sells their collection of art prints online. Some of their books were placed in the care of the Philadelphia Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, while the rest stayed in storage until Shirley and Marilyn decided to present the collection to the University.
“I thought, Gil went to Wharton so he’d be the happiest if they were at the Penn library,” Shirley said.
Several professors and students are already planning to use the collection for their research.
Davis is teaching a curatorial seminar on modern Japanese landscape prints in spring 2014. She hopes the books will be of aid to students’ research.
Quintana Heathman, a third-year Ph.D. student who focuses on Japanese prints, will be an assistant in Davis’ class. “Japanese prints are an incredibly rich area for research, and Penn is one of the few universities in the United States with scholars who focus this subject, so this gift is very important for us,” Heathman said.
For the time being, the collection will be housed in a variety of Penn libraries. Some will be located in the Special Collections Center on the sixth floor of Van Pelt library and will not circulated. Others will be available to the public in the Fisher Fine Arts Library and the Penn Libraries Research Annex. According to Winch, there will be an exhibition of the collection open to the public in 2015.
“With this collection, the Penn Library becomes one of the foremost places to conduct research on the art of the Japanese print from past to present and will make it possible for us to teach this material to a new generation,” Davis said.