Visual Literacy of Buddhism in America

Peter Romaskiewicz [Updated: December 2019]

What do you envision the Buddha to have looked like?

My research has been guided by this deceptively complex question. As many Americans were first introduced to Buddhism in the latter half of the nineteenth century, I became interested in how they also developed a “visual literacy” of Buddhist images. In other words, how did they learn about the visual identity of the Buddha and other Buddhist figures.

This page will be a repository where I keep some of my research notes on popular American material culture and print ephemera containing Buddhist figures. All items, except otherwise noted, are part of my personal archive, and as such, they represent my uneven collecting habits and particular research interests. I will update this page as my time and motivation allow. _/|\_

History of this Project: My scholarship has regularly returned to questions regarding religion and its cross-cultural transmission. Trained as a medieval Sinologist (someone who studies China) with a focus on Buddhism, I was interested in how Chinese people conceived the foreign Indian tradition of Buddhism when it first entered their sphere of knowledge. Early depictions of Chinese Buddhist imagery are fascinating hybrids of Chinese and non-Chinese ideas. In many ways these function as visual metaphors for a similar process of intercultural assimilation of many aspects of Buddhist doctrine. Nevertheless, as with all historical documents, I’ve imagined all of the more ephemeral depictions of early Chinese Buddhist imagery that have not withstood the test of time.

Me & Harriet
American tourists posing for a photograph in front of the Kamakura Daibutsu. [c. 1920s]

I then realized this hybridization process was ongoing currently in the United States and has been for many decades.  While classical institutions of learning, such as university libraries and museums, would be repositories of the most valuable historical items, I became interested in what might be called the more vernacular expressions of contemporary, “Western” Buddhist imagery. Thus, I started to collect items as a pseudo-intellectual hobby. In a sense, I was doing what I wish someone did in China millennia ago when Buddhism was first introduced. This habit soon turned into a conference paper entitled “A Buddhist Veneer on American Pop Culture,” where I argued for the value of archiving and analyzing these early, and sometimes odd, specimens of vernacular Buddhist imagery in America.

As my collection grew, I started to organize the materials and patterns started to appear. I also wanted to start sharing some of my ideas and decided to think about an online archive. This formal archive has yet to materialize, but I wanted to share my initial thoughts on selected items that I had already researched. Along the way, I’ve decided to also publish my working notes on dating old Kamakura Daibutsu photographs and identifying Japanese postcard publishers. This, in a nutshell, is the origin of my posts here on the Visual Literacy of Buddhism. The entries in the series thus far are cataloged below. For a short history and explanation click on the hyperlink below each item.

The first small exhibit of some of my materials was displayed at UCSB in January 2019. A digital version of the exhibit can be found here.

Albumen Photographic Prints

APKD Renjō Obverse
  • Renjō’s Daibutsu: A Pioneer of the Path
  • Title/Caption: NA (Diabutz [sic] on reverse)
  • Year: 1869-1871 (dated Oct. 7, 1871 on reverse)
  • Photographer: Shimooka Renjō 下岡蓮杖 (1823-1914)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, mounted on card
  • Dimensions: 3in X 2in (cartes de visite)
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  • Farsari’s Dai Butsu
  • Title/Caption: NA
  • Year: c. 1887
  • Photographer: Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 10.25in X 8.25in
apkd003af
  • Farsari’s Dai Butsu
  • Title/Caption: L20 DAI BUTSU (B)
  • Year: c. 1887
  • Photographer: Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 10.25in X 8.25in
apkd004af
  • Farsari’s Dai Butsu
  • Title/Caption: Japan, A. Farsari & Co., Yokohama [photographic frontispiece]
  • Year: c. 1887
  • Photographer: Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, sepia-tinted
  • Dimensions: 10.25in X 8.25in

Gelatin Photographic Prints

Strohmeyer UU print.jpg

Postcards

Figure 1 Gov Issued Illus
  • Illustrated Government Issue Postal Card of the Daibutsu
  • Title/Caption: DAIBUTSU, KAMAKURA
  • Year: 1897 (postally used)
  • Publisher: Printing Bureau, Ministry of Finance 大蔵省印刷局
  • Medium: woodblock print on paper
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: 大日本郵便, JAPANESE POST, 郵便はがき
Fig 1 Halftone.jpg
  • Government-Issued Halftone Postal Card of the Daibutsu
  • Title/Caption: DAIBUTSU, KAMAKURA 鎌倉大仏
  • Year: 1897 (postally used)
  • Publisher: Printing Bureau, Ministry of Finance 大蔵省印刷局
  • Medium: halftone print on paper
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: 大日本郵便, JAPANESE POST, 郵便はがき+
pckd001kk(o)
  • Kimbei’s Undivided Back Postcard
  • Title/Caption: NA
  • Year: 1900-1907 (postally unused)
  • Photographer: Kusakabe Kimbei 日下部金兵衛 (1841-1934)
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Union Postale Universelle. CARTE POSTALE, 萬國郵便聯合端書
pckd002tk(o)
  • Kōzaburō’s Undivided Back Postcard
  • Title/Caption: NA
  • Year: 1900-1907 (postally unused)
  • Photographer: Tamamura Kōzaburō 玉村康三郎 (1856-1923?)[?]
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Union Postale Universelle. CARTE POSTALE, 萬國郵便聯合端書
Esaki 01a
  • Esaki’s Pilgrims at the Daibutsu
  • Title/Caption: DAIBUTSU AT KAMAKURA
  • Year: 1900-1907 (postally unused)
  • Photographer: Esaki Reiji 江崎礼二 (1845-1910)[?]
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Union Postale Universelle. CARTE POSTALE, 萬國郵便聯合端書
Esaki 02a
  • Esaki’s Pilgrims at the Daibutsu
  • Title/Caption: 451 [or 461] DAIBUTSU AT KAMAKURA
  • Year: 1900-1907 (postally unused)
  • Photographer: Esaki Reiji 江崎礼二 (1845-1910)[?]
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Union Postale Universelle. CARTE POSTALE, 萬國郵便聯合端書
pckd004u(o)
  • Ueda’s Hand-Colored Cerulean Letterpress Postcards
  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu, Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: c. 1907 [postally used 1910]
  • Publisher: Ueda Photographic Prints Corp. 上田写真版合資会社
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Postkarte [Type 1], 郵便はかき
pckd005u1(o)
  • Ueda’s Hand-Colored Cerulean Letterpress Postcards
  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu, Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: c. 1907 [postally unused]
  • Publisher: Ueda Photographic Prints Corp. 上田写真版合資会社
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Postkarte [Type 1], 郵便はかき
pckd007u(o)
  • Ueda’s Daibutsu and Dog Postcard
  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu, Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: c. 1907 [postally unused]
  • Publisher: Ueda Photographic Prints Corp. 上田写真版合資会社
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Postkarte [Type 1], 郵便はかき
pckd006u(o)
  • Ueda’s Unfussy Daibutsu Postcard
  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu, Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: c. 1907 [postally unused]
  • Publisher: Ueda Photographic Prints Corp. 上田写真版合資会社
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Carte Postale [Type 2], 郵便はかき
PCKD008t(o)
  • Tonboya’s Onlooker of the Daibutsu
  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu at Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: c. 1909
  • Publisher: Tonboya トンボヤ
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Carte Postale Post Card [+],  郵便ハガ[キ]
PCKD009t(o)
  • Tonboya’s Failed Voyeurism of the Daibutsu
  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu at Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: 1907-1918
  • Publisher: Tonboya トンボヤ
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Union Postale Universelle.[+], 郵便はかき
Kaihin obverse
  • Panoramic Postcard of the Kamakura Kaihin Hotel
  • Title/Caption: Kamakura Kaihin Hotel Kamakura, Japan.
  • Year: 1903-1907 [postally unused]
  • Publisher: unknown
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Post Card, 郵便はかき
Collage
  • Eight Postcards Views of Kamakura
  • Title/Caption: Kamakura 8 View Postcard Coloured by Hand.
  • Year: mid-to-late 1920s
  • Publisher: Unknown
  • Medium: collotype print on paper and cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: approx. 5.5 in X 3.5 in
Set 2 Collage.png
  • Eight Postcards Views of Kamakura
  • Title/Caption: Kamakura 8 View Assorted Coloured by Hand.
  • Year: mid 1930s
  • Publisher: Unknown
  • Medium: collotype print on paper and cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: approx. 5.5 in X 3.5 in

Stereoviews

IMG_E5813
  • Metcalf & Bennet’s “A Summer In Japan”
  • Title/Caption: Bronze Image of Buddha at Kammakura [sic]
  • Year: 1877
  • Photographer: William Henry Metcalf (1821-1892)
  • Publisher: Henry Hamilton Bennett (1843–1908), “A Summer in Japan” (#346)
  • Medium: albumen print, mounted on yellow-orange card
  • Dimensions: 7 in x 3.5 in
IMG_E5822
  • Strohmeyer’s “Faithful at the Shrine of the Daibutsu”
  • Title/Caption: The Faithful at the Shrine of Dai Butsu, Japan’s Greatest Idol, Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1896
  • Photographer: Henry A. Strohmeyer (1858-1943)
  • Publisher: Strohmeyer & Wyman, distributed by Underwood & Underwood (out of a set of 72 views)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved buff/tan-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in
IMG_E5858
  • Keystone’s “Colossal Bronze Statue of Buddha”
  • Title/Caption: “Daibutsu” – The Colossal Bronze Statue of Buddha, Kamakura Japan
  • Year: c. 1906
  • Photographer: unknown
  • Publisher: Keystone View Company, Benneville Lloyd Singley (1864-1938)(#61 out of 72/100?)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in
IMG_E5827
  • Ponting & Graves’ “Largest Idol in the East”
  • Title/Caption: Worshipping at the Shrine of the Great Daibutsu, the Largest Idol in the East. Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1902
  • Photography:  Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)
  • Publisher: Universal Photo Art Company, Carlton Harlow Graves (d. 1943?)(#70 out of 200)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in
IMG_E5835
  • Ponting and the Underwoods’ “Majestic Calm” of the Kamakura Daibutsu
  • Title/Caption: Majestic Calm of the Great Bronze Buddha, Revered for Six Centuries, (Facing S.W.) Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1904
  • Photographer: Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood; part of  “Tour of Japan” (#11 out of 100)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in x 3.5 in
IMG_E5842
  • Ponting and White’s “Sacred Daibitsu”
  • Title/Caption: The Sacred Daibutsu, Colossal Bronze Image of Buddha, Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1905
  • Photography:  Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)
  • Publisher: The “Perfec” Stereograph; Hawley C. White (B. 1847?) (#23 out of 100)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on olive-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in
IMG_E5866
  • Enami’s Dazzling Bronze Buddha
  • Title/Caption: The Large Bronze Buddha, Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1907
  • Photographer: Enami Nobukuni 江南信國 (1859-1929)
  • Publisher: Griffith & Griffith
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in
IMG_E5849
  • Keystone’s Tour of the World
  • Title/Caption: The Colossal Daibutsu in Cherry-Blossom Time – the Great Buddha of Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1935-6
  • Photographer: unknown
  • Publisher: Keystone View Company (#925 out of 1200 card “Tour of the World” set)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in
IMG_5840
  • Underwood & Underwood’s Tourist Excursion
  • Title/Caption: The Kakamura Wonder [handwritten on reverse]
  • Year: c. 1910-1914
  • Photographer: unknown
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in
IMG_5830
  • Graves’ “Stereoscopic Gem”
  • Title/Caption: Colossal Statue of Buddha Kamakura Japan [on negative]
  • Year: c. 1902-5
  • Photographer: Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)
  • Publisher: Stereoscopic Gems of American and Foreign Scenery, Carlton Harlow Graves (d. 1943?)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in
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Lantern Slides

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  • Keystone’s “Colossal Bronze Statue of Buddha”
  • Title/Caption: “Daibutsu” – The Colossal Bronze Statue of Budda [sic], Kamakura Japan.
  • Year: c. 1906
  • Photographer: unknown
  • Publisher: Keystone View Company, Benneville Lloyd Singley (1864-1938)(#14009)
  • Medium: glass and photographic emulsion, paper

Travel Memorabilia

TMKD Kaihin Obverse

Music Memorabilia

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  • The “Buddha” Foxtrot by Pollack and Rose
  • Title: Buddha Fox Trot
  • Date: 1919 (date on reverse)
  • Cover Artist: André De Takacs (1880-1919)
  • Composer: Lew Pollack (1895-1946)
  • Lyricist: Ed Rose (1875-1935)
  • Publisher: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. (NY)
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  • The “Buddha” Foxtrot by Pollack and Rose
  • Title: Buddha [Operatic Edition]
  • Date: 1920 (date on reverse)
  • Artist: Unknown
  • Lyricist: Lew Pollack (1895-1946)
  • Songwriter: Ed Rose (1875-1935)
  • Publisher: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. (NY)