Interview with Founders and Staff

Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll
Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll

Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll:
Part 2

The Formation of the Sainsbury Institute: Staffing and 64 The Close

In this second instalment of the creation of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Art and Cultures, Professor Nicole Rousmaniere, the Founding Director and currently Research Director, continues her interview with Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll. Dame Elizabeth is the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia and Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and since its establishment in January 1999, a Trustee of the Institute. During this second interview, Dame Elizabeth reviewed the history of the Institute, particularly in regard to location and staffing and commented on recent developments. Dame Elizabeth’s unswerving support for the Institute and her clear sense of direction for the Institute are a source of inspiration and invaluable help. With her guidance this small acorn of an institute has grown into an international centre for Japanese art and cultures, replete with academic events, publications and lectures as well as being a gathering place for scholars and the Norwich public, and housing an important specialist library.

In 1999 Dr. Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, who had been a lecturer in Japanese Art History in the School of World Art Studies and Museology at UEA, was appointed Director of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Art and Cultures. With Dame Elizabeth’s careful guidance, the first task after creating the mission statement for the Institute was to locate a space for the nascent organisation and to create a staffing structure. Dame Elizabeth supported the Director on both fronts and she explains below how this was satisfactorily achieved.

Norwich Cathedral and 64 the Close, Norwich
Norwich Cathedral and 64 the Close, Norwich

‘First of all we needed an administrator. Professor Kawai Masatomo, Nicole’s supervisor at Keio University in Japan, kindly came over for three months to assist us in the search. We sorted through large numbers of applications, eventually interviewed four people and appointed Uchida Hiromi, who is still with us after 13 year though in a separate capacity.’

With the help of Sir Tim Lankester, then Director of SOAS and with thanks for the wonderful generosity of Mr. Handa Haruhisa, Professor Timon Screech and Dr. John Carpenter joined the Institute as Japanese art history research associates. In addition, the Institute established a position for Dr. Simon Kaner, who specialises in Japanese archaeology.

The original location for the Institute was in a small office space in the Cathedral Close in Norwich but Sir Robert envisioned a larger presence for the Institute. Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury requested Dame Elizabeth to find a more appropriate quarters within the city of Norwich and independent from the University of East Anglia campus. Dame Elizabeth explained his reasoning:

Grand staircase in the Institute
Grand staircase in the Institute

‘Sir Robert wanted to be off campus so that the Institute could be independent while still being affiliated to UEA. Since the Sainsburys’ collection was at UEA, he wanted university students to be able to have the benefit of the expertise of this new Institute and to make the city and its community sensitive to the exquisite Japanese aesthetic which so appealed to them both.’

Hearing that 64 The Close was to become available, Dame Elizabeth and the then Dean of Norwich Cathedral, the Very Revd Stephen Platten, investigated its possibilities under the cover of darkness.

‘Stephen and I met late one night, all cloak and dagger! We walked around the building and thought that it would be absolutely super for the Institute. At the next opportunity we showed it to the Sainsburys, even though we couldn’t look inside. They both felt that this was an ideal place for the Institute; prestigious, next to the Cathedral and close to the City.’ And so it has proved. The Third Thursday Lectures are now given to capacity audiences and people come from distant parts for Norfolk to hear international experts on Japanese arts and cultures. One loyal Third Thursday attendee who has been to almost all of these lectures said she felt she had earned in a pleasant way what would be the equivalent of a degree in the Japanese arts.’

However, it took 18 months to restore the beautiful edifice with its red and yellow Victorian tiled floor and grand staircase (The building’s archaeological history is covered in a separate article in this issue).

Lisa Sainsbury Library and Third Thursday Lectures: Two pillars of the Sainsbury Institute

The year 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the Lisa Sainsbury Library. The Library was officially opened on May 2003, inaugurated by the then Ambassador of Japan, Orita Masaki, and his wife Madame Orita. Our Lisa Sainsbury Librarian, Hirano Akira, moved from London in time for its opening. He had previously worked at the Library of SOAS, helping to catalogue the new Lisa Sainsbury Library collections.

Professor Toshio Watanabe and his students visiting the Lisa Sainsbury Library
Professor Toshio Watanabe and his students visiting the Lisa Sainsbury Library

From the outset the Lisa Sainsbury Library was supported by generous donations. In autumn 2001 more than 15,000 volumes on Japanese art, which had belonged to the well-known Japanese art historian Professor Matsushita Takaaki and Professor Matsushima Ken, were given to the Library – a donation arranged by Professor Matsushita’s son-in-law Professor Kawai. With this superb collection of books on Japanese medieval art as its core, the Lisa Sainsbury Library has become one of the foremost resources for Japanese art studies in Europe.

The Bernard Leach collection was acquired thanks to Lady Sainsbury’s generosity and amounts to about 200 books on East Asian ceramics. Once owned by the celebrated potter Bernard Leach, the books were in his widow Janet Leach’s personal library.

Sir Hugh and Lady Cortazzi have contributed a large and important collection of books on Japanese art and history. Many of these books are quite rare and all have been carefully collected. A noted scholar, Sir Hugh was formerly the British ambassador to Japan. Sir Hugh and Lady Cortazzi also donated about 40 Yokohama prints (ukiyo-e depicting foreigners in the second half of the 19th century) and made a long-term loan to the Institute of their important collection of historical maps of Japan, both European and Japanese in origin. In addition, Sir Hugh and Lady Cortazzi placed their valuable collection of Japanese ceramics on long-term loan; notable among these are pieces by designated Living National Treasure Shimaoka Tatsuzo, some of which are displayed in the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at UEA.

Nehanzu, the gift from Professor Sir Raymond Firth
Nehanzu, the gift from Professor Sir Raymond Firth

More bequests followed as the reputation of the Lisa Sainsbury Library grew. Dr. Carmen Blacker, famous for her research on Japanese religions bequeathed her entire library to the Institute. The ethnologist Professor Sir Raymond Firth gave important books from his collections, two woodblock print works and a large painting of the Nehanzu, or ‘Death of the Buddha’ which now hangs on the main stairwell in 64 The Close There have also been many individual donations as well.

Dame Elizabeth commented on the pivotal role of the library for the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Art and Culture.

‘It is the Institute’s major research feature, made particularly rich by its many books in Japanese. Books are now referenced in national cataloguing systems, and the fact that scholars come to Norwich to use the library will make it much better known as a unique UK resource.’

Dish, stoneware with glaze Simaoka Tatsuzo (1919-2007) Cortazzi Collection
Dish, stoneware with glaze Simaoka Tatsuzo (1919-2007) Cortazzi Collection

During the conversation Dame Elizabeth made many references to Professor Kawai.

‘He is inspirational, quietly behind the scenes having wonderful ideas. The Third Thursday Lecture series was the result of discussion with Professor Kawai about involving the local community with the Institute.’

From small beginnings, and just 30 people attending a lecture in the library itself, each lecture now has an audience of some 100 people and are held in the much more spacious venue of the Cathedral Hostry. The impact of these lectures can be gleaned from Dame Elizabeth’s own words:

‘As a scholarly research organisation, the Sainsbury Institute makes a significant outreach commitment to its local community through the Third Thursday Lectures, offering of a wide insight into Japanese arts and cultures. The lectures have been hugely successful in embedding the Institute in an environment which might otherwise have been somewhat hostile, since many local men suffered as prisoners of war in Japan during the Second World War. The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation has provided exceptional support over the last 10 years, which have helped make these important lectures possible. This public engagement initiative began long before government started to persuade universities to become involved in outreach to engage more with their local communities.’

In our next issue of the e-magazine Dame Elizabeth will discuss the Institute as it stands today and at its future possibilities.

Edited by
Kishida Yoko
Research and Public Relations Officer

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