May 14, 2013
PORTLAND, Maine – A University of Southern Maine visual-arts student from Portland is drawing attention more than 6,000 miles away in her homeland of Japan.
A Japanese publishing house is taking the gentle watercolor paintings of Hiroko Fogarty, a USM senior who will graduate next year, and turning them into a bi-lingual children’s book about the Japanese princess, Aiko, to be published this July in Tokyo.
The entire experience seems a bit overwhelming to Fogarty, who also is a traditional Japanese musician who plays the shamisen. She enthusiastically credits the USM art professor who gave her the nudge to create both the book and seek its publication.
“If he didn’t say anything, I would never publish book,” Fogarty said recently about George Burk, USM associate professor of painting and drawing.
“Because of professor Burk, he encouraged me,” she continued in her halting English. “It’s kind of accidental, kind of lucky. I never thought of publishing book.”
Fogarty’s traditional Japanese-style paintings, along with the work of other graduating USM art students, have been on display this past month at the USM Art Gallery in Gorham. She also has developed a website to showcase her work, which uses traditional Japanese painting methods.
“Color is the most important component in my art creation,” she writes in her artist’s statement on the website. “I am inspired by a traditional Japanese art, Nihonga, when searching for my art concepts. Over the past year, I have learned the Japanese classic art technique. While I am mixing with mineral pigment powder using my finger to mix the Nikawa glue, I am relaxed but excited with the results of color. In addition, using vivid hues makes my artwork more attractive.
“I also like to use watercolors, especially Japanese watercolor, Gansai, because of its brilliant tint,” she continues. “Part of my conception of my artwork is to make it elegant and graceful. If a viewer feels soothed and relaxed when they see my artwork, I am satisfied.”
Fogarty, who has lived in Portland for more than 20 years, was born in South Korea, where her father was a fruit farmer. At age three, she returned to Japan and was raised in Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Honshu Island, southwestern Japan. Fogarty recalled that while growing up, her mother “did everything, so I could do everything, too,”
The little girl discovered music and art, and she continued drawing for her own pleasure. She became skilled enough, however, in playing the traditional shamisen -- a plucked, three-string instrument similar to a banjo -- to later give lessons.
Fogarty later moved to Tokyo and went to vocational school studying office administration and began working at an import-export company, but found “in Japan, women’s state is very dull,” with no career opportunities. “I want to do something with challenge,” she said.
She saw an advertisement in a newspaper to teach Japanese culture in the U.S. The adventurous young woman couldn’t speak English very well, but decided to apply for the job. “I was so brave!” she laughed.
Fogarty ended up in the Arundel schools as a volunteer teacher, teaching elementary-school children and middle-schoolers how to count in Japanese, easy Japanese conversation, origami, the tea ceremony, Zen and of course, music. She recalled having all the children together to sing Christmas songs in Japanese. They “get on stage and sing together,” she said. “It was beautiful.”
She married her Irish-American husband -- “Meat and potatoes,” she laughed -- and began to think about getting a college degree.
“This is kind of a dream when I retire, I want to go back to school,” Fogarty said. “This country I can do anything I want to.”
Now a widow, Fogarty maintains her Japanese citizenship and occasionally returns to Japan to visit. “I die here because I like this country,” she said, “but still I’m Japanese.”
Asked why she chose to attend USM, Fogarty said, rolling her eyes, “Close to my house, and everyone knows USM.”
Having to choose a major, she decided not to select music because the program was so different from her own training. She picked art because “I can do art till I die.” Fogarty took only one or two courses at a time, saying, “If I take a course, I want to learn something, not just get credit.” As might be expected, writing in English was the most difficult for her, she admitted.
Last year, Fogarty did an independent study with both Lin Lisberger, USM art lecturer, and on line with Japanese artist Hiroki Murata of Tokyo. The result was a “big jump in my skills,” she said.
She also took a drawing class with George Burk, who allowed the students to do what they wanted for a class project. Fogarty decided to illustrate an existing children’s tale, but Burk told her instead to illustrate her own story.
The art student decided to do book on 11-year-old Aiko, Princess Toshi, the only child of the heir apparent to the Japanese throne, Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Crown Princess Masako. Fogarty knew there was a great deal of general interest in her and about whether she would one day rule Japan.
Fogarty’s book focused on “when [Aiko] was born, what she likes, what life is like.” The student artist did soft, watercolor pictures of Aiko doing kanji, or calligraphy, watching sumo wrestlers, playing the cello, running at a school track meet, and using public transportation.
Fogarty wrote the text in English, but Burk told her to do it in Japanese as well, which she did, placing the English and Japanese text together on the same page.
Fogarty thought about publishing her book, but knew it was difficult. Nonetheless, Burk encouraged her, and Fogarty, seeing a publishing house ad in a magazine, inquired.
“Only one time,” she said. “For this I ask about, and they say yes!”
Now the 23-page book, with 12 of Fogarty’s paintings and her English and Japanese text, will be published in July by Tokyo Tosho Shiyupan and sold in Japan and on line. The publication is not a vanity-press edition, though Fogarty thinks she will have to market the book herself. She expects the picture book to be sold in one of Tokyo’s major bookstores.
Fogarty will continue this summer with an internship study working with an artist-author on Peaks Island, from whom she hopes to learn more about publishing and marketing.
“I think I’m lucky,” she said of the whole experience. “ Just lucky to have someone encourage me.”
“Princess Aiko” (ISBN978-4-86223-654-8) will be available online in July for about $12 at: http://www.kinokuniya.com
To view more of Fogarty’s work, go to: http://galleryhiroko.weebly.com/index.html
For more information about USM’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, go to: http://www.usm.maine.edu/cahs
For more information about USM, contact:
USM Office of Public Affairs