Naoko Matsubara

The distinguished woodcut print artist Naoko Matsubara was born on Shikoku Island into an old Shinto family, and grew up in Kyoto, where her father was a senior priest. She was educated at the Kyoto Academy of Fine Art (BFA, 1960); and was a Fulbright Scholar at what is now Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh (MFA, 1962). She was also a Special Invited Student at the Royal College of Art in London (1962).

After travelling extensively in Europe and Asia, Naoko Matsubara returned to Japan for two years, before being lured back to the United States. There she worked as personal assistant to the late Prof. Fritz Eichenberg, and also taught at the Pratt Institute of Graphic Art in New York, as well as at the University of Rhode Island. Subsequently she lived in Cambridge, Mass.

In 1972 Naoko Matsubara moved to Canada, and now lives in Oakville, Ontario. She has continued to be extremely active as an artist: locally, nationally and internationally. Since 1960 she has had some 75 solo exhibitions, in the USA, Canada, Japan, England, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and Mexico. She has also participated in numerous group exhibitions.

Public collections owning work by Naoko Matsubara include: Albertina, Vienna; Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum; Carnegie Institute; Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Cincinnati Art Museum; Detroit Institute of Art; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; Haifa Museum, Israel; Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art; Royal Ontario Museum; The White House, Washington DC; Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art; Yale University Art Gallery.

Naoko Matsubara has published some 20 books and portfolios of her work, including most recently Tibetan Sky (Calgary: Bayeux Arts Publishers, 1997; Preface by the Dalai Lama); Tokonoma (Bath, England: Old School Press, 1999); and Konjaku monogatari (Tokyo: ALIS, 2002). Her work also includes a large mural and donor pillar for the new YMCA building in Oakville, Ontario (2003); mixed-media screens; and paintings. In 2005, the Royal Ontario Museum commissioned two large works from Naoko Matsubara for the Museum’s Bloor Street window case. The artist generously donated a third work, Emerald Summer (2006). The three works (each 195 cm. high by 95 cm. wide) will be rotated at regular intervals into the outside window. This is the first commissioned artwork to be displayed on the Museum’s Bloor Street Plaza. She also recently completed commissions for Chatham University in Pittsburgh and the City of St. Catharines, Ontario.

Recent major exhibitions have been in Tokyo, Kyoto, Indiana, and Toronto (Royal Ontario Museum). Further exhibitions are currently being planned in Seattle and Tokyo; new books in process include In Praise of Hands. She also continues to travel widely; is frequently invited to speak about her work; and also publishes essays, in both English and Japanese.

Naoko Matsubara’s work has been the subject of countless articles and reviews; documentary films (including two from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation); and several book-length publications: notably Mokuhan: The Woodcuts of Munakata and Matsubara (text by Joan Stanley-Baker; Victoria, BC: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1976); Naoko Matsubara: Development of Artistic Style and Technique (text by Barbara Woodworth; MFA thesis, Harvard University, 1985);.and Tree Spirit. The Woodcuts of Naoko Matsubara (text by Arlene Gehmacher, Klaas Ruitenbeek and John M. Rosenfield; Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2003).

In May 2009, Ms. Matsubara received an honourary doctorate in Fine Arts from Chatham University in Pittsburgh.


Naoko Matsubara was born in 1937 in Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku; but grew up mostly in the city of Kyoto. Her father was one of the most senior Shinto priests in Japan, and her mother came from a very old Shinto family. After graduating from the Kyoto Academy of Fine Arts (now Kyoto Fine Arts University), she went to the United States as a Fulbright scholar, spending a year at the Carnegie Institute of Art (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, where she received her MFA. Subsequently she was invited to study at the Royal College of Art in London; and travelled extensively in Europe and Asia before returning to Japan in 1963.

In 1965 she returned to the United States as personal assistant to the late Prof. Fritz Eichenberg, a wood-engraving artist and historian of print-making. She also taught at the Pratt Graphic Center in New York and at the University of Rhode Island, before settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a free-lance artist. In 1972, following marriage to David Waterhouse, a professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, she moved to Canada, where she has continued to be very active as an artist of single-sheet woodcuts, portfolios and illustrated books, a painter and a mural artist, working out of her studio in Oakville, Ontario. She has also written numerous essays, in both English and Japanese; lectured or taught at many universities and art schools; and travelled widely. In 1981 she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts; and she has received many commissions and grants.

Naoko Matsubara’s work is to be found in museums and other public collections throughout the world, as well as in many private collections. She has illustrated some eighteen books, and contributed to many others. She has had countless exhibitions, both solo and group, on four continents. Her work has been the subject of monographs, as well as of innumerable articles, reviews, newspaper articles and documentary films.

In 2003 Naoko Matsubara had an exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, entitled Tree Spirit, which was accompanied by a 300-page illustrated catalogue. In the same year she had several other exhibitions, including two in Tokyo; and her newest book, illustrating stories from the 11th-century tale collection Konjaku monogatari, was published in both English and Japanese editions. Early in 2004 she had a further exhibition in Tokyo; and plans for the year include exhibitions in Indiana, Ottawa, and Tokyo; and a new book,  In Praise of Hands.