While chatting on the telephone with my friend the other day, I mentioned how frustrating it has been being told on a daily basis to stay home. “Keep doing that for another 17 years,” she said wryly, “and then you’ll know one aspect of what it’s like to be a mother.”

Ikeda Shūzō was born in 1922 in Akita Prefecture and moved to Tokyo to attend Tokyo Higher Normal School (the Japanese equivalent to a college at that time) in 1945. His woodblock prints focus upon images of young children, and he is well known for incorporating the natural wood grain patterns of the blocks into his compositions. In this image, Ikeda shows a young mother facing away from us, cradling her newborn baby in her arms. The look of contentment on the baby’s face, his head nestled in her hair, is mesmerizing.

It is fitting that Ikeda chose to depict the mother from an angle that obscures her appearance. My earliest memories of my own mother are equally fragmentary. When I was five years old, she took me to the local public pool and taught me how to swim. I can distinctly remember the pattern of her one-piece swimsuit and her hands reaching out to me as I struggled to stay afloat. The rest of that memory of her is a blur, but it is comforting nevertheless. On that day, like on so many other days over the following decades, she was a lifeline.

As my friend reminded me, our current experiences amidst this pandemic underscore the sacrifices that our mothers have made over the course of our lives. Rather than dwelling upon these new restrictions in my daily life, I have developed a deeper appreciation for those mothers around me for whom such inconveniences are unavoidable as they care for their own children.

Happy Mother’s Day!

– Stephen Salel, Robert F. Lange Foundation Curator of Japanese Art

Ikeda Shūzō (1922–2004)
Mother and Child
Japan, 1981
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of Philip H. Roach, Jr., 2005 (28236)