E. E. Cummings, enamored of the Imagists while at Harvard in the early 1910s, later said he should have "lived in China where a poet is also a painter."

E. E. Cummings. "Hokku." Harvard Monthly. Cambridge, April 1916.

E. E. Cummings Hokku

E. E. Cummings "Mt. Chocorua."  Oil on canvas. Ca. 1938.

Mt. Chocorua.

Cummings always painted with the bright colors of Japanese prints. His pen-and-ink drawings, many of which appeared in The Dial, suggest Chinese calligraphy.


Although modern art replaced her Japanese prints, Stein remained interested in the links between Eastern and Western cultures. She said, perhaps with some reference to her own work, of Picasso's calligraphic paintings that "Oriental people, the people of America and the people of Spain have never, really never forgotten that it is not necessary to use letters in order to be able to write."

Jo Davidson. "Gertrude Stein." Bronze. Paris, 1923.

Gertrude Stein.

In Stanzas in Meditation, Stein experimented with Buddhist philosophy. Davidson's sculpture of Stein makes intentional reference to the Buddha's pose.


        As the high modernist period came to a close during the 1930s, the next generation of American writers focussed not on the classical epochs of Chinese and Japanese arts and letters but on contemporary views of the peasant class. Pearl Buck, the daughter of China missionaries, portrayed "natural" Chinese characters in her best-selling The Good Earth. In 1938, when she became the first American woman to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature, Buck was cited for her "rich and genuine portrayals of Chinese peasant life."

        Another popular writer, Lin Yutang, moved from China to New York after criticizing his homeland in the western press. He became Buck's protege. His extremely popular collection of anthropological essays, My Country and My People was hailed as "the truest, the most profound, the most important book yet written about China."

         Three decades of political and ideological conflict were to pass before American writers again turned to China and Japan for inspiration. Such writers as Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg in the 1960s began to fulfill Amy Lowell's prophecy: "The march of peoples is always toward the West, wherefore, the earth being round, in time the West must be West again."

Exhibition Introduction

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