It was November 27, 1997, when the following message went out into cyberspace and landed in the mail boxes of six people with an interest in woodblock printmaking:
Hear ye! Hear ye! (Fanfare ...) Today is hereby proclaimed as the birthday of ... [Baren] - the mailing list / discussion forum devoted to woodblock printmaking! (Fanfare ...) Chromoxylographers of the world - UNITE!
Since that day, the [Baren] group has grown more than ten-fold from the original six, and has seen thousands of messages passed back and forth between its far-flung members. In a very short span of time, it established itself as 'the place' for woodblock printmakers to meet each other and exchange information. Although few of the members have actually met each other in 'real life', they have nonetheless created on the internet a very real community devoted to this art, one whose value grows day by day.
The group had been active for about half a year when the suggestion was raised to do an 'exchange folio', with each member creating a print and making enough copies to share with the other participants. The idea was enthusiastically embraced, and the results can be seen here in these pages. Not all members of the group were able to take the time to join this project, but enough did so to make this collection reflect the range of skills present in [Baren].
Right from the very beginning, [Baren] has been a community of both professional and amateur printmakers, but interestingly, when one reads the postings on the forum, it is usually difficult to tell at first just who are the 'pros' and who are the 'students'. In fact, the group has developed in such a way that all members are peers, with everybody freely giving of their own knowledge and experiences, but meanwhile listening to and learning from all the others.
This feeling of [Baren] as a group of equals is reflected in this folio. Some of the prints you are about to see have been made by printmakers with many years of experience - people who have made thousands of copies of hundreds of designs. Others were created by people with only minimal experience in woodblock printmaking. But one of woodblock printmaking's greatest strengths lies in its 'simplicity' - cut a pattern, brush it with pigment, put a sheet of paper on top and rub it ... and you've got a woodblock print. Of course years of experience enable the mature artist to make a print that matches the image created in his mind, but even the newcomer, provided he/she has enthusiasm and imagination, can create a print with life and vitality.
So who are the pros and who are the amateurs in this collection? I'm not going to tell you, and indeed, I don't care the slightest. As I write this introduction, I have yet to see any of the prints except my own, but I am quite sure that when my copy of the collated folio finally arrives at my home here in Tokyo, I will open it to discover a couple of dozen interesting and attractive new woodblock prints.
And that is what [Baren] is all about - making prints. Having an internet discussion forum is all very well, but there comes a time to put away the keyboard and pick up the knives ... or, as a number of famous people have been heard to shout:
I hope you enjoy viewing our collection as much as we enjoyed making it!
[Baren] forum list-owner
Tokyo, February 1999