WATANABE SADAO. Donation Ruth Hetcamp


Library exhibition, 03.05.2023 – extended until further notice

WATANABE SADAO Library Exhibition

Ruth Hetcamp (born 1933 in Duisburg), who grew up in Duisburg-Meiderich during the Second World War, placed herself at the age of 26 in the mission of the young Christian Church of Japan and helped to establish diaconal work, especially with women in need.

In 1960, Ruth Hetcamp was sent to Japan by an evangelical women’s missionary society, where she first familiarised herself with the language and culture. The starting point was the Gateway to Hope in Tokyo, a small home that offered shelter and a community of life to women in various emergencies in the city of millions. At the time of the Tokyo Olympics, 1964, there were great upheavals and uncertainties in Japan. The newspapers reported many suicides of young people. Ruth Hetcamp sought contact with young women and girls in the entertainment districts. She was familiar with telephone counselling in England and Germany and Japan had a highly modern telephone network. Together with a circle of friends of Japanese Christian women, she began to consider the possibility of this work for Japan. Against many reservations, the circle of people willing to share responsibility gradually grew. After intensive preparation, the number of the “Life Telephone” was announced to the public on 1 October 1971.

She became aware of the artistic work of Watanabe Sadao (JP, 1913-1996) thanks to one of her Japanese teachers. Ruth Hetcamp established personal contact with the artist, who invited her to visit him in Tokyo. He told her his life story: born in 1913, he lost his father at an early age and came to the church through a primary school teacher. She took him to church services and also encouraged the boy’s creative potential. When Watanabe Sadao was 17, he was baptised together with his mother. Later, he worked in a dyeing factory, where he made templates for colour printing kimonos. He later applied these dyeing techniques to paper – thus developing the traditional technique into his very own. Yanagi Muneyoshi (also Yanagi Sōetsu), Japanese art critic, religious philosopher and co-founder of the Japanese Mingei movement, which aimed to revive the historical crafts and technical knowledge of traditional Japanese arts and crafts, encouraged him to express his closeness to Christianity in the prints

Christian iconography merges in his works with an expressive Buddhist imagery that uses local materials such as kozo paper and momigami (kneaded paper) as well as the katazome technique of stencilling. Watanabe’s Bible prints, which thus bridge East and West, were particularly popular in Christian circles, and reached foreign countries via American and European missionaries. Ruth Hetcamp also took her Watanabe Sadao collection back to Duisburg after her 22-year stay in Japan.

In 2022, Ruth Hetcamp donated her collection of works by the Japanese artist Watanabe Sadao to the DKM Foundation. A selection of Ruth Hetcamp’s donation, comprising 34 works in its entirety, is on display in the DKM Museum library, which is otherwise not open to the public.