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  • Donald F. McCallum (1939–2013)
  • Sherry Fowler

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On October 23, 2013, when Prof. Donald F. McCallum passed away, the field of art history lost a distinguished scholar of Japanese art and beloved teacher known for his serious commitment to education along with a sharp sense of humor. Donald McCallum was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on May 23, 1939. As a youth, he was fascinated by Egyptian archaeology, a precursor to his later passion for art history. He earned his A.B. at University of California, Berkeley in 1962, where he was inspired to study Asian art in classes he took from Sinologist Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen (1894–1969). In a recent interview McCallum commented in response to changes in education that when he started at Berkeley in 1957 his tuition was only about $100 a year.1

After beginning graduate studies at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, McCallum worked under the supervision of renowned Asian art historian Alexander Soper (1904–1993). Although McCallum had originally considered studying Chinese art history, the political situation at the time made it too difficult to go to China, so he shifted his focus to Japanese art. Over the course of his career, he spent more than a total of seven years doing research and fieldwork in Japan. From 1965 to 1968 his dissertation research in Japan was supported by various grants, including the John D. Rockefeller III Fund. In 1966 he met and married his lifelong partner Toshiko Miyabayashi. For about two years, before returning to the United States, they lived outside Kyoto in Iwakura in a little house surrounded by rice fields in the shadow of Mt. Hiei.

In 1973 McCallum was awarded his PhD after completing his dissertation “The Evolution of the Buddha and Bodhisattva Figures in Japanese Sculpture of the Ninth and Tenth Centuries,” an ambitious undertaking. In it, he championed Buddhist sculpture from a period about which those outside Japan knew little. He scrutinized sculptures, mostly firsthand, and created a painstaking stylistic analysis to argue that the works made in the tenth century were not merely transitional but had an independent style. While in Japan he had an unparalleled opportunity to consult with almost every major Buddhist sculpture specialist of the day, including Shimizu Zenzō, Uehara Shōichi, Inoue Tadashi, Kurata Bunsaku, Nishikawa Shinji, and Kuno Takeshi.

McCallum’s first publication was part one of an extensive review of the groundbreaking exhibition of Heian-period sculpture held at the Tokyo National Museum in 1971.2 Throughout his career he continued to pursue related topics, such as “The Ninna-ji Amida Triad and the Orthodox Style” in Artibus Asiae (1974), “The Saidaiji Lineage of the Seiryōji Shaka Tradition” in Archives of Asian Art (1996), and “The Replication of Miraculous Icons: The Zenkōji Amida Triad and the Seiryōji Shaka” in Images, Miracles, and Authority in Asian Religious Traditions (1998). His work on sculpture ranged from the sixth century, as in “The Earliest Buddhist Statues in Japan” in Artibus Asiae (2001), to works by the seventeenth-century itinerant monk sculptor Enkū; he wrote the two-part article “The Sculpture of Enkū” for Oriental Art (1974) and later the essay in Japanese on Enkū for volume 16 of the monumental series Nihon bijutsu zenshū (The Complete Works of Japanese Art) in 1991.

McCallum’s intellectual curiosity and wide range of interests took him to areas of Japanese art far beyond sculpture, topics that, at the time he began, many considered too unorthodox to address. His scholarship on intersections between history and religious practice was provocative. Moreover, he often dared readers to confront [End Page 211] things they had either never considered before or had previously dismissed as unimportant. He would playfully comment that anytime anyone introduced him for a lecture the person always had to mention Japanese tattoos. His article “Historical and Cultural Dimensions of the Tattoo in Japan” published in Marks of Civilization: Artistic Transformations of the Human Body (1988) was one of the first studies of its kind and helped pave the way for the rising tide of fascination and scholarship on art of the body.