Helen Nagata, Ph.D.

Profile photo
Title: Associate Professor, Art History
Division: School of Art and Design
Office Location: Art Building, Room 203C
Office Phone: 815-753-1474 (Divison Office)
Office Fax: 815-753-7701
Email: hnagata@niu.edu

Educational Background

  • Ph.D., Art History, Stanford University 
  • M.A., Art History, University of California, Berkeley
  • B.A., Art History, English Literature, Practice of Art, University of California, Berkeley

Current Research

  • Paintings and prints of Edo period Japan 
  • Illustrated printed books (17th-19th c.) and their function in Japanese popular culture 
  • Convergence of arts where two-dimensional, three-dimensional, literary, music, and performance traditions intersect 
  • Evolution of traditional Japanese arts in the 20th and 21st centuries 

Teaching Interests

  • Relationships of South, Southeast, and East Asian arts across cultures 
  • The Female image in Japanese Art; Silk in Japan 
  • Topics ranging from Nature in Japanese Art, Tea Ceremony and the Arts, Ceramics 
  • Themes related to the study of Japanese multicolor woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) 
  • Seminars related to exhibition preparation and research (E.g., Ukiyo-e, modern prints, and contemporary installation at the NIU Art Museum, 2008; and “The Arts Converge: Traditional Music and Contemporary Arts” in the Olson Gallery, 2012) 

Courses Taught

  • ARTH 282 - Introduction to World Art 
  • ARTH 282-YE1, Y01 – Introduction to World Art (100% online, asynchronous) 
  • ARTH 294 - Introduction to Arts of Asia 
  • ARTH 370B - Studies in Asian Art: Japan 
  • ARTH 370A - Studies in Asian Art: China  
  • ARTH 370G – Studies in Asian Art: Thematic Subjects 
    • Nature in Japanese Art
  • ARTH 457/657 – Topics in Asian Art 
  • The Arts Related to Japanese Tea Ceremony 
  • Yoshiwara: A Think Tank on Visualizations of the Licensed Pleasure Quarters of Edo 
  • ART 465 – Introduction to Museum Studies 
  • ARTH 494 - Seminar  
  • Silk in Japan (themes of sericulture, textiles and kimono, cultural associations, fashion, feminine ideals) in collaboration with Yamaguchi Prefectural University 
  • Seminar on Arts Converging at NIU and in Japanese Art related to “The Arts Converge: Contemporary Art and Asian Musical Traditions” (September – October, 2012), an exhibition of visual arts with related special concerts, lectures, and workshops held at the Jack Olson Gallery, NIU School of Art 
  • The Female Image in Japanese Art 
  • Seminar on Ukiyo-e and Modern Japanese Prints related to the 2008 Exhibition project at the NIU Art Museum, “National/International Consciousness in Japan: Self, Place, and Society during the Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-First Centuries,” 24 January – 7 March 2008, NIU Art Museum 
  • ARTH 701 – Graduate Seminar in Art History 
  • The Nature of Theatricality in Japanese Ukiyo-e 
  • ART 490/ART 690 - Independent Research 
  • Study Abroad program in Japan: “Japanese Culture, Art, History & Education,” Japanese Culture and Arts” in collaboration with faculty from the NIU College of Education, NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Yamaguchi Prefectural University, Japan, and NIU School of Art and Design 
  • ART 499H – Senior Honors Thesis 
  • Student Thesis: “Construction of an Icon:  The Heron Maiden in Japan’s Performing and Visual Art Traditions”  
  • ARTH 703 – Independent Research  
  • ART 780- Teaching Art at the College Level:  Internship 

Selected Publications and Exhibitions

Selected Publications 

Career experience in East Asian Art conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exhibition research for Yale University Art Gallery as a graduate student, and a curatorship at the RISD Museum of Art has prompted continued activity related to exhibitions: 

"Reading Ukiyo-e: Reflections on Interpretations (Ukiyoe wo yomu—kaishaku wo kangaeru 浮世絵を読むー解釈を考える)," in Ukiyo-e Prints from the Mary Ainsworth Collection, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College (Ōbarin daigaku Aren memoriaru bijutsukanzō Meari- Einzuwa-su ukiyoe korekushon—shoki ukiyoe kara Hokusai Hiroshige made オーバリン大学アレン・メモリアル美術館蔵メアリー・エインズワース浮世絵コレクション). Chiba: Chiba City Museum of Art, 2019. pp. 30-35. 

“A Word on Inscriptions: Writing and Image on Bijinga Paintings.” In Janice Katz, Mami Hatayama, eds. Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection. Chicago: AIC and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018, pp.156-9. 

“Notes on A Guide to Love in the Yoshiwara (Yoshiwara koi no michibiki, 1678) with Illustrations Attributed to Hishikawa Moronobu (1618?-1694)” and translation of “Yoshiwara koi no michibiki (A Guide to Love in the Yoshiwara).” In Seduction: Japan’s Floating World: The John C. Weber Collection. Ed. Laura W. Allen. San Francisco: Asian Art Museum, 2015. pp. 219-37. (Soft cover ISBN: 978-0-939117-70-3; Hard cover ISBN: 093911769X, 978-0939117697) 

“Hishikawa Moronobu’s Yoshiwara: The Formulation of a Seventeenth-Century Popular Art,” Ukiyo-e geijutsu 浮世絵芸術 (Arts of Ukiyo-e), vol. 167 (Jan. 2014), 98-109. 

“Guidebooks to Pleasure Quarters and Ukiyo-e: The Rhetoric of Realism in the Streets of Yoshiwara.” In Kobayashi Tadashi Sensei Koki Kinenkai Henshū I’inkai 小林忠先生古稀記念会編集委員会 (Editorial Committee for the Commemoration of Professor Kobayashi Tadashi), ed. Nihon bijutsu no tokushitsu 日本美術の特質 (The Abundance of Japanese Art: Essays in Honour of Professor Kobayashi Tadashi’s Seventieth Birthday). Tokyo: Geika Shoin 藝華書院, March 2012, pp. 2-9. 

Helen Nagata, ed. Revisiting Modern Japanese Prints: Selected Works from the Richard F. Grott Family Collection. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Art Museum, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9823852-2-7 

“Revisiting the History of Modern Japanese Prints,” co-authored with Helen Merritt. In Helen Nagata, ed. Revisiting Modern Japanese Prints: Selected Works from the Richard F. Grott Family Collection. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Art Museum, 2007, pp. 11-20. 


Exhibitions at NIU 

Co-curated Myanmar Today: Selections from the Thukhuma Collection (Contemporary Burmese Art, A Singular Vision) with Dr. Catherine Raymond, 1 September - 27 October 2016, Jack Olson Gallery. This exhibition was planned as a component of the exhibition Kaleidoscope of Burmese Art: Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Center for Burma Studies, NIU Art Museum 23 August – 18 November 2016. 

Guest Curator for “The Arts Converge: Contemporary Art and Asian Musical Traditions,” September – October 2012, Jack Olson Gallery, NIU School of Art. Curated with student assistants Tracey Leigh Redding, Tiffany Arnold and Elize Houck.  

  • Artists (visual artists, composers, concert performers) from New York, Taiwan, California, Tokyo, and the Chicago area contributed works with Indian, Southeast Asian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cultural references. Works ranged from laser-cut wood and acrylics on Mylar, to installation, animated video, and experimental film.  
  • A total of twenty-five special events related to the exhibition were arranged in cooperation with School of Music, School of Performing Arts, and different disciplines in the School of Art.  

Guest Curator for the exhibition project “National/International Consciousness in Japan: Self, Place, and Society during the Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-First Centuries,” 24 January – 7 March 2008, NIU Art Museum. This project was conceptualized to celebrate the recent donation of ukiyo-e and modern Japanese prints to the NIU Art Museum by Richard F. Grott. Researched with undergraduate and graduate seminar students. Recipient of a 2008 Illinois Association of Museums (IAM) Superior Achievement Award for scholarly publication. 

  • The three-part exhibition included a selection of Edo-period ukiyo-e prints with explanation of techniques and sample materials; the special exhibition Revisiting Modern Japanese Prints: Selected Works from the Richard F. Grott Family Collection” featuring roughly eighty Japanese modern prints; and “Yedoensis,” an installation project by the Japanese contemporary artist Ayomi Yoshida featuring 10,000 hand-printed cherry blossoms individually adhered to a digitally printed backdrop. The project was documented with regular updates on the artist’s blog: http://www.ayomi-yoshida.com/niu  


  • NIU Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality 
  • Tsukasa Taiko, Asian Improv aRts Midwest (AIRMW, taikolegacy.com) 
  • Advisory Board 
  • Multiple Ethnic and Folk Arts Master Apprentice Program grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency to train with Kioto Aoki 
  • Year-round educational and cultural performance participation for elementary, junior high, high school, college-level institutions, museums, cultural centers, community parks and neighborhood festivals 

Prof. Nagata’s art history courses serve as requirements or electives for the following programs and pathways outside the Art History program:  

  • Studio Art, Design and Media Art, Art and Design Education (School of Art and Design) 
  • Department of World Languages and Cultures, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences 
  • Department of History, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences  
  • NIU Center for Burma Studies 
  • NIU Center for Southeast Asian Studies 
  • NIU Asian American Studies Certificate 
  • Fashion Merchandising (B.S.), Family and Consumer Sciences, College of Health and Human Sciences (Cross-Referenced) 
  • Global Connections Pathway 
  • General Education “Society and Culture” Knowledge Domain, Writing Infused 
  • General Education “Creativity and Critical Analysis” Knowledge Domain; “Origins and Influences” NIU PLUS Pathway


Associate Professor Helen M. Nagata (Ph.D., Stanford University; triple B.A.. and M.A., University of California, Berkeley) specializes in pre-modern Japanese art of the 17th-19th centuries. She has trained in Tokyo at Gakushûin University, studied East Asian art conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, served as curator of Asian art at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, and taught art history at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Her published articles and lectures range in subject from the dissemination of classical themes in seventeenth-century Japanese art (Yale University Art Gallery) and poetic allusions in Japanese textile patterns (Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design), to twentieth-century creative print movement attitudes towards ukiyo-e or multi-color woodblock prints (Milwaukee Art Museum).

She has received grants and fellowships from the Institute for International Studies, Stanford University; the Ministry of Education, Japan; and the Adachi Foundation for the Preservation of Woodcut Printing. Her current research focuses on seventeenth-century illustrated travel literature and its relationship to paintings and early ukiyo-e prints.

Professor Nagata teaches courses introductory survey courses on Asian art, and upper level and graduate courses in Japanese art. 

Selected Works