In 1914, Mori fled the paper business, took up residence with his mother, and heeded his creative calling. Under the tutelage of Shuho Yamakawa, Mori gained a formal education in drawing, illustration and painting. He was a quick learner and diligent student and soon became the pupil of Shuho’s father, the esteemed kimono pattern artist Seiho Yamakawa. As Mori learned to dye and draw, he simultaneously studied brush drawing with Koho Goto. During this period, Mori became deeply rooted in Tokyo’s artistic community, moving amidst luminaries of early 20th-century printmaking.
Mori’s explorations in illustration and textile arts were suddenly put on hold in 1918. Drafted into the Akasaka First Infantry Regiment, Mori served in Korea. This sojourn from his work only amplified his desire to be an artist. Following his honorable discharge in 1920, he resumed his studies with Shuho. Mori began exploring different artistic mediums, working half days at an oil paint plant to support himself. He entered Kawabata Art School, graduating in 1923 with a major in Japanese-style painting. His career appeared to be on the rise: several of his drawings of had been submitted to and accepted by a rakugo performing group, but this deal was never realized. On September 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Tokyo. Once again, Mori came face to face with personal tragedy as his aunt’s home burned down. Mori put his artistic career on hold and became a salesman in an effort to support his aunt. Seimu Sakka, the kimono artisan that Mori had apprenticed with during art school, took notice of Mori’s situation and refused to let such talent go to waste. Sakka offered the young artist housing and a job as a kimono dyer.
By 1925, Mori had established himself as an independent artisan, designing and dyeing fabric for kimono. As his business prospered, he quickly became well known in his field. He married and had three daughters: Eiko, Kozue, and Ayako. When the Japan Folk Crafts Museum opened in 1936, Mori became a frequent visitor. The traditional works in this collection inspired Mori and wielded a strong influence on his work. During one of his many visits to the museum, he met Shiko Munakata and Kihei Sasajima, two of the most influential sosaku hanga, or “creative print,” artists. Drawing influence from contemporary Western art movements such as expressionism, this movement emphasized the artist’s involvement in every step of printmaking, as well as the creative process itself.
Mori joined the newly organized group of dyeing craftsman known as the Society of Young Leaves (Moegikai) in 1939. The group flourished in the years before the war, but struggled during World War II. Mori lost his apprentices to army service and wartime provisions crashed upon the perceived luxury of kimono fabric dyeing. During this difficult time, Mori helped fellow kimono artisans evade restrictions, find materials, and smooth over sumptuary infractions. The Great Tokyo Air Raid of 1945 dissipated the shadows and structures of Edo-period culture that Mori held dear. The artist had no choice but leave his historical home. Following the end of the war in 1945, the Japanese government launched an effort to preserve Japanese art and traditional crafts. Mori was one of many artists and artisans across the country to receive materials necessary to practice his craft. Using the cloth and dye supplied by this government initiative, Mori maintained his success following the war.
While Mori had experimented with printmaking throughout his artistic career, he began producing monostencil prints on wood and glass sheets in 1951. Upon the urging of Soetsu, a leader of the sosaku hanga movement, Mori began exhibiting his work. His focus had begun to shift from the realm of craft to the freedom of art when he entered two prints in the 1957 inaugural Tokyo International Biennial of Prints, a massive event composed of 800 prints by 250 artists spanning 31 countries. Though the Japanese judges tended towards Western-style prints, foreign judges favored the striking creativity and unrestrained expression of sosaku hanga. As one of Mori’s entries vied for first prize in the Japanese Printmaking category, the print sparked a debate that revealed the inherent conflict between tradition and internationalism in contemporary Japanese art. This discussion set the stage for sosaku hanga to become a dominant graphic establishment in Japan and remain an important influence on printmaking today.
Though Mori ultimately did not win, his experience at the Biennial gave him a new confidence in his printed work and he began to exhibit around the world. He formally declared himself a printmaker in 1960, completing some woodblock prints, but primarily producing stencil prints (kappazuri). In May of 1962, a leader of the mingei movement criticized Mori, insisting that he was becoming more of an artist than an artisan, leading to a heated debate about the differ- ence between craft and art. This argument convinced Mori to leave the crafts division of Kokugakai.