Bertha Lum (1869-1954), printmaker and illustrator, was born in Tipton, Iowa and spent her youth in Iowa and Minnesota. In 1885, Lum attended the Art Institute of Chicago for one year, focusing on design. A few years later studied stained glass with Anne Weston and illustration with Frank Holme. Her honeymoon voyage to Japan in 1903 was the first of many adventures in the Orient. Returning to Japan in 1907 for fourteen weeks, she gained an introduction to Bonkotsu Igami, a master block cutter in Tokyo, who disclosed to her the techniques of carving and arranged for her education in block printing.
Though married, Lum was fiercely independent and traveled for extended periods of time. Accompanied by her two young children, her 1911 sojourn in Japan lasted six months. By this time she had a thorough understanding of color woodcut and opted for the traditional division of labor. Lum moved easily within Japanese society and hers were the only foreign woodcuts in the Tenth Annual Art Exhibition in Tokyo in 1912. Her color woodcuts were awarded the silver medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and her work was included in the 1919 Exhibition of Etchings and Block Prints at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Lum was in California at the end of 1916 and moved to San Francisco in the fall of 1917, but the following years were interrupted with travel. Her most extensive stay in California was between 1924 and 1927. The 1923 earthquake in Tokyo destroyed most of her blocks and many woodcuts. She authored and illustrated Gods, Goblins and Ghosts in 1922 and Gangplanks to the East in 1936. Lum's work received honors in Rome, Paris and Portugal and is represented in the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts.
Lum spent the late 1920s and the 1930s living in Peking, returning to California in 1939. She spent a great deal of time in China between the years 1948 and 1953. She left China, and moved to Genoa, Italy to be with her daughter Catherine. Lum died in Genoa in 1954