Photographer’s Son Featured in “Learning at Lunch”

Frank Sata shows us his own personal favorite photograph by his father, J.T. Sata. Photo by Ben Furuta.
Frank Sata shows us his own personal favorite photograph
by his father, J.T. Sata. Photo by Ben Furuta.

 

One of my favorite Members Only events here at JANM is the collections-based series, Learning at Lunch. Members can bring a brown bag lunch and sit back as our knowledgeable Collections Manager, Maggie Wetherbee, showcases unique and often unseen artifacts from JANM’s collections. One past session explored JANM’s intricate and beautiful bird pin collection, while another looked at paper artifacts—such as letters, photographs, and menus—that revealed how Thanksgiving was celebrated in the camps and by members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Is it a plant? Is it a bug? Frank Sata says it reminds him of Star Wars. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.
Is it a plant? Is it a bug? Frank Sata says it reminds him of Star Wars. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.

The most recent edition of Learning at Lunch took place last Friday. It was extra special, as we were joined by Frank Sata, son of photographer J.T. Sata, who is a featured artist in our current exhibition, Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940. Frank, a well-known architect, also has a unique connection to JANM: he was an instrumental part of the architectural team that renovated the museum’s Historic Building.

Frank began his presentation by sharing family photographs and personal stories about his family’s history and journey. He then shared some of his father’s photographs that are in JANM’s collection but not on view in the exhibition.

During this portion, classical music played in the background as a tribute to his father, who loved classical music; Frank also felt that the lyrical images deserved lyrical accompaniment. These photographs were not only breathtaking but also showcased J.T. Sata’s immense skill and artistic sensibility. Some of my favorites are featured here.

I see feathers here. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.
I see feathers here. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.

 

We were also treated to slides of J.T. Sata’s other works, including charcoal drawings of the Santa Anita Assembly Center and vibrant paintings from the family’s time at the Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas. Overall, the presentation was truly moving and such a unique opportunity to hear Frank share his personal insights about his father and his father’s work.

This was J.T. Sata's favorite photograph. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.
This was J.T. Sata’s favorite photograph. Photograph by J.T. Sata.
Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.

 

Making Waves will be on view through June 26. You can watch a short film about J.T. Sata made by JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center here.

Alison Wong is JANM’s Membership Coordinator.

Inspiring Women and Girls of Color

Admission to JANM will be free to the public on Saturday, March 12, in celebration of the Smithsonian Institution’s annual Museum Day Live! event. This day is intended to encourage all people to explore our nation’s museums, cultural institutions, zoos, aquariums, parks, and libraries. This year, in recognition of Women’s History Month, the event has a special focus on reaching women and girls of color in underserved communities.

Mine with open newspaper, surrounded by anti-Japanese slogans, Berkeley, California, 1941
Mine with open newspaper, surrounded by anti-Japanese slogans, Berkeley, California, 1941. Gift of Mine Okubo Estate
(2007.62.14).

 

At JANM, we are very fortunate to have some significant pieces in our collection created by Japanese American women, such as the artist Miné Okubo (1912–2001), whose collection has been digitized and can be viewed on our museum’s website.

janm_2007.62.147_a
Gift of Mine Okubo Estate (2007.62.147).

Okubo was a young woman during World War II. She and her family were removed from San Francisco to Tanforan Assembly Center, and then incarcerated in the concentration camp at Topaz, Utah, for the remainder of the war. Okubo was a keen observer; she made sketches and ink drawings that depicted what life was really like in camp.

Gift of Mine Okubo Estate (2007.62.181).
Gift of Mine Okubo Estate (2007.62.181).

In many ways, Okubo was ahead of her time. Her graphic novel, Citizen 13660 (1946), was the first published personal account of the camp experience. Through her pen and ink drawings, readers got an intimate view of what daily life became when Okubo, an American citizen by birth, was reduced to a number: 13660.

To learn more about Miné Okubo and her trailblazing life, we recommend viewing our online collection of her work, reading Citizen 13660, which can be purchased at the JANM Store and janmstore.com, and checking out the biographical volume Mine Okubo: Following Her Own Road, edited by Greg Robinson and Elena Tajima Creef.

Mine and Benji standing with their luggage, Berkeley, California, 1942
Mine and Benji standing with their luggage, Berkeley, California, 1942. Gift of Mine Okubo Estate (2007.62.23).

 

JANM’s Biggest Annual Event is Just Around the Corner

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On March 19, JANM will hold its annual Gala Dinner, Silent Auction, and After Party at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in Los Angeles. A lavish affair that typically attracts over 1,000 guests, this event raises crucial funds that support the museum’s operations throughout the year.

The theme of this year’s dinner is “Moving Images, Telling Stories.” Those who know JANM for its exhibitions exploring various facets of the Japanese American experience, from the World War II incarceration to Hello Kitty and Giant Robot, may not be aware that the museum is home to a groundbreaking collection of home movies and video life histories—the former dating back to the Issei of the early 20th century.

Representing rare footage of Japanese American life taken by Japanese Americans, the home movies are a glimpse back in time, providing an invaluable counterpoint to mainstream media in which Asians were either absent or portrayed unfavorably. The video life histories are in-depth interviews conducted by JANM with a diverse spectrum of Japanese Americans, recording the lives of Japanese Americans in their own words. These compelling first-person resources have helped to portray the Japanese American story as an integral part of the broader American narrative.

Karen L. Ishizuka and Robert A. Nakamura
Karen L. Ishizuka and Robert A. Nakamura

 

This year’s dinner will honor Karen L. Ishizuka and Robert A. Nakamura, who pioneered the museum’s moving image collection and founded its Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center. Nakamura is also a seminal Asian American filmmaker, having made some of the first films by and about Asian Americans. Ishizuka was instrumental in advocating for the historical and cultural significance of home movies, lobbying successfully for the inclusion of amateur footage shot at the Topaz, Utah, concentration camp during World War II on the National Film Registry. Together, Ishizuka and Nakamura will receive the inaugural JANM Legacy Award, established to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a lasting contribution to the museum’s institutional legacy and helped to distinguish the museum as a unique, vital, and valuable community resource.

Ken Burns. Photo by Cable Risdon.
Ken Burns. Photo by Cable Risdon.

 

Also honored will be the acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who has made significant use of JANM’s home movies and other archival materials in three of his highly popular historical sagas, bringing the museum’s resources to a broad national audience. Burns will receive the inaugural JANM Founders’ Award, established to recognize an individual or organization that advances the mission and vision of the museum’s founders in a meaningful way on a national or international scale.

Please visit our newly revamped Gala Dinner website for complete details and to purchase tickets. We hope you can join us for what promises to be a very exciting evening.

The Hoshida Family’s WWII Incarceration Story, Told Through Words and Images

George Hoshida, Kilauea Military Detention Camp, 1942, ink and watercolor on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.
George Hoshida, Kilauea Military Detention Camp, 1942, ink and watercolor on paper.
Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.

 

Not long after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, George Hoshida was arrested by FBI agents. Having immigrated from Japan with his family in 1912, when he was only four years old, Hoshida had made a life for himself in Hilo, Hawai‘i. He had married a Hawai‘i–born Japanese American woman named Tamae and gotten a job at the Hilo Electric Company; he had also become active in several Japanese American community organizations, including a Buddhist group and a judo association. It was Hoshida’s position in the community and his perceived influence on others that led authorities to deem him a threat.

Hoshida was forcibly separated from his wife and four daughters as he was sent to a succession of special Justice Department camps, reserved for community leaders like himself: Kilauea Military Camp on the Big Island, Sand Island on Oahu, and a variety of camps in Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico. After a year of separation, Tamae, who was handicapped, found it too difficult to raise the children without George. She made the decision to give up their home and, on the recommendation of government officials, moved with three of their daughters to the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas, where George could be transferred.

George Hoshida, Inside Our Apartment, Looking Towards Door, Jerome Relocation Center, 1944, ink on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.
George Hoshida, Inside Our Apartment, Looking Towards Door, Jerome Relocation Center, 1944, ink on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.

 

Arriving there after an arduous journey, the family would have to wait another year before George’s transfer process could be completed. Tragically, the eldest daughter, who had to be left behind in a facility in Oahu due to a handicap, died while the rest of the family was incarcerated.

During this challenging time, Hoshida and his wife wrote letters to each other every day. Hoshida also kept a detailed journal and made numerous sketches, drawings, and watercolors depicting what he saw around him. These letters, journal entries, and artworks are now considered a rare record of life in the Justice Department camps; the depictions of the Kilauea camp are the only ones known to exist. In 1997, the bulk of these artifacts were donated to JANM, where they now reside in the permanent collection. Many of the items can be viewed online through JANM’s George Hoshida Collection page as well as a special online exhibition website called The Life and Work of George Hoshida: A Japanese American’s Journey.

George Hoshida, Shoji Fujishima and Haruto Morikawa, 1944, ink on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.
George Hoshida, Shoji Fujishima and Haruto Morikawa, 1944, ink on paper.
Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.

 

Earlier this year, a new book was published that tells the Hoshida family’s story through a curated selection of Hoshida’s journal entries, memoir excerpts, letters, and artworks. Edited by Heidi Kim and supplemented with historical background information, Taken from the Paradise Isle: The Hoshida Family Story provides “an intimate account of the anger, resignation, philosophy, optimism, and love with which the Hoshida family endured their separation and incarceration during World War II.”

The hardcover edition of the book is already sold out; the JANM Store and janmstore.com are currently waiting on an order of the paperback edition. The book should be restocked in time for an author discussion event on January 9, in which Heidi Kim will read from and discuss the book. To read more about the Hoshida family’s story, check out this Discover Nikkei article.

JANM’s Board of Trustees Convenes in New York City

JANM board members listen as Clifford Chanin, Vice President for Education and Public Programs at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, points out features of the outdoor memorial. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.
JANM board members listen as Clifford Chanin, Vice President for Education and Public Programs at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, points out features of the outdoor memorial. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.

 

Members of JANM’s Board of Trustees, Board of Governors, and staff traveled to New York City for a weekend-long offsite meeting of the Board of Trustees at the end of October. It was a welcome opportunity to escape the hot temperatures in Los Angeles for the cool autumn weather in New York. Most of the weekend was devoted to taking care of business, but time was also set aside for relaxing, networking, and catching up.

The social highlight was the Saturday afternoon reception, held at the Nippon Club in Midtown. In addition to JANM board members, distinguished guests included Yosuke Honjo, CEO and President, Ito En (North America); Masahide Enoki, Vice President, Ito En; Sugu Mike, Executive Chairman, MUFG Union Bank; Yumi Higashi, Vice President of Corporate Communications, MUFG Union Bank; and Osamu Honda, Director General of the Japan Foundation, New York. Delicious food and beverages were enjoyed by all.

A carved wood plate by Henry Sugimoto, now part of the museum's permanent collection. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.
A carved wood plate by Henry Sugimoto, now part of the museum’s permanent collection. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.

At the reception, JANM announced a major gift from the estate of artist Henry Sugimoto, generously made by his daughter Madeleine. The artworks and artifacts span Sugimoto’s entire career and include 240 oil paintings and more than 200 watercolors. This acquisition makes the Sugimoto Collection, which comprises over 700 works of art, the largest collection of paintings at JANM.

Maggie Wetherbee, JANM Collections Manager, made a special trip to New York to bring one of her favorite Sugimoto pieces to the reception for guests to see. It is a carved wood plate created by the artist in the 1980s; it depicts Madeleine Sugimoto at age six, sitting in front of the mess hall at “Jerome Camp” in Arkansas, where the Sugimoto family was incarcerated, in 1943. The tags attached to her and the pieces of luggage surrounding her bore their family number, so that they could be returned to their assigned barrack if they were separated from her parents. Attendees were very excited and appreciative to see this piece up close, and were able to ask Wetherbee additional questions about the collection.

Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM’s President and CEO, gave a short presentation on the latest happenings at the museum, including exhibitions, educational tours, and new technology. Representative Mark Takano of the 41st Congressional District, a longtime supporter of the museum, spoke about what JANM means to him. He mentioned that Riverside City College, which is part of his district, holds a major collection of works by artist Mine Okubo; JANM also has a significant number of works by Okubo in its permanent collection. Rep. Takano also promised to assist JANM in bringing its recent exhibition, Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images, to a prominent venue in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM's President and CEO, gives a short presentation about the latest happenings at the museum. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.
Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM’s President and CEO, gives a short presentation about the latest happenings at the museum. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.

 

In addition to the meetings and reception, some board members and their family and friends elected to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, located on the former site of the World Trade Center. The group was given a guided tour by the museum’s founding President and CEO, Joseph C. Daniels, and Vice President for Education and Public Programs Clifford Chanin. In addition to being a deeply moving experience, the intimate tour was an opportunity to build a partnership with an institution with which JANM shares a common mission of commemorating a national tragedy and promoting the messages of hope, transcendence, and tolerance that come out of it.

Another highlight of our trip was enjoying some delicious meals at Hasaki and Sakagura, two restaurants owned by Bon Yagi and his daughter Sakura Yagi, who are longtime friends of the museum. We highly recommend visiting either or both of these establishments the next time you are in New York.

Shin-Issei Volunteer Kyoko Ogawa Contributes Invaluable Japanese Translation Skills

Kyoko Ogawa volunteering at the front desk of the Hirasaki National Resource Center.
Kyoko Ogawa volunteering at the front desk of the Hirasaki National Resource Center.

 

The collections office is where you will find Kyoko Ogawa, one of the museum’s newest volunteers, every Tuesday. Originally from Nagano prefecture in Japan, Kyoko moved to the United States with her husband over thirty years ago.

As a shin-Issei (Japanese national who immigrated to the United States after World War II), Kyoko provides the invaluable service of translation from Japanese to English. In fact, she is currently the only collections volunteer who translates letters, diaries, and other archival materials largely written by our community’s Issei (prewar, first-generation immigrant) pioneers.

A letter in the JANM collection that Kyoko has been working on translating.
A letter in the JANM collection that Kyoko has been working on translating.

 

“Kyoko is really invaluable in the sense that she is providing a service that has been lacking in the collections department,” says Maggie Wetherbee, JANM’s Collections Manager. “We were so excited when we found out she wanted to volunteer. Most people do not want to do it because it is so tedious.”

Though decades removed from the early Japanese American migrants, Kyoko, with her strong native language skills, provides us with a link to the Issei experience. Her first volunteer project involved translating Buddhist sermons that were read in the American concentration camps during World War II.

Kyoko also volunteers in the Hirasaki National Resource Center, where she helps visitors research their family’s records from the Issei generation to the present. From time to time, she lends a hand as an origami volunteer as well.

A glimpse of JANM's archives.
A glimpse of JANM’s archives.
“Everyone is just so nice, and their dedication is incredible!” Kyoko says about all the museum volunteers. She is particularly thankful to her volunteer mentors, Marge Wada and Irene Nakagawa, who have helped her transition into JANM’s lively and close-knit volunteer community.

One key take-away from her time at JANM has been the importance of sharing diverse lived experiences—a concept she did not grow up with in a largely homogeneous Japan. With every passing week, she cheerfully asserts, “I am learning something new!”

Please note Kyoko Ogawa is not available for general translation requests. Her volunteer services are currently limited to the needs of JANM’s Collections and Management Access Unit.

This post was researched and written by Sakura Kato, JANM’s summer 2015 curatorial and collections intern. Kato, who just graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in history and pre-law, conducted the interview with Ogawa in Japanese.

Sus Ito and the Rescue of the Lost Battalion

This week, JANM opened Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images, the first exhibition in Sharing Our Stories, a new series drawn from JANM’s extensive permanent collection. The exhibition looks at WWII photographs taken by Susumu “Sus” Ito while on a tour of duty through Europe as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s 522nd Field Artillery Battalion.

While Ito participated in such dramatic events as the rescue of the Lost Battalion and the liberation of a sub-camp of Dachau, the majority of the photographs capture the humble daily lives of a group of young Japanese American soldiers. In the essay below, JANM Curator of History Lily Anne Yumi Welty Tamai, PhD, takes an in-depth look at one of the images featured in the exhibition. Read on for a riveting account of the rescue of the Lost Battalion and its aftermath, as experienced by soldiers who lived through it.

Japanese American National Museum. Sus Ito Collection.
Japanese American National Museum.
Sus Ito Collection.

“We were in a number of dangerous situations. But the five days that I spent with ‘I’ Company and this mission, were really the most memorable. It was five days where I didn’t remember days from nights.” —Sus Ito, from JANM oral history interview, 2014.

In the last week of October 1944, after ten days of fighting to liberate Belmont, Biffontaine, and Bruyères in northeastern France, the segregated all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team received new orders. Without rest or time to recuperate, they were sent on a mission to rescue the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment, made up of men from Texas. The soldiers of the 141st were trapped behind enemy lines and surrounded by German troops in eastern France with very little food, water, and medical supplies. Two other units had tried to rescue the so-called Lost Battalion without success; the Germans had a tremendous advantage in terms of position, and ambushed the American troops from their sniper nests.

There were no real roads in the mountains, just trails, and most were too narrow for large tanks. The forest was so dense in some areas that they had little to no visibility. Veteran George Oiye of the 442nd’s 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, “C” Battery, remembered the conditions: “The rain, snow, heavy clouds, dark fog, and the huge carpet of pine trees overhead made it hard to tell day from night.” It took six days of intense fighting to rescue the Lost Battalion. Out of the 800 Nisei soldiers who fought, around 600 suffered casualties in the process of rescuing 211 men.

“I saw so many wounded and dying fellow soldiers. There were friends holding their comrades in their arms. I ran into ‘I’ Company, which at that point only had four guys with a PFC (private first class)—Clarence Taba—in charge … the fighting had been that fierce.” —S. Don Shimazu, veteran of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, Headquarters Battery.

Japanese American National Museum. Sus Ito Collection.
Japanese American National Museum.
Sus Ito Collection.

 

General John Dahlquist had sent the Japanese American unit on this mission knowing the odds for success were slim. Years later, as told in the book Japanese American History (edited by Brian Niiya), U.S. Senator and 442nd veteran Daniel K. Inouye recalled: “I am absolutely certain that all of us were well aware that we were being used for the rescue because we were expendable.” Despite these circumstances, they all fought valiantly.

Sus Ito did not take many photographs during the actual rescue of the Lost Battalion. However, he did take one of Sgt. George Thompson (above) after the battle was over. Thompson was not even supposed to fight on the front lines, but he had begged Ito for an assignment so he could see what war was really like. Ito agreed, allowing George to carry an extra set of radio batteries for the unit.

Reflecting on this striking photograph, Ito said: “George Thompson didn’t put his hands in front of him because he was down, or because he hated the thought of war. He was just trying to hide. Maybe he was trying to erase some of the images of what the Lost Battalion mission was like.”

When remembering the mission to rescue the Lost Battalion, Ito said: “We were fighting against an enemy we could not see. To this day when I walk into a dark forest on a bright day—or even when I think about it—I get goose bumps.”

To hear more of these stories and learn more about our exhibition, be sure to catch Dr. Lily Anne Tamai’s Behind the Scenes Lecture on July 25. The program is free with museum admission, but RSVPs are recommended here.

An Update on the Eaton Collection from JANM Board Chair Norman Y. Mineta

This letter from Norman Y. Mineta, JANM’s new Chair of the Board of Trustees, is an expanded version of one that appeared in The Rafu Shimpo earlier this month.

After a relatively short period of time, though an arduous journey, the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) has acquired the Allen H. Eaton collection of Japanese American art and artifacts. The Eaton Collection consists of some 450 items produced by those of Japanese ancestry and those who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II. The acquisition occurred after Rago Arts and Auction Center cancelled its scheduled public auction, which threatened to break up the collection and would have scattered the art pieces to numerous individuals and institutions.

The cancellation occurred as a result of thousands of people who raised awareness through social media, grassroots organizing, the threat of an injunction by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, and a personal appeal by George Takei to David Rago, a principal of the auction house. Without a doubt, this was a victory for the total community.

In the rush to “wrap up” as quickly as possible, since the window of opportunity was short, the process was abbreviated and certain individuals and organizations were not contacted, to their dismay. For that, JANM apologizes.

The Japanese American National Museum, as its name implies, is the appropriate organization to become the stewards of these art objects. JANM is national in scope and outreach, with a curatorial staff to preserve the history of its collections while protecting and conserving their significant holdings. The Eaton Collection has just arrived at JANM, and it will require extensive conservation to preserve it and to establish a baseline for future care. JANM is the right institution to steward these precious artifacts on behalf of the Japanese American community and the total community for generations to come.

JANM has, and will continue to play, an active leadership role to involve multiple community stakeholders in shaping the collection’s future. As many are aware, there was a conference call on May 13, 2015 that was moderated by Dr. Franklin Odo that included representatives from the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, the Japanese American Citizens League, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, the Wing Luke Museum of Seattle, the Ad Hoc Committee to Oppose the Sale of Japanese American Historical Artifacts, JANM, and many other individuals and organizations to start the discussion for a positive and collaborative healing path for our community. This was the first of what will, no doubt, be many such conversations around the Eaton Collection.

As the conservation process and discussions progress on the Eaton Collection, we view it, along with all of our artifacts, as a shared community treasure of which the Japanese American National Museum is the guardian. As with many museums, there are ways to share the art objects through traveling exhibitions and long-term loans to other museums and institutions where the public would be able to see and have access to these artifacts.

We look forward to working with all of the community stakeholders to come to a positive, jointly shared solution.

Norman Y. Mineta
Chair, Board of Trustees
Japanese American National Museum

JANM Staff Member Discovers Family Connection in JANM Collection

jack signature

JANM’s School Programs Developer Lynn Yamasaki and her family recently had the opportunity to view artworks by her great uncle, Jack Yamasaki, that are part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Jack Yamasaki, my father’s uncle, is someone I only have the faintest memories of seeing on occasion and visiting during holidays. I always knew he was an artist though, because I’ve been surrounded by his artwork my entire life—drawings and paintings by “Uncle Jack” have always hung on the walls of my parents’ and grandmother’s homes. Looking back, his artwork was probably my earliest exposure to art as a child.

A few decades later, I find myself fortunate enough to have studied art and to have worked in museums. I’ve had the opportunity to see some incredible artwork in the various institutions in which I’ve worked, including the Japanese American National Museum, where I currently spend my days. Recently, I had the great privilege of bringing several members of my family to the museum, where staff in the Collections Management and Access (CMA) Unit were kind enough to bring out five works by Uncle Jack for us to look at.

Most of these were pieces that my family and I had never seen before. In some cases, they were gifted to the museum by donors who are not family members. And it was a little odd for me to see Jack Yamasaki’s name among the other great artists in JANM’s collection. Though always appreciated by my family, it wasn’t until recently that I gained respect for the broader significance of his artwork and the events documented in them.

Jack Yamasaki, Untitled (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Dr. Kenji Irie.
Jack Yamasaki, Untitled (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American
National Museum, Gift of Dr. Kenji Irie.

This 1942 painting was really interesting for us to see. It is a depiction of life in the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, where Jack spent the war years. Reminiscent of JANM’s recent Colors of Confinement display, this work depicts camp life in bright, vivid colors; a rare and striking thing when you’re used to looking at black-and-white photographs. We noticed that it is still in its original frame, made by Jack.

Jack Yamasaki, Untitled (building brick structure, Heart Mountain) (1942), ink and pencil on paper. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Nobu Yamasaki.
Jack Yamasaki, Untitled (building brick structure, Heart Mountain) (1942), ink and pencil on paper. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Nobu Yamasaki.

I was also attracted to this pencil and ink drawing. In a busy scene, again from Heart Mountain in 1942, men are laying bricks in winter. On the left, one figure tosses a brick to another, with the brick depicted in mid-air. The cloudy sky and the way the figures are bundled up and hunched over as they walk really conveys a sense of the cold climate.

Jack Yamasaki, Thinning Sugar Beets (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Dick Jiro Kobashigawa.
Jack Yamasaki, Thinning Sugar Beets (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Dick Jiro Kobashigawa.

This one is a definite favorite for more personal reasons. The figure in pink in the foreground is my grandmother, someone I spend a great deal of time with. At 99 years old, she is one of the most impressive people I know. She says this was painted when the family was farming in Utah after the war. The other figures in the painting are family friends from pre-war days in the Imperial Valley. Her account doesn’t quite match the official description on file at the museum. However, my grandma is pretty sharp and has a great memory, so I prefer her version of the story.

My grandmother looking at a painting in which she is depicted.
My grandmother looking at a painting in which she is depicted.

My family had seen a reproduction of this painting, but it wasn’t until the CMA Unit staff brought it out that we saw the original. We were all struck by how the colors were much brighter than we thought they were. It was the first time my grandma had seen it since Uncle Jack painted it so many years ago.

At first, seeing it again brought up an old annoyance. According to her, she had told Jack she wanted to buy the painting and he said she could. But after one of his exhibitions, she found out that he had sold it to someone else! I remarked that this painting’s journey brought it to JANM, where it is now professionally cared for in a controlled environment. It is probably better off than it would be at her house, and she agreed!

“Life in Camp” Display Offers Insight into Food Services in World War II Camps

Henry Sugimoto, Our Mess Hall (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Madeleine Sugimoto and Naomi Tagawa.
Henry Sugimoto, Our Mess Hall (1942), oil on canvas. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Madeleine Sugimoto and Naomi Tagawa.

 

After a bustling final weekend, Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty has come to an end. JANM is now in the process of de-installing that show in preparation for the next two exhibitions on our schedule—Sugar/Islands: Finding Okinawa in Hawai’i—The Art of Laura Kina and Emily Hanako Momohara, opening July 11, and Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images, opening July 14.

Common Ground: The Heart of Community, our core exhibition telling the Japanese American story, remains on view during this time. And if you happen to be in the museum on a Tuesday, Thursday (afternoon only), Saturday, or Sunday, you can also see a special temporary display in the Hirasaki National Resource Center. Building on the theme of “Life in Camp,” the display focuses on mess halls and food services in the concentration camps where 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

Specially selected items from JANM’s extensive permanent collection comprise this exhibit. Featured is an evocative 1942 painting by Henry Sugimoto titled Our Mess Hall. A multigenerational group—an elderly woman, two mothers and their children, and a young man—is seen dining at a large table. The mothers try to feed their children, one of whom refuses his food, while the young man hungrily gulps down a bowl of rice. This close-cropped scene is punctuated by two signs prominently hung on the wall behind them—one reads “No second serving!” while the other reminds them “Milk for children and sick people only.”

The painting captures the busy, crowded feel of a mess hall, while reminding viewers that strict rations were in effect. This fact is reinforced by artifacts installed in a nearby display case, which include facsimiles of actual daily menus distributed in the camps, along with memos reducing rice allocations in response to serious shortages. Also included are a bowl and utensils salvaged from various camps.

In addition to the Sugimoto painting, the exhibit features a 1944 still life by Sadayuki Uno and a photograph of Japanese American farm workers at Manzanar camp, taken by Ansel Adams in 1942. Taken together, these artworks and artifacts offer an authentic look at the distribution and consumption of food in the WWII camps.