Producing Japanese American History

We published a wonderful series of five articles by Dean Ryuta Adachi on our DiscoverNikkei.org site about various artifacts from JANM’s permanent collection. Dean is a PhD candidate in American History at Claremont Graduate University and is an active volunteer at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. I “met” him through the Discover Nikkei Twitter account several years ago and have kept in touch. When he found out that he would be down in Los Angeles last fall to be a lecturer of Asian American Studies at Harvey Mudd College, he offered to come in as a volunteer during his spare time.

Namyo Bessho
Gift of Indiana Bessho (92.81.2)

Dean worked with Programs, Discover Nikkei, and Collections staff to go through some of the little-known collections in our archives, and then share about them through Discover Nikkei. Here are links to the five articles in the “Producing Japanese American History: An exploration through the JANM archives” series. They include images of various artifacts from the collections.

Part 1 – History is Made: Namyo Bessho
Did you know that there was an Issei in the US Navy during the Spanish-American War?

Learn about how Namyo Bessho became a citizen in 1919 and then had it taken away >>

1948 article from Copenhagen, Denmark about John Nitta and chick sexing

Part 2 – History is Told: S. John Nitta

John Nitta played a significant role in the establishment of the chick sexing industry in the United States, but as Dean looked past the many awards in his collection, he found “plenty of unrelated hidden gems.”

Learn about his story >>

 

 

Estelle Ishigo
Gift of Mary Ruth Blackburn (2000.103.12)

Part 3 – History is Ignored: Estelle Ishigo
Estelle Ishigo was a Caucasian artist who went with her Nisei husband to Heart Mountain in Wyoming during World War II. She authored the book Lone Heart Mountain which included the drawings she did while in camp. She was the subject of Steven Okazaki’s Academy Award winning film Days of Waiting (1990). Yet, most of what we know is about her art. Dean’s exploration of JANM’s collection revealed artifacts that shared aspects about her personal life, and especially her deep love for her husband Arthur.

Read Estelle’s story >>

MacWilliamson radio
Gift of Joyce MacWilliamson (2001.120.1)

Part 4 – History is Lost: Joyce MacWilliamson

You may recognize the radio in part 4 from the American Tapestry exhibition. It is a beautiful shortwave radio, with a mysterious past that will most likely never be known. Left with Ramon “Mac” MacWilliamson by a Japanese American friend during World War II, he and his daughter always hoped to be able to return it the original owners after the war. After the story was posted on Discover Nikkei, Joyce MacWilliamson, the person who donated the radio to the museum, posted a comment, “Thank you for keeping hope alive that the rightful owner or his family will be found.”

Learn about her search and why she decided to donate the radio to JANM >>

Letter from Pvt. Masao Shigezane
Gift of Jane Van Blaricom (2001.72.58)

Part 5 – History is Found: Sumi and Masao Shigezane

The final part of the series ended with a surprising connection to a UCLA student’s project on Discover Nikkei. His search through JANM’s archives started with James G. Lindley, project director of the Amache camp during WWII, and led to the Shigezane family.

Read about this emotional journey >>

Dean Ryuta Adachi

I’d like to thank Dean for his work on unearthing and sharing these amazing stories. Many thanks also to Patricia Wakida who initiated this project, Yoko Nishimura for working so hard to get the stories online, and to JANM’s collections staff (Nikki Chang, Tomi Yoshikawa, Jane Nakasako, and Yoko Shimojo) for all their help in providing access and working with Dean during his time at JANM. Our CMA staff are the unsung heroes that work really hard behind-the-scenes at JANM!

“Common Ground” Volunteer Videos

Visitors to the museum often remark that what made their experience so special was getting to hear and talk to our volunteer docents. They share stories with our visitors that bring the artifacts in our Common Ground: The Heart of Community to life.

An ongoing project at the museum has been for our staff & interns in the Watase Media Arts Center, curatorial, and education units to work with some of our volunteers to develop 30 second (approximately) short videos talking about their favorite artifacts from Common Ground. The project is part of an ongoing effort to examine and re-envision the role the Museum and our volunteers will play in the 21st Century.

This is a wonderful project to record and share the stories especially of some of our older long-time Nisei volunteers while they’re still active at the museum.

We’re now up to 25 volunteer videos online. The most common artifact selected is the Heart Mountain barracks which makes an appearance in 3 videos. Although most are World War II-related, several are about pre-war Issei and Nisei life. While many are very poignant, some are humorous, like Marion Wada’s selection of a Hershey’s chocolate tin which recalls fond memories of childhood prior to WWII.

For those connected with the museum or have gone on tours here, you’ll recognize a lot of very familiar and dear faces. I’ve included a few of the more recent videos here, but you can view all of the videos from our Discover Nikkei website or on YouTube. Which ones are your favorites?

We’d like to thank the participating volunteers for sharing their personal stories: Ike Hatchimonji, Charlene Takahashi, Icy Hasama, Marion Wada, Mary Karatsu, Hitoshi Sameshima, Bill Shishima, Nancee Iketani, Ben Tonooka, Pat Ishida, Bob Uragami, Babe Karasawa, Yae Aihara, Richard Murakami, Yoko Horimoto, Jim Tanaka, Tohru Isobe, Mas Yamashita, Robert Moriguchi, Kathryn Madara, Kent Hori, May Porter, Eileen Sakamoto, Lee Hayashi, and Roy Sakamoto.

Funding for the Nisei Oral History project was provided by grants from the National Park Service and the California State Library through the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.

Support for volunteer programming was generously provided, in part, by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., The William Randolph Hearst Foundation, and The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation. The internships were provided through the Summer 2010 Getty Grants Program for Multicultural Undergraduate Internships to Los Angeles Area Museums & Visual Arts Organizations.

 

Car designer Larry Shinoda

When you walk into the museum now, one of the first things you notice as you enter the front doors to the Pavilion is a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. I pass by the car every day on the way to my office, and I always see visitors stopping to admire it.

Photo by Gary Ono

But why a Corvette in the Japanese American National Museum?

It’s because it was designed by Japanese American automotive designer Larry Shinoda, and it’s part of the Drawing the Line: Japanese American Art, Design & Activism exhibition on view through February 19, 2012.

Untitled drawing (Stingray), Larry Shinoda. Pencil on paper. Gift of the Shinoda Family, Japanese American National Museum (2003.124.3).

Upstairs in the exhibition galleries, we also have a number of his original drawings and sketches of various other cars he designed like the Mako Shark concept car, and the Boss Mustang. There’s also a bunch of historic photos, trophies, and other memorabilia that were donated to the museum by his family after his passing in 1997.

I have to admit that I don’t know much about cars, but the aerodynamic sporty style is very cool to see, and his personal story is very interesting too. His father died when he was a young child. From early on, he was always interested in cars and in drawing. He and his family were incarcerated at Manzanar during WWII. After the war, he grew up in Southern California where he built and raced cars, leading to his work designing and building cars.

The Watase Media Arts Center created a video about Shinoda for the exhibition with interviews with his sister and a long-time good friend:

The video is included on the exhibition DVD available for purchase through the Museum Store: Drawing the Line: Japanese American Art, Design & Activism in Post-War Los Angeles (DVD) >>

By the way…Shinoda didn’t just design cars. He also worked on pretty much anything that moves such as Roger Penske’s race trailers, motor homes, tractors, big rig trucks, and even the Goodyear Blimp logo. And for those who were wondering…no, he’s not related to the other famous Shinoda that we have featured at the museum!

One more bit of trivia…the wedding dress currently on display in our Common Ground exhibition was made by Larry Shinoda’s mother!

30-second volunteer videos

Our volunteers are amazing. They continually inspire us with their dedication and enthusiasm. They are even willing to step outside their comfort zones if it means helping the museum to share the important stories of the Japanese American experience.

Since last summer, staff at our Watase Media Arts Center along with interns and volunteers have been working on a series of digital shorts that record many of our docents and other volunteers. The videos share the volunteer’s personal stories related to artifacts from our core Common Ground: The Heart of Community exhibition.

We’re collecting them together for easy access on our Discover Nikkei website. There are already 15 of the videos online, with more being added almost weekly.

Check out the volunteer videos on Discover Nikkei:

The 21st Century Museum: Significant artifacts selected by Japanese American National Museum Volunteers
http://5dn.org/janm-vols

Volunteers featured so far: Bob Uragami, Babe Karasawa, Yae Aihara, Richard Murakami, Yoko Horimoto, Jim Tanaka, Tohru Isobe, Mas Yamashita, Robert Moriguchi, Kathryn Madara, Kent Hori, May Porter, Eileen Sakamoto, Lee Hayashi, and Roy Sakamoto.

Here are the three most recently uploaded videos:


Go Arkansas — woooooo pig sooie!

Parkview High School (Little Rock) Student Mural, 2005. Photo by Richard M. Murakami.

 

It’s football season and the team that I follow is the University of Arkansas. No, I didn’t go to school there, but I am a huge fan. (Shall we call the hogs now?)

Why Arkansas?

Oddly enough, because Arkansas was the site for two government-run WWII concentration camps that unlawfully held 16,000 Japanese Americans. It was a virtually unknown story in the state for six decades. But thanks to a partnership between the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and JANM, a multi-year project called Life Interrupted: The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas culminated in 2004 with a number of exhibitions, educational programs, and a national conference. We hope that we might have collectively learned a little bit more about the Japanese American experience in the state, and specifically more about Rohwer and Jerome. Definitely, JANM staff and volunteers learned lots from Arkansans of all ages.

Detail of quilt created by elementary school students at Little Rock’s Gibbs Magnet School of International Studies and Foreign Languages, 2004. Photo by Richard M. Murakami.

You might be interested in a seven minute video of Arkansas students talking about what they learned. While you’re watching it, keep in mind that we arrived at these schools with a video camera and very little warning: major kudos go to these poised young people and their outstanding teachers!

Speaking of which, UALR’s Web site has all of the project’s teacher-created curriculum available for download–for free.

JANM, in 2005, followed up on the Life Interrupted project with an exhibition of murals made at Rohwer High School, Lasting Beauty: Miss Jamison and the Student Muralists. The murals on display here were just the tip of the iceberg of JANM’s holdings from the collection of student artwork and other camp-related memorabilia donated by former Rohwer art teacher, Mabel Rose Jamison Vogel–known to her students as Miss Jamison. This exhibition also proudly featured a new student mural, pictured at the top of this blog post. This beautiful mural was created by the students (shown below) at Little Rock’s Parkview High School as a modern-day response to the WWII-era murals. Painters of all ages pitched in to help, too.

Parkview HS students with their mural at JANM. Photo by Richard M. Murakami.

And now we are excited to announce that more Rohwer artwork and memorabilia are on exhibit! The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies–the institution that holds the other part of the Vogel Collection–has created an exhibition called The Art of Living: Japanese American Creative Experience at Rohwer. We hope you can get to Little Rock before November 26 to see it!

And in case you miss the exhibition, there are also new and exciting Arkansas-based preservation efforts afoot, including restoring the Rohwer cemetery, as well as new signage and an audio tour in development from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Arkansas Delta Rural Heritage Development Initiative.

(Okay, seriously, now shall we call the hogs?)

Entrance to Rohwer, 2004. Photo by Richard M. Murakami.

1 artwork, 2 units, 5 people, 45 minutes

Have you ever wondered what happens to the artifacts you see hanging on walls or sitting in cases in a museum after an exhibition is over?

Here’s a little peek at our collections and production units’ staff at work deinstalling Momo Nagano’s “American Families” tapestry in the Taul & Sachiko Watanabe Gallery after the closing of the exhibition, American Tapestry: 25 Stories from the Collection.

AmTap Deinstall 2011 video

From AmTapDeinstall2011video

I ran out of memory, so here is the rest of the deinstall in photos.

AmTap Deinstall 2011 pix

From AmTapDeinstall2011video

The tapestry is back on its shelf in our climate controlled collections storage. You can see the hygrothermograph on the shelf above to monitor temperature and humidity.

So, that was just one object out of 25 stories presented in the exhibition. Others had special mounts, supports or cases with accompanying text panels.  In Norman Mineta’s archival collection alone there were 31 boxes displayed on shelves enclosed within 3 cases.  After all the objects are removed, or in the case of the “American Families” tapestry as objects are deinstalled, Collections staff write a condition report on the artifact which is updated in our collections management database. The artifact is rehoused and returned to storage or, if it is a loan, to loaning institution or individual, which is a whole other ball of wax.

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Cheryl Toyama
Cataloger/Data Asset Manager

Happy Mother’s Day!

Yamashita Twins at Japanese Hospital of Los Angeles, August 1959 (96.267.689)
Yamashita Twins at Japanese Hospital of Los Angeles, California, August 1959, Photograph by Toyo Miyatake Studio, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family (96.267.689)

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

I came across this photo from our Toyo Miyatake Studio / Rafu Shimpo online collection while searching for images to include with the May Family Programs email update.

Here’s a few stories from our Discover Nikkei site about mothers & grandmothers: