JANM Staff Member Discovers Family Connection in JANM Collection

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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!

Toyo Miyatake’s Camera Captured Japanese American History

Little Tokyo is filled with public art, from street murals to commemorative statues. JANM Development Assistant Esther Shin explores one of those works.

Toyo Miyatake's Camera, a public artwork by Nobuho Nagasawa. Photo: Esther Shin.
Toyo Miyatake’s Camera, a public artwork by Nobuho Nagasawa. Photo: Esther Shin.

 

Toyo Miyatake’s Camera, a bronze sculpture by artist Nobuho Nagasawa, stands just outside of JANM’s Historic Building. Made in 1993, it is an outsized replica of an actual camera that belonged to the Japanese American photographer. In the evening, the camera projects slides of Miyatake’s photography onto a window of the Historic Building.

Toyo Miyatake established a photo studio in Little Tokyo in 1923. He became known for his photographs documenting the early Japanese American community. During World War II, Miyatake was imprisoned at the Manzanar incarceration camp along with 10,000 other Japanese Americans. He had to leave behind his home and studio, but he managed to smuggle a camera lens into the camp and constructed a camera body from wood. With this camera he secretly documented the community’s daily life behind barbed wire; the photographs from this period have become important documents of this tragic episode in American history.

A well-known photograph taken by Toyo Miyatake at Manzanar concentration camp. Courtesy of Alan Miyatake, Toyo Miyatake Studio.
A well-known photograph by Toyo Miyatake, taken at Manzanar concentration camp. Courtesy Alan Miyatake, Toyo Miyatake Studio.

 

Nagasawa’s sculpture is my favorite public artwork in Little Tokyo. Although it is relatively small and modest, it speaks loudly and is rich in meaning. I see it as a symbol of remembrance, underscoring the importance of looking back and reflecting on what has happened in the Japanese American community—not only during the incarceration of U.S. citizens during WWII, but in the years before as well. I appreciate the fact that the images projected by the installation include darker moments from our history alongside special events and celebrations that were dear to the community before the war—such as the 1932 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and the Nisei Week parade of 1939—because all of these moments, bright or dark, are part of the Japanese American story.

It is fitting that the sculpture is located on the plaza of the museum, and faces the Historic Building. It stands on the spot of a former WWII reporting site, where hundreds of Japanese Americans boarded buses to be taken to incarceration camps. It is also located across the way from JANM’s Pavilion building, where the permanent exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community—which chronicles 130 years of Japanese American history—is displayed.

To explore more works of public art in Little Tokyo, sign up for JANM’s Edible Adventures: Public Art and the Sweets of Little Tokyo tour on March 28.

Author Lisa See’s Unexpected Connections to Japanese American History

ChinaDollsCover.final Lisa See’s bestselling novels—which have included Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan—are known for telling compelling stories of human relationships set against the rich backdrop of Chinese and Chinese American history. Her latest novel, released last June, is no different.

Set in San Francisco on the eve of World War II, China Dolls follows three independent young women as they revel in the city’s exciting and glamorous Chinatown nightclub scene. The women become close friends, sharing secrets and supporting one another through struggles and triumphs. When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor however, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to change their lives forever.

One of the remarkable things about China Dolls is that it captures some key connections between Chinese American and Japanese American experiences. As in much of her work, See draws on her own family’s history to weave some of China Dolls’ narrative. During World War II, See’s grandparents lived in and took care of the home of the Oki family while they were imprisoned in camp. While many Japanese Americans lost everything after the war, the Oki family was able to return to their home and their belongings. In China Dolls, the incarceration of Japanese Americans plays a major role in the book, with vivid passages describing life in the camps.

Hideo Date Where South and North Winds Meet, ca. 1940, watercolor and gouache on paper. Japanese American National Museum, gift of Hideo Date.
Hideo Date, Where South and North Winds Meet, ca. 1940, watercolor and gouache on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of Hideo Date.

 

See’s family history intersected with Japanese American history in other significant ways. In 1935, Eddy and Stella See (Lisa’s grandparents) opened the Dragon’s Den restaurant in the basement of the F. Suie One Company, located in Los Angeles’ original Chinatown. Eddy See commissioned three artists, including his good friend Benji Okubo, to paint murals of mythical Asian figures like the Eight Immortals on the restaurant’s exposed brick walls. See had already been selling artworks by all his friends in a small gallery in the mezzanine. These included works by Okubo, Hideo Date, and Tyrus Wong, who went on to become an influential graphic artist after creating the signature look for Disney’s Bambi movie.

Benji Okubo, Portrait of Sissee See, c. 1927–45. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of Chisato Okubo.
Benji Okubo, Portrait of Sissee See, c. 1927–45. Japanese American National Museum.
Gift of Chisato Okubo.

The Dragon’s Den became a popular gathering spot for artists and actors, and See’s gallery now stands as an important early effort to show the work of Asian American artists. Many of these artists continued to exhibit together, earning a few different nicknames as a group, such as “the Orientalists.” Today, many works by Date and Okubo—along with those of the latter’s sister, Mine Okubo—are proudly featured in JANM’s permanent collection. (Pictured at right is Benji Okubo’s portrait of Lisa See’s great-aunt Florence See Leong, nicknamed “Sissee.”)

This Saturday, January 31, Lisa See will be at JANM to discuss China Dolls and her family’s connections to Japanese American history. She will also take questions from the audience.

China Dolls can be purchased from the JANM Store and online at janmstore.com. For a more in-depth profile of the author, check out this new feature story on Discover Nikkei.

Help Paint JANM’s New Mural This Saturday

Katie Yamasaki's Moon Beholders
Katie Yamasaki’s Moon Beholders

 

JANM has commissioned a new mural to be painted on the north wall of the museum’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. Titled Moon Beholders, the mural is designed by artist, author, and illustrator Katie Yamasaki. Based in Brooklyn, Yamasaki has painted more than 60 murals around the world. JANM visitors may know her as the author and illustrator of Fish for Jimmy, a children’s book that she read from at a Target Free Family Saturday event this past June.

Moon Beholders is intended to evoke various contemporary and historic concepts within Japanese American culture while connecting with the community around the museum. Against a bright gold background, a smiling young girl lies clothed in a variety of furoshiki—traditional cloths long used to preserve, protect, and transport items. The pattern and color on each furoshiki represents a unique moment in Japanese American history, such as a pale blue sky covered in yellow barbed wire symbolizing the WWII incarceration camps.

Surrounding the girl are floating lanterns, signifying transcendence and the concept of akari—light as illumination. Near the top of the mural, a 17th-century haiku by the Japanese poet Basho reads, “From time to time / The clouds give rest / To the moon beholders.” With the spectrum of interpretations possible in this mural, Yamasaki’s hope is that “the viewer will have the space in this image to become their own moon beholder.”

As part of the next Target Free Family Saturday on November 8, the public is invited to help the artist complete the Moon Beholders mural. Between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., adults and children alike can sign up to paint for 30-minute intervals; up to 12 individuals can paint per interval. Participants should wear closed-toe shoes and other attire appropriate for an exterior painting project. The artist will be on hand to provide guidance.

Come to JANM this Saturday and become your own moon beholder! In addition to mural painting, the museum will be offering a variety of fun, hands-on activities to engage the whole family. For a complete schedule, visit janm.org/target.

Enhance Your Visit with Guide by Cell

 

Martin Hsu stands next to his painting Hello Kitty Transcendence, on view now as part of Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty at JANM.
Martin Hsu stands next to his painting Hello Kitty Transcendence, on view now as part of Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty at JANM.

 

Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Kitty has finally arrived at JANM, and people can’t stop talking about it. Check the museum’s Facebook page for links to the latest press coverage of the exhibition, including stunning photos from the exhibition’s first week. If you haven’t seen the show yet, be sure to buy your advance tickets online.

Eimi Takano sits in front of her plush sculpture, Ribbon Camp.
Eimi Takano sits in front of her plush sculpture, Ribbon Camp.

While in the gallery, you can enhance your experience of this multifaceted exhibition with our exclusive Guide by Cell audio tours, available free of charge (except those that may be associated with your cell phone plan). The tours feature curator Christine Yano and several of the exhibiting artists offering their unique perspectives on the exhibition. Simply look for the cell phone logo on selected labels in the exhibition and dial 213.455.2924 to access the tours. Follow the prompts and enter the numbers given on the labels.

Still thinking about the exhibition after your visit? Or, not in Los Angeles but still curious to learn more? The great thing about these tours is that they are accessible from anywhere. Just visit our Hello! Extras page to access the phone number and the complete list of prompts.

The Hello! audio tours are available through April 26, 2015.

 

SNEAK PEEK: Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty

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JANM staff members have been working overtime to put together Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty. The 40th-anniversary exhibition will be the biggest U.S. showcase for the popular cute icon to date, with 40 works of contemporary art and over 500 Hello Kitty artifacts.

Many details of the show are top secret until the grand public unveiling on October 11, but with Sanrio’s permission, we are sharing these exclusive sneak peek photos with our loyal readers.

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Archivist Lauren Zuchowski measures the first-ever Hello Kitty phone, made in 1976. An object’s dimensions and condition have to be noted for the museum’s records before it goes on display.

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Collections Manager Maggie Wetherbee holds up a vintage Hello Kitty calculator, also from 1976. It still works!

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Sanrio has produced many Hello Kitty kitchen appliances over the years, often sized for younger cooks and diners. This Hello Kitty waffle iron makes kid-size Hello Kitty waffles in four friendly shapes.

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A Hello Kitty blueberry soda is a perfect fit for this Hello Kitty mini-fridge from 2007. Both products were made and sold in Japan.

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Here’s the first Hello Kitty artwork to be installed! Artist Nicole Maloney looks on and offers direction as a team of handlers assemble her sculptural installation, Hello Kitty All Stacked Up!, in the Weingart Foyer.

You can see these pieces and much more in person when Hello! opens on October 11. Remember, Hello! is a specially ticketed exhibition and we strongly recommend that you buy/reserve your tickets in advance by clicking here. JANM members get in FREE!

Stay tuned to our blog for more Hello Kitty news and tidbits over the next few weeks!

A Behind the Scenes Look at “Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World”

National Museum Collections and Exhibitions Staff are busy preparing for the opening of the upcoming exhibition Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World which opens this weekend on March 8!

Here is a peek behind the covered doors.

As the photographs are hung
As the photographs are hung
A Dragon lurks behind the photographs
A Dragon lurks behind the photographs
The wall art was painted by hand
The wall art was painted by hand
Hanging the photographs
Hanging the photographs

Join us this Saturday for the opening day. Many of the artists will be here to present live tattooing, lectures, and a book signing of the exhibition catalogue.

For information about the exhibition and related public programs, visit: janm.org/perseverance

Perseverance – Live Tattooing and Lectures on Saturday, March 8th

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Tattoo by Yokohama Horiken. Lettering by Chaz Bojorquez. Photo by Kip Fulbeck.

 

JANM’s highly anticipated exhibition, Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World will be opening to the public this Saturday, March 8th!

Perseverance is a groundbreaking exhibition and the first of its kind, as it will explore Japanese tattooing as an art form by acknowledging its roots in ukiyo-e (woodblock) prints. This exhibition will also examine current practices and offshoots of Japanese tattooing in the U.S. and Japan.

GroupShotPerseverance features the work of seven internationally acclaimed tattoo artists, Horitaka, Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii, and Yokohama Horiken, along with tattoo works by selected others. Through the display of a variety of photographs, including life-sized pictures of full body tattoos, these artists will cover a broad spectrum of the current world of Japanese tattooing.

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Tattoo by Horikiku. Photo by Kip Fulbeck.

Many exciting things are planned for the public opening of Perseverance! Join us from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for an event that will feature Live Tattoo Demonstrations by Horitomo, Miyazo, Shige, and Yokohama Horiken including tattooing by both machine and tebori—traditional Japanese tattooing by hand.

Saturday’s public opening will also pack in the afternoon with lectures given by curator Horitaka (Takahiro Kitamura), exhibition designer and photographer Kip Fulbeck, and a number of the artists featured in the exhibition—Junko Junii Shimada, Chris Horishiki Brand, Jill Horiyuki Halpin, and Chaz Bojorquez. The program will also include a live tattoo model unveiling.

These back-to-back lectures will begin at 1 p.m., and the last lecture will be given at 4:30 p.m. Don’t miss this opportunity to listen to artists and contributors talk about their work in the exhibition and the importance of the art of tattoo in their life!

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Tattoo by Miyazo. Photo by Kip Fulbeck.

Saturday’s opening will conclude with a signing of the exhibition catalogue with all of the attending artists. The catalogue, along with a variety of custom merchandise produced for the exhibition, will be available for sale at the Museum Store. Get your copy of the exhibition catalogue signed by these amazing artists!

For a full schedule and additional information, please visit the Perseverance exhibition page.

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The programs are free with museum admission. Purchase admission at the front desk of the Museum on event day. No pre-payment accepted. Last entrance to the National Museum will be at 5 p.m.

Lectures will take place in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum in the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (glass building across the Courtyard from main building). Admission required for entry. Seating will be on a first come, first served basis, until maximum capacity is reached. Seating is limited so please arrive early!

Fundraising Auction of Usagi Yojimbo Artwork

Stan & Sharon Sakai at the 2011 Japanese American National Museum Gala Dinner
Stan & Sharon Sakai at the 2011 Japanese American National Museum Gala Dinner

Just a heads up about this most worthy cause. The art in this auction is also being published as a book which we will sell in the Museum Store later this year.

Proceeds from the auction and book sales will help to offset the Sakai family’s ongoing medical expenses. There is some GREAT art to be had created by a stellar list of artists. The auction starts on March 6!

Click here for details >>

Stan and Sharon have been wonderful supporters and partners of JANM. We had an exhibition of his work in 2011 (Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo), he presented a session at our 2013 National Conference in Seattle, and we sell many Usagi Yojimbo products in our Museum Store, including JANM exclusive items.

Here is a photo of Stan and Sharon in 2011 at our Gala Dinner that year—happier times!

 

Estelle Ishigo Drawing from JANM Collection Featured in National Constitution Center Exhibition

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Estelle Ishigo’s drawing All In One Room, as it was prepared by Collections Staff for travel to the National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia is currently featuring the drawing All In One Room by Estelle Ishigo in their permanent exhibition The Story of We, the People.  The drawing will be on display through November of 2014.

Estelle Peck Ishigo (1899-1990) is most well known as an artist who chronicled the experience at the Heart Mountain concentration camp.

Estelle Peck was born in Oakland in 1899 to parents of English, Dutch, French ancestry.  Her family moved to Los Angeles and Estelle attended the Otis Art Institute, where she met Arthur Ishigo (1902-1957), a San Francisco-born Nisei who was working as a chauffeur for California Lieutenant Governor Robert Kenny.  As anti-miscegenation laws at the time prohibited interracial couples from getting married, Peck and Ishigo took a trip across the border to Tijuana to be wed in 1928. Hoping for a career as an actor, Arthur worked as a janitor at Paramount Studios while Estelle worked as an art teacher.  Shunned by her family, the couple lived among the Japanese American community.

Estelle Ishigo (Gift of Mary Ruth Blackburn, Japanese American National Museum [2000.103.12])
Gift of Mary Ruth Blackburn, Japanese American National Museum [2000.103.12].
With the outbreak of World War II and the removal of all West Coast Japanese Americans to inland concentration camps, the couple faced a dilemma. As a Nisei, Arthur was required to be removed while his wife was not. Though he wanted her to stay behind, she accompanied her husband, first to the Pomona Assembly Center in California, and then to Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

Throughout the war years, Estelle drew, sketched, and painted what she saw, providing a valuable document of life in the American concentration camps. “Strange as it may sound, in this desolate, lonely place I felt accepted for the first time in my life,” she later wrote of her time at Heart Mountain. She and her husband remained at Heart Mountain in order to record the last days of the camp until it was officially closed. The Ishigos were given $25 and put on a train to the West Coast. “I felt as if I were part of a defeated Indian tribe,” she remembered later.

In 1990, filmmaker Steven Okazaki made a documentary of Estelle Ishigo’s life titled Days of Waiting. Estelle passed away before seeing the film, which went on to win an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.

Estelle Ishigo’s story and drawings comprise an important aspect of the permanent collection at the National Museum. The Estelle Ishigo Collection can be seen on the Museum’s website at:  janm.org/collections/estelle-ishigo-collection

Learn more about Estelle Ishigo on our Discover Nikkei website >>

Submitted by Margaret Zachow Wetherbee, Collections Manager