December 17, 2008

Densho conducts a monthly poll of its faithful eNews readers (why not sign up for a free subscription?). In December we asked about people’s most cherished Japanese American artists. The winners were 1) Roger Shimomura, 2) George Tsutakawa, and 3) Isamu Noguchi. Artists not named in the poll but nominated by readers include Kristine Aono, Henry Fukuhara, Thomas Nagai, Hideo Date, John Matsudaira, Harry Osaki, George Nakashima, and Masumi Hayashi (photo collage seen here).
We thought our blog readers would be interested in some of the thoughtful comments poll takers submitted about well-known and less-known Nikkei visual artists.

Why I chose these artists:

1. [Roger] Shimomura and Kristine Aono: They address the J/A experiences and lived histories head-on in an outspoken, but subtle way. Paul Horiuchi…his hard work and diligence and contributions to the Pacific Northwest artist community is underplayed. 2. Henry Fukuhara was founder of the Manzanar Paintouts which continue today. H. Mary Higuchi studied under Henry and has won many awards for her interpretive paintings of the wartime incarceration. 3.Masumi Hayashi’s collaged photographs of the Japanese American concentration camps are simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. 4. Ruth Asawa – because she lived her life with integrity. As a young woman, she followed her calling and went off to study at Black Mountain, an almost unthinkable choice for a young Japanese American woman at that time. She created astonishingly original art literally bending the medium to her creative will and imagination. She married her husband in defiance of California law. Throughout her life, she created art with and for her community and thereby passed her passion on to children so that they would have the courage to express their ideas and feelings artistically. Chiura Obata – because, in addition to being an extraordinary artist, he was a gifted and generous teacher who provided Topaz internees with the opportunity to express their feelings about their incarceration through their art. Obata’s brush painting of Wakasa crumpling over after being shot by the sentry in the guard tower captures the horror of the camp for all future generations to experience. Henry Sugimoto – because his promising artistic career was all but destroyed by the internment but, who nevertheless continued his art with a clear-eyed, open spirit. His linoleum block prints of his family’s camp experience convey his family’s efforts to maintain hope in the face of dispiriting circumstances. They show his love for his wife and daughter and, most touchingly, show his regard for the humanity of the guards. While interned in Arkansas, he was given a one person show by the director of the local community college’s art gallery. All the presidents of Arkansas colleges had agreed to prevent Japanese Americans from enrolling in their institutions in order to prevent the blurring of racist color lines. That this white person gave Sugimoto a one-person show demonstrates a courage and kindness that we must also honor. 5. Harry Osaki was a prominent silver/gold smith and jewelry designer. His work was collected by the Vatican and Smithsonian. His workshop and show rooms were located in Pasadena, California. As a young man, he was one of the highest decorated Boy Scouts and was a leader in Pasadena’s most decorated Boy Scout troops after World War II. As an artist, he inspired me all my life, and I model my studio practice with him in mind. Joan Takayama-Ogawa