A Seed of Modernism: The Art Students League of Los Angeles, 1906-1953


A Bit of Paris in Heart Mountain

Essay by Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick


There is a bit of Los Angeles and yes, a bit of Paris at 28-26N....The Art Students' League of Heart Mountain is a branch of the Los Angeles league which is a direct "import" from the Art Students' League of Paris, France. Poor in everything but talent and in its modest surroundings the center group is a far cry from the pretentious parent league.The league is looking forward to a shipment of art and reference books from the Los Angeles League. Exponents of Synchrome [sic] as introduced by Morgan Russell and S. McDonald-Wright [sic] of the Paris Art Students' League, and also carried out in Los Angeles, the Heart Mountain students are following the same principles. History and analysis of composition are also stressedHideo Date, Bob Kuwahara, Benji Okubo and Shingo Nishiura are the instructors.[1]
-- Heart Mountain [Wyoming] Sentinel, 17 April 1943

Years ago while in the midst of researching artists of the American West at the California State Library in Sacramento, I discovered microfilm reels of the war relocation camp newspapers.[2] Naturally curious because of my own camp experiences as a child, I digressed from my main project and proceeded to scan the papers in search of information about my family and friends (fig. 3). The effort bore fruit, rekindling memories of the past. At the same time, it made me more fully aware of the extent of art activities carried on in the centers, and caused me to wonder about the artists teaching and exhibiting in them and outside of the camps. Did they achieve success in their chosen professions before the war? How did incarceration affect their eventual careers? Perhaps the most memorable find during my Sacramento experience, however, was the introductory article to this essay, for it revealed a relationship between certain of the camp artists and the Art Students League of Los Angeles, a largely overlooked school that had been a particular interest of mine for many years.

Despite my curiosity, an opportunity to seriously study the Art Students League of Los Angeles and Japanese American artists did not present itself until 1998. In that year, the noted California art historian Nancy Moure presented me with a copy of an interview she had conducted with Hideo Date, an important member of the League. Then, in the following year, talks with Julia Armstrong-Totten, daughter-in-law of Donald Totten, who was associated with the League and once served as its director, convinced both of us that the League merited closer scrutiny as an art school, and that an exhibition, accompanied by a substantial catalog, was needed to fill this void in the art history of Los Angeles.

In the process of gathering data for this project, I soon learned that the League kept no enrollment or registration records and that no known student of the pre-1944 era, with the exceptions of Date, John Hench, and Kirby Temple, was still alive. Thus, information about those who attended and the school's activities had to be gleaned from newspaper and magazine articles, correspondence, diaries, oral histories,[3] interviews of family members, and a myriad of other sources. The years of research that ensued proved to be a rewarding experience. The League emerged as a unique, viable school that for a time was a leading force for modernism in Southern California. The research also revealed the important role played by certain Japanese American students during much of the League's lifespan, as well as the impact of Japanese culture on art in Southern California, and the extent of the activities of Japanese American artists in general in the Los Angeles area during the first half of the twentieth century. This essay is but an introduction to the subject. It is my hope that others will more fully develop the themes brought out in the following pages.

Los Angeles, in the last years of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, experienced an influx of thousands of immigrants from Japan (Issei). From 1900 to 1920, the numbers increased in Los Angeles County from 204 to 19,911; in comparison, the number of Chinese had decreased during this same period from 3,209 to 2,590,[4] primarily due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1880, which was repealed during World War II. It did not take long for the Japanese to make their mark, an attribute that would prove to work against them as they assimilated into the American social structure. Between 1900 and 1924, they bought and leased land for farms and nurseries that were spread throughout Los Angeles County, including the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Compton, Boyle Heights, and Santa Monica, while Japanese fishermen were active in the San Pedro Harbor area. Not even the passage of the Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1922, which declared ownership of property by noncitizens unlawful, and a 1924 law stopping immigration from Japan completely were able to effectively deter these enterprising people.[5] The Issei were soon competitive with the European American farmers, labor contractors, fishermen, and flower growers, and thus emerged as an economic threat.

At the same time, Los Angeles witnessed the appearance of numerous Japanese enterprises, including the Japanese Daily News/Rafu Shimpo, the Japanese American Bank, the Japanese Association of Los Angeles, the Japanese Industrial Association, the Japanese Land Investment Company, many importers of Japanese goods, including The Yamato Company that in 1904 advertised itself as the "Largest Japanese Bazaar in the West,"[6] the Japanese Farmers Association of Southern California, the Japanese Mutual Benefit Association, and several Japanese Christian churches.[7] Soon other associations were formed and laborers joined with Mexican Americans to create unions in order to be competitive.[8] (Interestingly, within the labor movement was a strong socialist/communist contingent organized in Los Angeles and San Francisco, whose membership included many Japanese American artists.[9])

While the Issei were gaining economic success in business, agricultural, and pro-fessional enterprises, their American-born children, the Nisei, vigorously sought to assimilate into the American cultural structure through academics and leadership roles in the city's high schools and universities. At the same time, both Issei and Nisei made inroads into the art community of Southern California. Many enrolled in the city's first two art schools, Louise E. Garden McLeod's Los Angeles School of Art and Design (1887-1919), which in 1911 had "almost a dozen Japanese in the school,"[10] and William Lees Judson's College of Fine Arts, Garvanza (an affiliate of the University of Southern California), which also counted the Japanese among its students. As other art schools were established, most notably the Los Angeles Normal School (now UCLA), staffed largely by disciples of Arthur Wesley Dow, the Henry W. Cannon School of Art, the School of Illustration and Painting (established by William V. Cahill and John Hubbard Rich), Otis Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design), and Chouinard School of Art (now the California Institute of Art), the number of aspiring Asian artists among their enrollees grew significantly.

One of the first important venues for Japanese artists in the Los Angeles area was Blanchard Hall,[11] an early hub of art activities in the city. At least two exhibitions come to mind for the pre-1915 period. The first, held in 1908, featured the work of eight Japanese artists,[12] among them Toshio Aoki (1854-1912), who was perhaps the most financially successful Asian artist in California up to that time. A resident of San Francisco and Pasadena, he painted portraits, decorated the homes of prominent families with hand-painted murals, and entertained a list of clients that read like a "Who's Who" of American notables from across the country.[13] The second exhibition, hung in 1914, evoked the following comments from the Los Angeles Times art critic, Antony Anderson:

Two thriving Japanese art clubs in Los Angeles, the Mistume Kai and the Midori, are holding an exhibition of their works in the Cannon School of Art, No. 431 South Hill street [Blanchard Hall], about eighteen of the young students being represented by por-traits, figure studies, landscapes and still life studies. The exhibition has been an eye-opener to many who did not dream that the Japanese art students in Los Angeles were so numerous and who had no idea that the work of some of them was so highly meritorious. Another cause for surprise, perhaps congratulations, is the completely occidental viewpoint attained by these children of Nippon. If you did not see the Japanese names in the corners of the canvases you would not think for a moment that they had been painted by young men entirely alien in race.[14]

Not surprisingly, the city's Little Tokyo, which had become the center of Japanese life and culture and, in time, virtually a self-sufficient community, "an island within an island,"[15] became a mecca of art activity. The Chuo Bijutsu Kai Kwan (Japanese Art Club), Japan-American Society, Nan-ei Kai (Literary Society), and the Shaku-do-sha (members included photographers Toyo Miyatake and Edward Weston), all active art organizations, as well as the Japanese Camera Club, all promoted exhibitions. Highlights included a 1916 show of twenty-nine artists, twenty-seven of them Japanese, at the Nippon Club, sponsored by the Southern California Japanese Art Club.[16] A host of others followed in the next decades, among them a number of solo shows featuring the works of Japanese artists of wide reputations. These included Torajiro Watanabe (b. 1886), who was a member of the famed Woodstock Art Colony and was represented in major national exhibitions; Chiura Obata (1885-1975), a member of the art faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, whose works were hung at exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the San Francisco Art Association; Noburo Foujioka (b. 1896), who exhibited at the Salon d'Automne, Paris, and had solo exhibitions at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Los Angeles County Museum, Seattle Art Museum, and in Tokyo; Yoshida Sekida (1894-1966), an exhibitor at the National Academy of Design, the New York Watercolor Society, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Art Association; and Tokio Ueyama (1889-1954), who graduated from the University of Southern California and later attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, winning the Cresson traveling fellowship to Europe.

Thus, it is not surprising that the Art Students League of Los Angeles counted many Japanese American students among its members, as well as students from all elements of the city's population interested in modern art. Their numbers were large and the League by 1907 was directed by Warren Hedges, Charles Cristadoro, and Rex Slinkard, disciples of Robert Henri (1865-1929), one of America's premier artists and teachers and a devotee of modern methods in both teaching and painting. Additionally, the school's objective, as stated in an artistic brochure designed by League student Val Costello, was "to give all the advantages of academic training in drawing and painting, while still leaving to the student that freedom which makes for individual development"[17]; and also to provide a place of study for art workers and art students:

Among them were groups, or groups within groups due to occupational diver-gences and times in which they could attend. One group was composed of sign painters [commercial artists] and were perhaps the most faithful of all; "never missing a night," so to speak, and on many occasions later they came to the rescue when the continuance of the school was at stake, and ran it on an art club basis until such time as it could get on its feet again. Others were sons and daughters of well-to-do business men; another group were Japanese.[18]

Although names of many early students of Japanese descent at the League have yet to be discovered, some are known. One, Hisashi Shimada (1886-1940), emerges from letters from Carl Sprinchorn to Rex Slinkard and Sprinchorn to Nick Brigante.[19] Immigrating to Los Angeles in 1906, Shimada attended the League intermittingly from 1908 until the first years of the 1920s, during which time his work was mostly impacted by Rex Slinkard, both at the League headquarters on Spring Street and later away from school. Nick Brigante recalled how Shimada "revered Rex [and] always placed flowers on Rex's grave every year without fail."[20] Brigante also remembered that this gifted artist, who subsequently turned to creating window displays and later specialized in creative designs for jewelry at his own Los Angeles Decorator Company, was a "very talented painter."[21] In 1910, for example, in a League exhibition held at Blanchard Hall, his work was among those receiving special mention from art critic Anderson of the Los Angeles Times: "Particularly interesting are the drawings of George Taylor...full of faults to be sure, but they are also full of life -- the one thing needful in art. The young Japanese stu-dent Shimada also shows this feeling for character."[22] Sadly, none of Shimada's artwork has been located. How much did it emulate the style, or, I should say, styles of his mentor? Early in his career, Slinkard himself painted in the dark tones of his tutor, Henri (fig. 4), but after he left the League and returned to his father's ranch in the hills of Tehachapi, his work became mystical and symbolic.

Did the renderings of Shimada, who visited him at times at the ranch, also change?

Other early Japanese League members were Iwakichi Shigematsu (b. 1886) and Kinichi Nakanishi, both of whom were represented in the 1923 exhibition of the Group of Independent Artists, organized by Stanton Macdonald-Wright and held at the Los Angeles County Museum. Shigematsu immigrated to the United States in 1905. Arriving in Seattle, Washington, he listed himself as a student.[23] Little is known of his activities from then until 1917, when he exhibited at the groundbreaking exhibition of the Society of Independents in New York City. He showed there again in 1918, while a resident of Los Angeles. Nick Brigante, in an oral history interview in 1975, stated, "Shigematsu was a Japanese boy who studied in the New York Art Students League[24] and then he came back to Los Angeles. He was part of the Art Students League [Los Angeles] while [Lawrence] Murphy was there. Then [after spending some time in Mexico] he went off to Japan [1922], and when we had this show [the Group of Independent Artists exhibition, 1923], we exhibited several of his paintings."[25] Returning to Japan, Shigematsu joined an avant-garde group of artists called "Mavo,"[26] and the Futurist Art Association, whose exhibitions were open to artists working in Cubist, Futurist, or Expressionist styles. In the second of these, held in Tokyo in 1922, Shigematsu's work was described as having a "dark and sinister quality [which] suited the tumultuous impassioned tone of the F.A.A."[27] Nakanishi, who was born in Tokyo, Japan, immigrated to the United States in 1914,[28] settling in Los Angeles. There he studied with Dana Bartlett, Jack F. Smith [sic], and H. W. Cannon,[29] and painted largely in an Impressionist style. Perhaps Lawrence Murphy, who was teaching at the League, also had some effect on his work. His self-portrait suggests that Macdonald-Wright, too, may have had some impact (see page 115). In any case, he was represented in the exhibitions of the California Art Club, of which, in 1920, he became one of the few members of Japanese ancestry during the early years; the Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego; the Southern California Painters and Sculptors; and the East West Art Society of San Francisco. When World War II began, he was first relocated at the Santa Anita Assembly Center, and then incarcerated at the Jerome concentration camp, Arkansas, where he devoted his time to teaching art. Following the camp closure in June 1944, he was transferred to Granada concentration camp, Colorado, and subsequently was released in 1945 to New York.[30] His whereabouts after his arrival in New York are not known. Apparently, like those of so many of the inmates, his art career never reached fruition.

The League, whose importance as an art school had diminished after Rex Slinkard left in the early teens, survived largely because of the financial support and able leadership of Val Costello. Nick Brigante, who assisted Costello for a time, said in an oral his-tory interview conducted by Betty Hoag:

We had a tight little group of our own there at the Art Students League, and it was used not as a school as much as it was a place where people could meet and work. It was exactly what the name implies, a league....We succeeded in keeping the League running for a number of years until 1922 [sic] when we felt that the change was necessary. That's when Macdonald-Wright came on the scene and took over the Art Students League. He ran it from then on for several years.[31]

Though Brigante's remembrances of the League from 1913 to 1923 are largely accurate, instruction did continue. Carl Sprinchorn, who succeeded Slinkard at his request, taught there in 1913. Lawrence Murphy also instructed after his arrival in Los Angeles in 1915, as apparently did Edouard Vysekal (before his long tenure at the Otis Art Institute, from 1919 to 1939).[32] Slinkard himself, following his tenure as director (1911-1912), made occasional visits, particularly after 1915, and also met with students outside of class.

When Stanton Macdonald-Wright became director in 1923, the League received a "shot in the arm." A dynamic and persuasive speaker who brought a following with him from his private teachings and from Chouinard Art School (1922), he epitomized the modernism of the time, as Slinkard had done earlier. Just months before, he had been the main catalyst for the exhibition already mentioned of the Group of Independent Artists. He was also a key figure in the formation of the Modern Art Workers (1925) and other groups in Los Angeles promoting trends in modern art, such as Postimpressionism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Futurism, and Surrealism. Among these "radicals," who began to make inroads into the "turf" of the more traditional California Art Club, and later the Society for Sanity in Art, which held a conservative grip on the Los Angeles art community that continued throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s, were a substantial number of Japanese artists, some of them League members.

An exhibition of twenty-four Japanese artists and art students held at the newspaper Japanese American/Rafu Nichi-bei in 1929 evoked the following comments from Arthur Millier, art critic of the Los Angeles Times, and gave evidence of the modernist pref-erences of many of these Japanese exhibitors:

There is very little specifically Japanese, in any traditional sense about the works showing. They had completely embraced the modern occidental attitude toward life and art, dropped their old painting tradition founded on rhythmic line, yet were presenting us with works of real vitality, entirely lacking the hybrid feeling we might expect from such a revolutionary change...While our painters turn to Africa and the Orient for new stimulus, the Japanese look entirely to the western world.[33]

An important contributor to this exhibition was League member Yotoku Miyagi (1893-1943, fig. 5),[34] about whom Arthur Millier wrote:

He [Miyagi] provides, in my opinion, the "clout" of the show. He cannot be classified in any school -- as can so many of the Japanese painters of today, with the heavy impress of the great Cézanne on their canvases....His portrait of a lady -- we learned she is his wife -- is beautifully designed and placed in the frame with rare sensitiveness. The sympathetic, intelligent and beautiful head is finely modeled and interpreted....Here is an artist for whom we confidently predict an important future.[35]

Miyagi, who immigrated to the U.S. from Okinawa in 1919,[36] settled first in San Francisco and studied at the School of Design (now San Francisco Art Institute) from 1920 to 1923 with Spencer Macky (1880-1958). Due to a lung injury received as a child, he left San Francisco for the drier climate of the Imperial Valley to join his father, who was farming, and later continued his art education at the San Diego School of Fine Art, Balboa Park. Going next to Los Angeles (1926), he attended the Art Students League, where he studied with Macdonald-Wright in 1927. He also became involved with the American Communist Party. In 1933, Richard Sorge, a Soviet agent and leader of the Japanese Communist Party, summoned him to return to Japan. Miyagi, unaware of any espionage, departed from San Pedro. Falsely accused of spying by his J.C.P. comrades, he was imprisoned and died as a result of prison conditions that wreaked havoc on his health.

During his years at the League, Macdonald-Wright's fascination with Asian art and its sinuous, flowing lines, the singular broad brushstrokes of sumi painting, and Asian iconography, combined with classical Michelangelesque figures and his own color theories and lectures on ancient cultures and Taoism, had an imposing effect on both Asian and non-Asian artists. Hideo Date remembered:

During the late 1920s and 1930s, we were influenced by Orient across the Pacific just as N.Y. was influenced by Europe across the Atlantic. We called ours Linear-composition whether it's from Japan, China or Persian miniature paintings and I believe we were influenced by Mr. [Macdonald-] Wright.[37]

Paintings shown by League members Benji Okubo and Hideo Date are evidence of Macdonald-Wright's influence during the 1930s. Their work appeared in exhibitions of the Los Angeles Oriental Artists' Group, which also included works by Chinese American artists Tyrus Wong (b. 1910), Keye Luke (1904-1991), and Gilbert Leung (1911-1996). These events were held under the auspices of the Foundation of Western Art[38] at local venues, and in Santa Barbara, Laguna Beach, and San Francisco. In a Rafu Shimpo review of one of the events, Roy Takeno wrote:

Though both artists work from the basic Oriental art forms, they are...diverse in their temperament and technique....Date's work suggests lightness in strokes and a distant sense of natural color harmony [fig. 6], while Okubo is bold in his brush points and quite unusual in his choice of color combinations that almost suggests the macabre [fig. 7]. The artist in Okubo, however, restrains him from becoming grotesque. On the contrary his work has lithe suppleness of lines. For instance, he titles one of his works with an entrancing title, "Valley of the Golden Mist." From it, one would not unlikely imagine a poetic conception of some near-heaven scene, but not so Okubo. His subject is a head of a bewitching young mistress, a siren....Listen to the unusual sound of the rest of the titles for his paintings: "Jana," "The Vision of the Blue Lily," "Mildred," and "June Oy." Benji Okubo delights in offering his range of techniques and possibilities within the narrow confines of the limited variety of color.[39]

Among the many non-Asian League members who produced art for the Works Progress Administration/Federal Arts Project and were impacted by this fusion of Western and Eastern art and philosophy was James Redmond, "one of the most talented of S. Macdonald-Wright's disciples," whose U.S. Post Office murals in Compton, California, possess "a personal poetry which permeates the flowing Oriental line and prismatic coloring of the school. The style is his teacher's, but the delicate drawing of nature forms, as flowers, grasses, etc., is his own."[40] (see fig. 12, page 9). In addition to his mural work, Redmond did lithography, including interpretations of Asian cats (fig. 8). Other non-Asians who developed the fusion of Asian art and color techniques in their work were Phyllis Shields (Unending Harvest, plate 24), Vivian Stringfield (Still Life, plate 31), and Donald Smith (Cats at Play, plate 49).

During much of the 1930s and early 1940s, the League, first under James Redmond, then Donald Totten, and finally, Okubo, witnessed a loss in enrollment and subsequent financial difficulties. League problems were due in part to the departure of Macdonald-Wright, but probably even more to the Depression, competition from other schools, and, by the late 1930s, inadequate facilities. Interestingly, during his tenure as director, Redmond ran League advertisements in the Japan-California Daily News/Kashu Mainichi to attract Japanese American students to the school, offering classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and a color class on Saturday afternoons.[41] While serving as di-rector, Okubo worked as a landscape designer during the day, taught classes at night,[42] and also provided the financial support that kept the school and studio space open until the outbreak of World War II.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, followed by war hysteria brought on by public opinion and strong urging by the Hearst newspapers, the California Berry Association, the California Chambers of Commerce, Governor Culbert L. Olson, Attorney General Earl Warren, Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron, State Senator Jack B. Tenney, and newspaper columnists like Walter Lippman, greatly influenced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 9066 on 19 February 1942.[43] It ordered the removal of all citizens and aliens of Japanese descent from the Western Military Command Zone (California, Oregon, Washington, and parts of Arizona) under the command of Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt.[44] The president did so despite the fact that, two days earlier, Attorney General Francis Biddle had written that he had reservations about the incarceration of American citizens. Reacting particularly strongly to the press, Biddle stated that:

It is extremely dangerous for columnists, acting as "Armchair Strategists and Junior G-Men," to suggest that an attack on the West Coast and planned sabotage is imminent when the military authorities and the F.B.I. have indicated that this is not the fact. It comes close to shouting FIRE! in the theater; and if race riots occur, these writers will bear a heavy responsibility. Either Lippman has information which the War Department and the F.B.I. apparently do not have, or is acting with dangerous irresponsibility.[45]

FDR also ignored the human rights concerns of the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Between February and June, 110,000 citizens and aliens were removed, some voluntarily, but most by force, from the West Coast and later transferred to ten concentration camps[46] in California (Manzanar and Tule Lake), Idaho (Minidoka), Arkansas (Jerome and Rowher), Colorado (Granada), Arizona (Gila and Poston), Utah (Topaz), and Wyoming (Heart Mountain).[47] Because of the limitation of items that each family could take and the rapidity of the removal, there was little time to organize or store one's belongings before the deadline to leave. Thus many artists were forced to place their works in the possession of friends or leave them in their homes, some of which were later ransacked, with anything "Japanese" destroyed. As a result, locating pre-war works by many of the Japa-nese artists featured in this exhibition has been difficult.

A large number of Japanese American artists who lived in Los Angeles at the outbreak of the war were affiliated with the Art Students League, Otis Art Institute, Chouinard School of Art, Art Center, Walt Disney Studios, or the motion picture studios (e.g, MGM, Paramount, RKO). Many of those who chose to continue their art careers after the war found New York City and Chicago more receptive than California and never returned. Others who resettled on the West Coast opted to pursue other professions or jobs for survival. Racism, exclusion, and incarceration had varied effects on these individuals and their commitments to their desired careers as artists.

One scenario of the concentration camp experience is the story of Charles Isamu Morimoto. Born in Hiroshima, Japan, he immigrated to the United States in 1916. After graduation from Pasadena High School, he won a scholarship to Otis Art Institute (1925-1930), where he earned much praise for his work and received rave reviews while winning many local competitions. During part of this time he also studied at the League (1928)[48] under Macdonald-Wright, whose influence is apparent in Morimoto's Untitled [Still Life], plate 33. Of Morimoto's work in the 1929 Younger Painters exhibition, Los Angeles Times critic Arthur Millier wrote, "Charles Morimoto goes the furthest toward abstraction with his three designs evolved from figures." Unable to pursue a commercial art career, Morimoto became a window designer for the Owl Drug Store chain. After the issuance of Executive Order 9066, he was incarcerated directly at the Manzanar concentration camp, which was located on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in California. Unlike other camps, it was established first as an assembly center, but later converted to a concentration camp for the duration of the war, when it was deemed impossible to move Japanese Americans inland while hostilities against them were at a peak. In February of 1943, while Morimoto was teaching art classes and painting scenes of Manzanar that documented the lives of the inmates during the early period of incarceration, the War Relocation Authority issued a Registration Questionnaire that all inmates over seventeen were required to answer. Its purpose was to enlist young Nisei men into the military to fight in defense of the United States, while their parents and families were confined be-hind barbed wires.[49] Its secondary purpose was to have these inmates affirm their loyalty to the United States. The president's rationale for this decision was contained in a letter to Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War:

No loyal citizen of the United States should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry. The principle on which this country was founded and by which it has always been governed is that Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy. Every loyal American citizen should be given the opportunity to serve this country wherever his skill will make the greatest contribution -- whether it be in the ranks of our armed forces, war production, agriculture, government, service or other work essential to the war effort.[50]

The critical questions were the final two. Question 27 asked, "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?" Ques-tion 28 asked, "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance of obedience to the Japanese Emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?"[51] An Issei who answered "Yes, Yes" would denounce his loyalty to Japan and thus be without a country, since aliens were denied United States citizenship. Those who answered "No, No" were labeled No-Noes and de-clared disloyal.

Morimoto was among the latter group, and so he and other No-Noes were segregated at Tule Lake concentration camp, where he again taught art classes and painted landscapes of the area surrounding the camp. His daughters, Miyoko Mizuki and Keiko Kano, recall that during this difficult time they and others were taught about Japan and how wonderful it would be to return when the war was over -- an obvious ploy to rid this country of some "undesirable" aliens.[52] When the time came, Morimoto, apparently convinced, made the decision to return with his family to Hiroshima, Japan, parts of which had been devastated by the atomic bomb. In the remaining years of his life, he taught art classes to the Australian Occupational Forces[53] and produced a number of works which illustrate his preference for abstract art and bear evidence of the influences of the League and Macdonald-Wright. They also are mute evidence of a real talent. Had circumstances been different, had there been no war, no racism, and no loyalty questionnaire, and if Morimoto had remained in this country and lived longer, would his art career have reached its full potential? Seven years after his death in 1953, his family returned to the United States. They have since attempted to locate his pre-war works, allegedly stored in a Los Angeles church, but have been unsuccessful in locating them.

Another League member and inmate was the already mentioned Hideo Date, a native of Osaka, Japan, who immigrated to California in 1923 with his family. After a return trip to Japan in 1929 to study old-style scroll brushwork at the Kawabata Gakko, he resettled in Los Angeles later that same year. There he attended Otis Art Institute and the League. At times, when estranged from his family, he lived at the League, which became a haven for students who were struggling through the Depression. During the 1930s Date was able to provide for himself through private commissions, teaching privately, and selling his paintings when he needed the money. As discussed earlier, he exhibited frequently. Commenting on a 1933 exhibition of the "Independents" at the Palos Verdes Community Arts Association, Hammond Sadler, Chairman of Art Exhibitions, said:

Hideo Date is primarily interested in linear movement and color. Combining these elements in a manner never attempted by the older Japanese painters, he has scorned the strictly traditional for "Datean." Particular note of his work in watercolor must be made. The finish, developed by him, is unsurpassed in its jewel-like surface.[54] [see fig. 10]

Others also praised his unique style and watercolor technique, among them Alma May Cook of the Los Angeles Herald Express, who wrote in a 1939 article, "None but an Oriental artist would have had the patience to do nearly 40 washes used by Hideo Date for his figure study of 'Reverie' resulting in a colorful gradation of tone and fine workmanship."[55]

One of Los Angeles's few Asian artists, Tyrus Wong being another, Date participated in the WPA during the years it was under the supervision of Macdonald-Wright. Assigned to paint a mural at the Muriel Obar Walizer School on Terminal Island, he was removed from the job after Pearl Harbor. The mural, based on the legend of the Japanese goddess of light[56] and completed by Don Totten and Macdonald-Wright, is no longer extant.

When he had to evacuate, Date left his paintings in the care of fellow League member Jim Bolin's grandparents. In 1949, while Date was on a visit to Los Angeles, Albert King organized an exhibition of these pre-war paintings at the Art Center. After the show, the works were shipped to Date's home in Flushing, New York. Date's preference not to sell his paintings did not change, but throughout his years in New York he had continued to paint and draw and had made many trips to Europe. He also participated in solo and group shows. Two hundred of his works, spanning an eighty-year career, are now in the collection of the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles.[57]

Also incarcerated was Benji Okubo, a native of Riverside, California, who learned landscape design from his father, who had immigrated to the United States in 1904 as a scholar, but turned to gardening in order to support his family. Okubo also was influenced by his mother, an accomplished calligrapher and painter who had studied at the Tokyo Art Institute.[58] She was the sister of Kentaro Kato (1889-1926), a well-known Japanese artist, who exhibited with the National Academy of Design, the American Watercolor Society, and the New York Watercolor Society.

Okubo's sister, Miné Okubo (1912-2001), was also influenced by her parents' involvement in the arts. A scholarship student in Europe (1938-1939) from the University of California, Berkeley, she worked on a WPA/FAP mural at Government Island, and was influenced by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957). She was incarcerated at the Topaz concentration camp, Utah, and released in 1944 with assistance from the editors of Fortune magazine. She settled in New York City and established a career in illustration and commercial art, returning to painting after ten years and dedicating her efforts to "the highest ideals in art."[59] She is widely known for her book Citizen 13660, an illustrated chronicle of her life at Topaz.[60]

Benji Okubo moved to Los Angeles as a young man and worked at various jobs while earning scholarships at Otis Art Institute and also studying at the League. In 1935, he, along with Tyrus Wong, created murals and wall decorations on the brick walls of the Dragon's Den, a restaurant located in Chinatown in the basement of F. Suie One Company, owned by Eddy See (figs. 11, 12). A newspaper account at the time declared, "The murals and decorations -- will charm you -- first Tyrus' monkeys on the walls and then Benji's depictions of eight immortals of Taoist lore with the help of Tyrus and Marion Blanchard [1914-1980, later Murray and a League member] doing the detail work."[61] According to Lisa See:

[Okubo] supervised the crew made up of students from the Art Students League and Otis, as well as a few who worked for the WPA. The murals merged Japanese and Chinese styles and owed much to the teachings of Stanton Macdonald-Wright....The idea was to juxtapose different colors without using traditional western techniques of perspec-tive to create an illusion of depth.[62]

The Dragon's Den became the "hang-out" for artists as well as people in the motion picture industry.

Okubo continued his association with the League and, in 1940, took over the responsibilities of teaching classes and directing it until the outbreak of World War II. Before evacuating to the Pomona Assembly Center, Okubo took his paintings back to his family's home in Riverside, where they remained until the end of the war. After the war, he returned to Los Angeles and subsequently settled in the Mount Washington area of Los Angeles. Married, no longer a bohemian, he re-established his landscape design business but was never again as involved in the arts as he had been in the 1930s. He continued to sketch and practice the sumi painting he had learned at Heart Mountain.[63] Recently, his pre-war paintings were donated to the Japanese American National Museum.

Okubo and Date, though they came from two different assembly centers (Okubo from Pomona and Date from Santa Anita), were both incarcerated at Heart Mountain. While there, they revived the Art Students League and continued its teachings. The League was part of the adult education department directed by Walter C. Schlosser and under the super-vision of Estelle Peck Ishigo (1899-1990), a European American who joined her husband, Arthur Shigeharu Ishigo, in the camp.[64] From the beginning Date was an instructor and participant, but Okubo was the "heart and soul" and dominating figure of the Heart Mountain League. A fellow inmate, Gompers Saijo, who was just twenty years old at the time, recalls his first impressions of Okubo when he saw him at the Pomona Center:

He looks and is dressed like some buccaneer character straight off a Hollywood set....his hair is black straight and combed back down to his shoulders and [he] has large penetrating eyes that would scare little kids shitless. A pencil-thin moustache and another thin line of hair from lower lip down to his chin. On his left ear is a thin gold earring. If not a buccaneer from the Bounty is he Geronimo's brother?[65]

Saijo, who worked at the poster shop at Heart Mountain, where silk-screened posters for camp activities as well as for outside companies and the United States military were created, first became aware of the Heart Mountain Art Students League from his fellow poster shop workers Fujiye Fujikawa, Dick Morioka, and Chisato Takashima, all of whom were students at the League (figs. 14, 15). (Chisato Takashima, in 1945, married Okubo.) Saijo remembers becoming fascinated by the work of the two artists while watching them paint a backdrop for a stage performance:

It was perhaps 8 x 20 feet in dimension. Thematically it was a scene of Pied Piper leading his people to a better land. The composition and treatment of the figures and scenery was very Japanese/Chinese with the central image being Pied Piper....The whole imagery was composed of flowing Oriental lines and shapes painted in soft tonalities of mystically suggestive coloration.This painting was the stimulus that drew me to those two teachers. I wanted to learn their exotic style and ways.[66]

The Heart Mountain League, like its predecessor, held classes in the evenings and on Saturdays. It boasted an enrollment of fifty students. Ironically, since inmates did not have to toil the long working hours to which they had been accustomed in pre-war years, they were able to enjoy "leisure" activities. Art supplies were not available at the camp during the early days, so Okubo used butcher paper cut into drawing-paper-sized sheets and began the classes. As they had at the old Los Angeles League, Date and Okubo wanted to use live models; and as at the Los Angeles League, when paid models were not available, students drew each other. Soon after the League began classes, the Sentinel ran an article under the headline "Models Sought to Pose for Adult Evening Art Class."[67] As Saijo remembers:

Among those...who first came around was an aspiring wrestler or boxer who soon offered to be our model. He turned out to be a godsend, as he posed for us in the nude. He had a Michelangeloesque kind of figure -- or is this analogy associative since Benji would often take Michelangelo figure drawings and paintings to illustrate his points.[68]

Each student would benefit from these two artists' talents and teaching techniques, receiving criticism and sometimes having the instructors demonstrate on the students' sketches (fig. 18). On a chalkboard, Okubo would diagrammatically draw out rhythmic patterns and point out how certain basic motifs echoed and played throughout the drawing. "For Benji these rhythmic linear patterns and repetition of certain shaped motifs were the elemental components of the plastic arts."[69] When it was apparent that the students in attendance were serious about art, Okubo expanded his courses to include the interconnection between the cultural and historical aspects of art and taught an appreciation of the arts of many diverse cultures, such as Greek, Roman, Persian, Mayan, Peruvian, and Asian, which gave his students a strong intellectual and spiritual basis for their art. His collection of art and history books became the League's "library." Okubo, unlike Date, who became reclusive and spent much of his time drawing cats and listening to classical music, depicted his experience in the camp in poignant portrayals reflecting his attitude about the war and his incarceration (see Untitled [Impaled Soldier], plate 52). His paintings in this exhibition demonstrate his use of the echoing motif and make tremendous statements about his inner feelings and the turmoil of his situation (fig. 19).

Summing up his memory of Okubo and Date, Saijo said:

Benji got us some oil painting materials through mail order catalogs. Now it was drawing and painting with paints and brushes in our hands. Benji began teaching appropriate techniques with lots of emphasis on color. In time he introduced us to the Synchromy movement of [Stanton Macdonald-] Wright and [Morgan] Russell, expounding their ideas and theory and giving us a brief demonstration of its application....It was composed of prismatic colors almost straight from the tube. This was my first encounter with purely abstract work.[My] lack of instant embrace [of analytical conceptual painting] might have been due in part to Benji himself, who by then wasn't much animated by this purely abstract Synchromist approach. I recall Benji ever was wont to say, "When you paint you got to forget all this analytical stuff"...At this period Benji and Date's style of paintings was more internal, more Asian in vision. They painted in a style more native to their cultural inheritance and at the same time very modern. Their modernity was their use of color. The colors were at once brilliantly tonal and subtly subdued. They exuded inimitable tonalities of pearlescent opulence. Their spatial tonal compositional qualities were very Chinese, open and closed spaces, tonal distribution and balance...Over this underlayment of basically Chinese concepts, they added their own unusual modern color sensibilities.[70]

The League held it first exhibition, a well-attended event, in the camp's recreation hall in December,1942 (fig. 20). An article in the Sentinel stated, "The art which attracted more than 3,000 persons was held not in a salon nor in the spacious colonnaded halls of a metropolitan museum, but in the crowded recreation hall of Heart Mountain."[71] The design for the announcement and invitation was drawn and printed by Saijo (see fig. 15, page 11). League members, according to Saijo, produced a mural in the Asian Synchromistic style in the dining hall.

Date soon left the League, but Okubo continued to teach and hold exhibitions (fig. 21). As a 1944 article in the Sentinel confirms, "More than a thousand residents braved the wind and sand to attend the three-day art exhibit held last Friday to Monday by the Art Students leagueThe artists' own imaginative and creative ability were given a free play, according to Benji Okubo head instructor. The exhibit was stronger in representation than the first one held a year ago with the main stress placed on color and composition."[72]

There are conflicting views as to whether Robert Kuwahara taught classes at the Heart Mountain League. The newspaper article that introduces this essay clearly states that he did, as do at least two other articles in the Heart Mountain Sentinel. However, Hideo Date, in a letter written shortly before his death in 2005, stated categorically that Kuwahara was not on the staff. But after examining a sketchbook owned by the family, containing drawings of the model that posed at the League and of Heart Mountain, I determined that Kuwahara, as well as Shingo Nishiura, a League participant who signed the Art Students League by-laws written in 1945, definitely taught at the League.[73]

Robert Shiroruro Kuwahara (1901-1964) was a native of Tokyo, Japan, who immigrated to the United States in 1910[74] and studied at Otis Art Institute. After graduating he traveled to New York City in an attempt to establish himself as a portrait painter, but the 1929 stock market crash caused him to redirect his focus. Turning to commercial art, he produced illustrations for the New York Times, one of which, a pen drawing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, appeared in a 1932 New York Times Book Review section.[75] He returned to Los Angeles in the same year and was hired by the Walt Disney Studios, for whom he worked from 1932 to 1936 on the backgrounds for Snow White, Fantasia, and Bambi. He produced animation projects for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1937 to 1941.[76] In 1933 he married Julia Suski (1904-1996), a native of Los Angeles and a musician and teacher whose pen drawings, which appeared almost daily in the Rafu Shimpo from 1926 to 1929, rivaled in subject matter and artistic quality similar artwork featured on the pages of the Los Angeles Times (fig. 22). During his brief period of incarceration, Kuwahara taught art classes first at the Santa Anita Assembly Center and later at Heart Mountain (see fig. 2). Leaving Heart Mountain in 1943, he first went to Chicago, then to New York. Unable to find steady work, he created a comic strip titled "Miki" in 1945, after his son Michel,[77] and sold it to George M. Adams Syndicate. With the success of the comic strip, he moved to Larchmont, New York. In 1950 he joined Paul Terry of Terrytoons (later Terrytoons/CBS), where in 1960 he created and directed the popular animated cartoon about a Japanese family of mice titled Hashimoto-san.

Shingo Nishiura, who was born in 1902 in Nakashin-machi, Japan, immigrated to the United States in 1918 and assumed the middle name Arthur, at the suggestion of an American friend.[78] He attended the California School of Design (now San Francisco Art Institute) from 1924 to 1927, studying with Spencer Macky, Constance Macky (1883-1961), and Lee Randolph (1880-1956). Unable to pursue a career in art, he worked for a San Francisco hotel and, in 1929, for the Iwata Trading Company as a clerk. He earned enough money to travel to Japan, with a trader's visa, to marry. Returning to the Bay Area, he settled there until the outbreak of the war forced his evacuation to Santa Anita Assembly Center and later to the Heart Mountain concentration camp, where he taught at the adult evening art classes and at the League with Okubo (fig. 23). During his tenure at Heart Mountain, he painted many depictions of the camp, the landscape, and the wildflowers of Wyoming, and provided illustrations for camp literary publications. He left Heart Mountain in 1945 for Mountain View, California,[79] where he practiced his art only as a nonprofessional and provided for his family as a gardener.

The number of students at the League declined because of the segregation of the No-Noes, the draft,[80] and WRA-approved voluntary departures of inmates to destinations east of the Western Military Command Zone. Despite this, Okubo kept the League doors open. During the waning months of incarceration, the remaining members of the League gathered together and drafted an Art Students League proposal and by-laws. An undated, handwritten document, it includes the objectives of the group, qualifications for membership, election of officers, meetings, how to amend the constitution, lists of officers and advisors, and by-laws. It was never finalized. What is unclear is the reasoning behind the members' attempt to formally organize, since their fates were unknown. A qualified guess would be that they knew they would be separating soon and this was a means of having a lasting connection with each other, because the group's objective was stated as "to promote art and cultivate friendship among members." It was most likely written after the end of the war in Europe, because Chisato Okubo is listed as secretary and her marriage to Benji occurred in June of 1945. Benji Okubo continued to lecture and to teach the philosophies of the League in the barracks as well as in the high school, until the camp closed in September of 1945. To the end, he had a following of students who admired him in the true fashion established by Macdonald-Wright (fig. 24). They were known as "Benji's disciples."[81]

Even during the last years of the Los Angeles Art Students League (1949-1953), under Fred Sexton, a former Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell student, Okubo was involved, although only on an occasional basis. Thus, he and Saijo, who attended at his suggestion, continued to give the League the "Japanese connection" that had begun almost with the League's inception in 1906 and continued throughout almost a half-century of existence.



The author would like to express appreciation to those who assisted her in the writing of this essay. First and foremost, my husband Phil, whose expert research skills ferreted out much of the information about the history and chronology of the League and its members, and also whose strength and support were always there throughout this entire ordeal. I would also like to thank Chisato Takeshima Okubo, Miyoko Morimoto Mizuki, Keiko Morimoto Kano, Michele Fortier, Lynn and Tim Mason, Dr. Randolph C. Head, Betty Matsumoto Zierler, Gompers Saijo, Harry Fukasawa, Hideo Date, Eizo Nishiura, Michael Kelley, Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, and of course, my co-curator, Julia Arm-strong-Totten, and her husband, Steve Totten. Finally, I am deeply indebted to the Archives of American Art, whose microfilm library and WPA oral histories provided me with much of the information about the League and its members; Japanese-American Research Project, Special Collections, UCLA; California State Library, Sacramento; Hirasaki National Resource Center, JANM; and the Los Angeles Public Library.

1. The newspaper may have erred in the information about the instructors of the League, but conflicting sources leave some doubt as to the correct facts. In the Estelle Ishigo papers she lists Bob Kuwahara, Shingo Nishiura, Benji Okubo, and Hideo Date as instructors in the Adult Evening School art department. The Art Students League was a part of the adult art department.

2. The assembly centers and concentration camps had in-house publications.

3. Archives of American Art Oral History Program was started in 1959 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics, and others. As part of this program the Archives, in the 1960s, contracted several art historians to interview artists who participated in the Federal Arts Project.

4. Eliot Grinnell Mears, ed., "Resident Orientals on the American Pacific Coast: Their Legal and Economic Status: Preliminary Report Prepared for the July 1927 Conference of the Institute of Public Relations in Honolulu" (New York: American Group, Institute of Pacific Relations, 1927), 413, Table 5. This information was gathered from the Fourteenth United States Census, 1920.

5. For an in-depth discussion of the treatment of the Asians and Asian Americans in California see Ronald Takaki, Strangers from Different Shores: A History of Asian Americans (Boston, Toronto, and London: Little, Brown and Company, 1989), and Carey McWilliams, Prejudice, Japanese Americans: Symbol of Racial Intolerance (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1944).

6. Los Angeles City Directory, 1904-1911.

7. Ibid.

8. Takaki, Strangers, 198-201.

9. A fascinating subject that needs further research and study. More information is located in the Karl G. Yoneda Papers, Japanese American Project, UCLA Li-rary Department of Special Collections.

10. Antony Anderson, "Art and Artists," Los Angeles Times, 15 September 1912, III, 16:1­2.

11. The Blanchard Music and Art Building opened in 1899, offering artists and musicians exhibition and studio space. Many of the early artists had studios there and it became the home of the Art Students League soon after Hanson Puthuff and Antony Anderson organized the League in Puthuff's studio/home. It was the center of the Los Angeles art community until the opening of the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art at Exposition Park in 1913.

12. Rene T. de Quelin, "Among the Artists," The Graphic, 2 May 1908, 19:2 and 16 May 1908, 18:1-3.

13. Toshio Aoki died in San Diego, California. His murals adorned homes in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and Colorado Springs, as well as in Pasadena. He adopted Tsuru Aoki of silent movie fame, who married actor Sessue Hayakawa.

14. Antony Anderson, "Art and Artists," Los Angeles Times, 29 November 1914, III, 6:6.

15. Carey McWilliams, Southern California, An Island on the Land (Santa Barbara: Peregrine Smith, 1973), 321.

16. Los Angeles Times, 28 April 1916. I, 1:6.

17. Antony Anderson, "Art and Artists," Los Angeles Times, 8 September 1907, VI, 2:2-3.

18. Carl Sprinchorn, "Rex Slinkard: A Biographical-Critical Study of His Life, Paintings and Drawings," unpublished biography. Carl Sprinchorn Papers, Fogler Library, University of Maine, Orondo/AAA, microfilm reel 3004.

19. Carl Sprinchorn Papers, AAA, microfilm reels 3004-3014.

20. Letter from Nick Brigante to Marsden Hartley, 29 April 1942, Carl Sprinchorn Papers, AAA, microfilm reel 3004.

21. Ibid.

22. Antony Anderson, "Art and Artists," Los Angeles Times, 21 August 1910, III, 1-3.

23. List or Manifest of Alien Passengers from the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival, Seattle, Washington, S.S. Kanagawa Maru, 2 June 1905. The Japanese American National Museum has indexed the passenger list for the Port of Seattle. It is available at the Manabi and Sumi Hirasaki National Resource Center, JANM.

24. Stephanie Cassidy, Registrar, ASL-NY, email to author, 14 August 2001: There are no records of an I. Shigematsu attending the Art Students League of New York.

25. Nick Brigante interview with Kirk McDonald at Brigante's studio/home, 11 September 1975. [Author wishes to thank Nancy Moure for providing her with this interview.]

26. Weisenfeld, Gennifer, Mavo: Japanese Artists and the Avant-Garde, 1905-1931 (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2002) 50, 280, 282.

27. Ibid., 50.

28. Immigration and Naturalization Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C., List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival, San Francisco, California.

29. California State Library Biographical Cards, Sacramento, 1921.

30. WRA departure lists, Japanese American National Museum History Archives, microfilm, Jerome and Granada. These lists are available at the Manabi and Sumi Hirasaki National Resource Center, JANM.

31. Nicholas P. Brigante interview with Betty Hoag for the Archives of American Art/Smithsonian Institution, 25 May 1964, transcript on microfilm reel 3418.

32. Arthur Millier, "Edouard Vysekal, 1890­1939," Edouard Vysekal Memorial Exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum, 15 November-19 December 1940.

33. Arthur Millier, "Art and Artists," Los Angeles Times, 29 December 1929, III, 9:6.

34. For more information on Miyagi consult Nomoto, Ippei, Miyagi Yotoku: imin seinnen gaka no hikari to kage (Taimususha, Okinawa, Japan: Naha-shi, 1997) and Katashima, Norio, Dreaming of Nirakaina: An Artist Yotoku Miyagi (video documentary, Tokyo, Japan, NHK Japan's National Public Broadcaster, 2002).

35. Arthur Millier, "Art and Artists," Los Angeles Times, 29 December 1929, III, 9:6.

36. National Archives, Fifteenth United States Census, 1930, Los Angeles County, ED 19-84, line 93­94.

37. Hideo Date letter to Julia Armstrong-Totten, 16 August 2001.

38. The Foundation of Western Art, a noncommercial, philanthropic organization, was financially supported by portrait painter Max Wieczorek. Former curator and Museum of History, Science and Art director Everett Maxwell was the foundation's diector and Dana Bartlett acted as the curator. The primary objective, aside from holding exhibitions, was to discover and promote new talent in the arts, including painters, sculptors, etchers, and craftsmen. Date and Okubo were charter members.

39. Roy Takeno, "The Newspegger," Los Angeles Japanese Daily News/Rafu Shimpo, 3 May 1936, 5:1.

40. "Brief Art Reviews," Los Angeles Times, 12 June 1932, III, 14:7.

41. Japan-California Daily News/Kashu Mainichi, Los Angeles, 4 April 1934, 1:7

42. Japan-California Daily News/Kashu Mainichi, Los Angeles, 12 February 1940, 1:4; MacGurrin, Buckley, "Art Stuff," Rob Wagner's Script, 2 March 1940, 25. Gump's Gallery Papers, Archives of American Art/Smithsonian Institution, microfilm reel 1287.

43. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, 19 February 1942, gave the military broad powers to ban any citizen from the Western Military Command Zone that stretched from Washington State to California and extended inland into southern Arizona. The order also authorized transporting these citizens to assembly centers hastily set up and governed by the military in California, Arizona, Washington State, and Oregon. For an in-depth account of FDR's decision to intern Issei and Nisei see Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: F.D.R and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Cambridge, Mass., and London, England: Harvard Uni-versity Press, 2003)

44. Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt was one of the leading advocates of the removal from the West Coast of Japanese Americans in addition to Japanese aliens. In a phone conversation on 3 February 1942 with Asst. Secretary of War John J. McCloy, he stated, "The Germans and the Italians, you don't have to worry about them as a group. You have to worry about them purely as certain individuals. Out here, Mr. Secretary, a Jap is a Jap to those people now" (U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Part 1, Numerical File Archive, microfilm reel 1, frame 137).

45. Papers of the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Part 1, Numerical File Archive, microfilm reel 1.

46. The terms "concentration camp" and "inmate" have become the preferred reference. The camps were organized when it became obvious to the government that Japanese aliens and citizens would not be welcomed in the surrounding states and needed some form of resettlement. "Not one of the Governors of the nine inland Western States wanted them." (Time, 16 March 1942, 14:2-3) Subsequently the War Relocation Authority was organized under Milton Eisenhower.

47. There have been many books written about Executive Order 9066 that document in detail the events after Pearl Harbor. Among them are: Michi Nishiura Weglyn, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps (New York: Morrow, 1976); Roger Daniels, Concentration Camps USA: Japanese Americans and World War II (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970); Carey McWilliams, Prejudice: Japanese Americans, Symbol of Racial Intolerance (Boston: Little and Brown, 1944).

48. WRA Segregation and Reparation records, Charles Morimoto Family Papers.

49. The formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team on 1 February 1943 was the result of the Registration Questionnaire. As part of the racially segregated 100th Battalion, the 442nd RCT, whose motto was "Go for Broke," consisted of Japanese Americans from the camps and ultimately, because of their meritorious service, was the most highly decorated combat team that served in the war -- but they were unable to receive the honors they deserved at the time. The United States government corrected this error on 21 June 2000 by awarding twenty Japanese American WWII veterans the na-tion's highest decoration for valor, the Medal of Honor.

50. This letter from FDR to Stimson endorsing the War Department plans to form a combat team of American citizens of Japanese descent was reprinted in the camp newspapers. Topaz Times, Topaz, Utah, 8 February 1943, 1:2-3.

51. Dorothy Swaine Thomas and Richard S. Nishimoto, The Spoilage: Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1946), 57-58. For Issei males and females and Nisei females, Question 27 read: "If the opportunity presents itself and you are found qualified, would you be willing to volunteer for the Army Nurse Corps or the WAAC?"

52. Miyoko Morimoto Mizuki and Keiko Morimoto Kano interview with author, 5 August 2000.

53. Ibid.

54. "Independents," The Community Arts Association and the Public Library and Art Gallery, Palos Verdes Estates, California, 31 October-31 December 1933.

55. "Art and Artists," Los Angeles Herald Express, 18 November 1939.

56. Hideo Date interview with Nancy Moure at the Miyako Inn, Los Angeles, 6 July 1998. (The author wishes to thank Nancy Moure for providing her with the transcript of this interview.)

57. For an in-depth biography of Date and his work see Karin Higa, Living in Color: The Art of Hideo Date (Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum and Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2001).

58. Shirley Sun, Miné Okubo: An American Experience (Oakland, Calif.: Oakland Museum, 1972), 12.

59. Ibid., 42.

60. Miné Okubo, Citizen 13660 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1946).

61. Japan-California Daily News/Kashu Mainichi, Los Angeles, 24 February 1935, 1:3-4 and 2:1-2

62. Lisa See, On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 196. The murals are not extant; therefore, the author relied on the description of Okubo's creation of the murals in See's research, which included an interview with Tyrus Wong, Richard See, and Gilbert Leong. She states, "No one ever took a photograph of the interior of Dragon's Den -- or if they were taken, they haven't survived." Unbeknownst to See at the time, within Okubo's pa-pers are reproductions on postcards of the murals of the eight immortals.

63. Chisato Okubo interview with author, Los Angeles, California, 17 August 2000.

64. While at Heart Mountain, Ishigo was also employed by the WRA as a member of the Documentary Section of the Reports Division to create drawings and watercolors of the daily lives of the inmates. She later used these pictures to illustrate her experiences at Heart Mountain in Lone Heart Mountain (Los Angeles: Anderson, Ritchie and Simon, 1973). For additional information on Ishigo see Steve Okizaki's video documentary Days of Waiting: The Life and Art of Estelle Ishigo (National Asian American Telecommunication Association, 1986) and Estelle Ishigo Papers 1941-1957, Japanese American Research Project Collection, UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections.

65. Gompers Saijo, "Reminiscence: Art Students League of Heart Mountain, Wyoming" (unpublished typescript, collection of the author, 2001), 1.

66. Ibid., 3.

67. Heart Mountain Sentinel, 21 November 1942, 6:4-5.

68. Saijo "Reminiscence," 4.

69. Ibid., 5.

70. Ibid., 5-6.

71. Heart Mountain Sentinel, 13 December 1942, 8: 1-2.

72. Heart Mountain Sentinel, 22 January 1944, 1:2.

73. "The Art Students League Objectives and By-Laws" is an undated, handwritten document. The officers listed are Benji Okubo, president; Mrs. Benji Okubo, secretary; and Shingo Nishiura as Honorary Advisor. Since the Okubos were married on 12 June 1945, it is surmised that the document was written sometime after their marriage. Benji Okubo Papers, JANM.

74. Immigration and Naturalization Records, National Archives, Washington, D.C., List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival, San Francisco, California, S.S. Asia, 10 December 1910.

75. New York Times, Book Review Section, IV, 1: 1-4.

76. Alan Kumai, "He Makes Cartoons," Japan-California Daily News/Kashu Mainichi, Los Angeles, Christmas issue, 20 December 1962, Pt. I, 4:6-8.

77. Michel Kuwahara email to author, 12 January 2001.

78. Eizo Nishiura email to author, 3 June 2003.

79. WRA departure lists, Japanese American National Museum History Archives, microfilm, Heart Mountain.

80. Although most young Nisei men volunteered and served valiantly in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, there were those who resisted the draft and ultimately paid the price by imprisonment. For a comprehensive account of the Nisei draft resisters, see Eric L. Muller's To Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

81. Chisato Okubo interview, 17 August 2000.

essay © Pasadena Museum of California Art


Resource Library editor's note:

Click here to return to catalogue essays by Julia Armstrong-Totten, Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, and Will South.

The above essay was reprinted, without illustrations, in Resource Library on March 4, 2008 with the permission of the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Jenkins Shannon and Maureen St. Gaudens for their help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the museum in Resource Library.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Artists cited in the essay include:

Torajiro Watanabe 

Chiura Obata 

Yoshida Sekida 

Tokio Ueyama 

Iwakichi Shigematsu

Kinichi Nakanishi

Yotoku Miyagi

Benji Okubo

Miné Okubo

Hideo Date

Charles Isamu Morimoto

Tyrus Wong

Gompers Saijo

Fujiye Fujikawa

Dick Morioka

Chisato Takashima

Robert Kuwahara

Shingo Nishiura

Following are examples of artworks created by artists referenced in the above essay. Artworks and/or photographs shown may not be specific to this essay and are likely not cited in it. All images were obtained via Wikimedia Commons, which believes the images to be freely available for presentation here.  Another source readers may find helpful is Google Images. 


(above: Toshio Aoki, Daniel Freeman (Los Angeles County), 1895, drawing, Los Angeles Herald, February 17, 1895.  Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


(above: In a very colorful setting is Professor Chiura Obata at work at the Grimm Lamback Artificial Flower Co., as Mr. Harry Taylor, Art Director, looks on. Profess Obata is an evacuee from the Central Utah Relocation Center. A former resident of Berkeley, California, he is on leave of absence from the University of California, Berkeley, California, 9/20/44 Volume 50, Section F, WRA no. I-532, from UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library; War Relocation Authority, Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement, Series 13: Relocation. Photographer: Iwasaki, Hikaru -- St. Louis, Missouri. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


(above: Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Heart Mountain, Wyoming, Benji Okuda [sic, Okubo] instructing a life class, an adult night school group at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, 1943, photo by Tom Parker. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


(above: Spectators are viewing paintings and drawings of relocation center life by Miss Mine Okubo, Nisei, who resettled to new York from the Tapaz Center, at the opening of an exhibit of her work on March 6, at the American Common in New York under the auspices of the Common Council for American Unity. At the left is Miss M. Margaret Anderson, editor of Common Ground, the Council's quarterly. Miss Okubo came East in 1944 to serve as contributing artist to Fortune Magazine's special issue on Japan. She has also contributed to the New York Times, Saturday Review of Literature, Survey Graphic, and Lamp. She recently completed a manuscript for a book about the evacuation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Born in Riverside, Calif., her art work has been widely exhibited on the West Coast, where she won several prizes. The University of California awarded her the B.A. and M.A. degrees, and in 1938 its highest art honor -- the Bertha Henicke Taussig Memorial Traveling Fellowship. On this she studied for two years in Europe. She returned to this country when the war started and began work almost immediately at the Golden Gate Fair, demonstrating fresco painting. She was evacuated to the Tanforan Center in May 1942 and taught art for six months. At Central Utah, she was on the staff of the Topaz Times and art editor of Trek. Her father, a married brother and family are at the Poston Center. Another brother teaches art at Heart Mountain. A married sister and family resettled in Brooklyn, N.Y. Two other brothers are in the U.S. Army -- Pvt. Senji, who recently returned from France with the Purple Heart after service with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Pfc. Soku, who is stationed at Fort Snelling, Minn. 1945, Photo by Toge Fujihira, Toge, New York, New York.  Identifier: Volume 40, Section E, WRA no. G-830,  War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement, Series 12: Relocation: new homes, etc. (various places). Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Also see:

California Art History

California Artists: 19th-21st Century

California Impressionism

California Regionalism and California School of Painters

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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