Kametaro Matsumoto Puzzle (Paint, wood, lacquer) Courtesy of Delphine Hirasuna / Photo: Terry Heffernan

Kametaro Matsumoto
Puzzle (Paint, wood, lacquer)
Courtesy of Delphine Hirasuna / Photo: Terry Heffernan

Arts & Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps

AARP members can receive a $2 discount on tickets for the “Art of Gamen” by showing their AARP membership card at the Bellevue Arts Museum from July 3 – October 14.

The Art of Gaman showcases more than 120 artifacts made by Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II. It explores the creativity and ingenuity of these internees, as well as the concept of gaman, a Japanese expression for “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.” Works, ranging from tools, everyday objects, woodcarvings, paintings, furniture, toys, and more, are presented with historical context through photographs, documents, and films.

The Art of Gaman originally debuted at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco and has already been viewed by nearly half a million people. The display at BAM marks the exhibition’s much-anticipated return to the U.S. after its recent tour in Japan. Most of the objects on view are on loan from former internees or their families, but The Art of Gaman also includes works by renowned artists such as Ruth Asawa, Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, Chiura Obata, and Henry Sugimoto.

Jitsuro Hiramoto Mesquite, scrap lumber Courtesy of Delphine Hirasuna / Photo: Terry Heffernan

Jitsuro Hiramoto
Cranes – Mesquite, scrap lumber
Courtesy of Delphine Hirasuna / Photo: Terry Heffernan

Soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, all ethnic Japanese on the West Coast—more than two-thirds of whom were American citizens by birth—were ordered to leave their homes and forced into ten inland camps. The first group to be interned was 226 Japanese Americans living on Bainbridge Island. Given only a few days’ notice, they departed by ferry on March 30, 1942. Only 150 returned to the island after the war ended.

Himeko Fukuhara, Kazuko Matsumoto, Unidentified Artists Bird and animal pins Scrap wood, paint, metal Courtesy of Delphine Hirasuna / Photo: Terry Heffernan

Himeko Fukuhara, Kazuko Matsumoto, Unidentified Artists
Bird and animal pins
Scrap wood, paint, metal
Courtesy of Delphine Hirasuna / Photo: Terry Heffernan

While in these bleak camps, many of the internees used scraps and found materials to make furniture and other objects to beautify their surroundings. The act of creation became essential for both comfort and emotional survival. A dark, yet important chapter in American history, The Art of Gaman is a moving display of the perseverance, resourcefulness, and human spirit of these internees.

The exhibition is curated by Delphine Hirasuna, a third-generation Japanese-American. Hirasuna was organizing family belongings after her mother’s death when she found a hand-painted bird pin, stashed away in an old wooden box. It was this pin that inspired Hirasuna’s 2005 book, The Art of Gaman, and eventually led to the exhibition. Hirasuna will be giving a curator talk at Bellevue Arts Museum on July 3 from 7 to 8pm.

The Bellevue Arts Museum is located at 510 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue, WA  98004. For more information about the museum, visit www.bellevuearts.org