The papers of Japanese-American artist and educator Chiura Obata measure 3.6 linear feet and date from circa 1891 to 2000 with the bulk of the material dating from 1942 to 1945. The collection contains biographical material primarily related to Obata's family's forced relocation from Berkeley to Tanforan detention center and incarceration at the Topaz Relocation center; correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues; writings by Chiura Obata and others; material related to the art schools Obata established at Tanforan and Topaz; teaching files and professional activities; exhibition files; printed material, including TREK, and Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata's Art of Internment; photographic material; and sketches and sketchbooks. There is a 1.0 linear foot unprocessed addition to this collection donated in 2020 that includes correspondence, writings, subject files and printed material.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of Japanese-American artist and educator Chiura Obata measure 3.6 linear feet and date from circa 1891 to 2000 with the bulk of the material dating from 1942 to 1945. The collection contains biographical material primarily related to Obata's family's forced relocation from Berkeley to Tanforan detention center and incarceration at the Topaz Relocation center; correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues; writings by Chiura Obata and others; material related to the art schools Obata established at Tanforan and Topaz; teaching files and professional activities; exhibition files; printed material, including TREK, and Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata's Art of Internment; photographic material; and sketches and sketchbooks.
Biographical material includes Chiura Obata's school diplomas and resumes, as well as material related to his family's forced relocation and incarceration at Tanforan and Topaz, and eventual resettlement. There is a small amount of biographical material on others, such as records of memorial meetings held for Perham Nahl and material related to the forced relocation of Hiro Niwa.
The correspondence series consists of letters between Chiura Obata and family, friends, and colleagues, primarily while he was incarcerated at Tanforan and Topaz. Notable correspondents include John Boylin, Monroe Deutsch, Dorothy Parker, Miné Okubo, and Ruth Kingman. There are also letters of appreciation from students who attended the art schools established by Chiura Obata at Tanforan and Topaz.
Writings include diaries, lecture drafts, notes, and essays. Most of the writings are about art, but some are about Obata's experiences at Tanforan and Topaz. Also included in this series are translations of Obata's paintings and poems and writings by others on various subjects.
The professional activities series contains materials related to Obata's work as an artist and educator from his time teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, to the Tanforan and Topaz Art Schools he founded. Most of the series consists of teaching files, but there are other files on projects, commissions, inventory lists, and art donations.
Exhibition files include a range of materials related to group and solo exhibitions of Chiura Obata's paintings. There are exhibition lists, price lists, catalogs, photographs, correspondence, loan forms, clippings, printed material, and one guest register.
Printed material includes exhibition announcements, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, clippings and calendars. Noteworthy items include copies of TREK, which were published by the Japanese Americans incarcerated at Topaz; printed material related to Miné Okubo; and copies of Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata's Art of Internment.
Photographic material includes an album from the Pan Pacific International Exposition and photographs of the Obata family's forced relocation from Berkeley, the Tanforan Art School, and their home in Webster Groves, Missouri, after they left the incarceration camps. There are also photographs used in the book Topaz Moon and photographs by the War Relocation Authority.
Artwork consists of a few watercolors, sketchbooks, and sketches, some of which were created during Obata's incarceration at Topaz. Other sketches were done for commercial work in St. Louis. There is an autograph book containing sketches and paintings by others.
Researchers should note that the term "evacuation" has been replaced in original folder titles with "forced relocation" for more accurate historical representation.
The collection is arranged in 9 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1894-1898, 1935-circa 1975 (Box 1, OV 4; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1925-1992 (Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, 1924-circa 1964, circa 1986 (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 4: Professional Activities, 1913, 1924-1967 (Boxes 1-2, OV 4; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 5: Exhibition Files, 1925-1951 (Box 2, OV4; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1901-circa 1906, 1925-2000 (Box 2, OV 5; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 7: Photographic Material, circa 1891-1969 (Box 3; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 8: Artwork, 1917-circa 1945 (Box 3, OV 5; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 9: Unprocessed Addition (Box 6; 1.0 linear feet)
Biographical / Historical:
Chiura Obata (1885-1975) was a Japanese-American artist and educator. Born Zoroku Sato in Okayama prefecture in Japan, Obata showed artistic talent early in life. He joined the artist group Nihon Bijutsuin (the Japan Art Institute) and apprenticed with Tanryo Murata. Obata also trained in Western and modern Japanese art.
In 1903 Obata immigrated to the United States. He worked as a commercial designer and as an illustrator for newspapers including the New World and the Japanese American, San Francisco's two Japanese newspapers. In 1921 he co-founded the East West Art Society in San Francisco. He had his first exhibition for American audiences in 1928 and began teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1932.
In April of 1942, as a result of Executive Order 9066, Chiura Obata and his family were forcibly relocated from Berkley to Tanforan detention center. By May he and fellow artists had established an art school with over 900 students. The school was successful and they were able to hold an exhibition outside of the camp in July. In September of 1942, the Obatas were moved to the Topaz War Relocation center, where Obata founded the Topaz Art School.
In the spring of 1943 in the wake of the controversy over loyalty oaths, Obata was attacked by another prisoner who considered him to be a spy. After recovering in Topaz's hospital, he was released for his own safety. He and his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where his son Gyo was attending architecture school.
In 1945 Obata was reinstated as an instructor at the University of California, Berkeley. He continued to exhibit his artwork and went on sketching and painting trips with the Sierra Club. In 1954 he became a naturalized citizen.
After his retirement from the University of California, Berkeley in 1953, Obata and his wife, Haruko, led tours to Japan to see Japanese gardens and art. He also gave lectures and demonstrations on Japanese brush painting and led tours through California. In 1965 Obata received the Order of the Sacred Treasure Emperor's Award for promoting good will and cultural understanding between the United States and Japan. Chiura Obata died in 1975 at the age of 90.
The Chiura Obata papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in 2018 and 2020 by Kimi Kodani Hill and Mia Kodani Brill, Chiura Obata's grandchildren.
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.
United States of America -- District of Columbia -- Washington
The seven-acre landscape that surrounds the massive National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C. features multi-tiered terraces planted in plains of lawn and shrubs. It was installed to coincide with the museum's opening on July 1, 1976.
Congress first appropriated funds for NASM's construction in 1971, and architect Gyo Obata was hired to design a building large enough to display the huge exhibits (including airplanes and rockets) without dominating other nearby buildings, especially the U.S. Capitol. Obata accomplished this with two major techniques. First, he designed the long building to alternate between cubes of pink Tennessee marble and smaller, dark atria made of steel and glass. Second, he called for a walled terrace garden along the building's perimeter, softening the building's edges and obscuring the line between it and the ground plane.
The sheer size of the museum divides the garden into north and south microclimates, making it especially challenging to maintain. In 1996, landscape architects Paul Lindell and Karen Swanson of the Smithsonian's Horticulture Services Division (later Smithsonian Gardens) replaced the terraced lawn beds with hearty perennials, and also planted numerous trees. These stronger plantings made the maintenance of the enormous landscape more manageable, and further-obscured the line between the ground and building.
A "Flight Garden" for the Air and Space Museum is planned to demonstrate principles of flight by attracting flying animals. Interpretive signs will explain the flying abilities of insects and birds as well as methods of aerial seed dispersal by plants.
People associated with this garden include: Gyo Obata (architect, 1971-1976). Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (architectural firm, 1971-1976). Paul Lindell (landscape architect, 1996). Karen Swanson (landscape architect, 1996).
Landscape at the National Air and Space Museum related holdings consist of (35mm slides (photographs), negatives, photographic prints, and digital images)
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Smithsonian Gardens Image Library, Archives of American Gardens, Smithsonian Institution.