Art that touches the heart
Exhibit shares emotional piece of history encompassing San Joaquin Valley soul
By Jo Ann Kirby
January 18, 2014
A new exhibit opening Sunday at The California Museum in Sacramento features arts and crafts from the internment camps where Japanese-Americans were forced to relocate during World War II.
Many of the items on display in “The Art of Gaman: Arts & Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946″ were made by farmers, shopkeepers and housewives from the San Joaquin Valley, including Lodi and Stockton.
“This is partly due to the fact that I grew up in Lodi, and when I started gathering objects for my book and exhibition, I asked friends and relatives in this area first,” said Delphine Hirasuna, author of 2005 book “The Art of Gaman” and a guest curator of the exhibit said. “I was going through my parents things, and I had found a bird pin in a box in their garage.”
The California Museum
Hirasuna discovered her pin had been made in a camp, and when she started asking around, she found more.
Her book features photos of beautifully handcrafted items.
“You have to understand, they had nothing except a metal cot,” Hirasuna, who lives in San Francisco, said of the internees. “So they had to make everything with whatever scraps they could find. At first they made things out of necessity, such as hangers for their clothes or chairs. Then they crafted toys and artwork. I think what’s most amazing is that these were ordinary people who had no formal art training and made these beautiful things.”
A cow in the exhibit, she said, was created by a Lodi farmer.
“By and large, when they left the camps, they didn’t continue to create art,” she said of how they had to rebuild their lives from scratch.
The exhibit, which runs through May 11, features 120 object, including an incredible woven basket.
“It was made out of crepe paper that was shellaced and then woven,” said Brenna Hamilton, museum communications director. “It looks like it was made of a natural fiber. I think people are going to be absolutely blown away with the resourcefulness of the internees.”
Many of the objects were hidden in attics or garages.
“It represented a painful period in their lives so they stored it,” Hirasuna said. “I think most people threw a lot of the handmade things away before they left the camps. They didn’t know where they would be living.”
In the months following the bombing of Peral Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese-Americans residing on the West Coast were forced to leave their homes and relocated to one of 10 internment camps in isolated areas of the country.
The Japanese concept of gaman – used in the title of the exhibit and Hirasuna’s book -means to endure the unbearable with patience and dignity.
“The Central Valley was California’s ‘ground zero’ in this lesser known chapter of history,” said Dori Moorehead, The California Museum’s executive director. “The exhibit chronicles this often unheard of story through artifcats that personify the dignity and patience that allowed the internees to endure the experience of internment and persevere despite their losses.”
One formally-interned docent at The California Museum has first-hand knowledge of the camps.
Christine Umeda was just 4 years old when her family was forced to leave their home in Sacramento.
“I do remember some of it,” she said of what would total a series of three camps the Japanese-American family was forced to relocate to during World War II. “I blocked a lot of it out.”
That’s because, weeks after arriving at the first camp she came down with pneumonia and was taken screaming from her family to an infirmary and then a hospital with no family allowed to accompany her.
“My parents put it behind them,” she said. “It wasn’t something they talked about.”
At The California Museum, she works on the Time of Remembrance learning program and exhibit tour, which is available to students annually January through March.
Today, she is doing the talking.
THE CALIFORNIA MUSEUM
What: “The Art of Gaman” exhibit opens Sunday and features arts and crafts from Japanese-Americans who were interned during WWII. A workshop Jan. 25 will feature a presentation on Sacramento’s lost Japantown, origami crafts for children, museum tours and more.
Where: 1020 O St., Sacramento
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and federal holidays including Martin Luther King Jr. Day; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Admission: adults, $9; college students and seniors, $7.50 with valid ID; youth ages 6-17, $6.50; children 5 and younger free.