California Museum Acquires Internment Camp Art Pulled from Auction

  • LOS ANGELES, California
  • /
  • May 04, 2015

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Estelle Peck Ishigo, Oil on Canvas. Photo by Rago Arts and Auction Center.

The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles announced that it has acquired a collection of more than 400 pieces of historical art and artifacts created by Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. JANM’s acquisition ensures these artifacts will be properly preserved and honors the interests of Japanese Americans across the country who expressed concern for the future of these items.

JANM worked through Rago Arts and Auction Center in New Jersey and the consignor to acquire the private collection, which includes artifacts and photographs collected by Allen Hendershott Eaton who wrote a book in 1952 publicizing the injustice of America’s concentration camps for Japanese Americans, where more than 120,000 men, women, and children were kept behind barbed wire by their own country.

“The mission of the Japanese American National Museum is to share this story,” said JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura. “We honor the sacrifice of our forebears who suffered to prove their loyalty to the U.S. by ensuring that such Constitutional violations never happen again. I’m very pleased that our museum, Rago Arts and Auction Center, and the John Ryan family of Connecticut, which possessed the artifacts, were able to reach an agreement that reflects our mutual interests. We all want to see these items appropriately preserved.“

Building upon JANM’s already sizable collection of art and artifacts, some of which are on display as part of its core exhibition Common Ground: The Heart of Community, the new Eaton acquisitions include nameplates carved from wood that were once attached to tar-paper barracks, as well as oil and watercolor paintings by Japanese American families living in the camps during World War II. The objects tell an important story for all Americans about the creativity and resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of extreme racial prejudice. Today’s announcement was made during JANM’s annual Gala Dinner, which honored actor and activist George Takei with the museum’s Distinguished Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement and Public Service. A young Takei and his family were among those incarcerated during World War II.

“I believe that through understanding comes respect, and JANM continues to take major steps forward to increase the public’s understanding of a grievous chapter in American history,” said Takei, chairman emeritus of the museum’s Board of Trustees, and the fifth recipient of JANM’s Medal of Honor. “All of us can take to heart that our voices were heard and that these items will be preserved and the people who created them during a very dark period in our history will be honored. The collection will now reside at the preeminent American museum that tells the story of the Japanese American experience.”

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