The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942–1946, an exhibit currently on display at the Renwick Gallery.
Delphine Hirasuna, guest curator of the exhibition and author of the accompanying catalogue, said that the idea for the exhibit began because of a bird pin. After the death of her mother, Hirasuna found a stunning hand made bird pin while she was cleaning out her mom's attic. She realized it was a piece of art jewelry created when her mother was interned in camps at the direction of the FDR following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Japanese Americans taken to the camps were only allowed to bring what they could carry. The camps provided only Army cots in the living quarters. Folks interned in the camps began to create objects out of necessity. The made chairs, tables, places to hang their clothes.
As time in the camps progressed, artists began to train camp dwellers in various crafts to help stave off boredom and to add beauty to life events-- both special and ordinary.. Corsages were made out of shells to celebrate weddings. Vases were made from leftover pipes to hold plants. Canes were carved from wood to help folks walk in the mud.
Discovery of the bird pin led Hirasuna to investigate other crafts made in the camps. The result is a spectacular exhibit. Hirasuna managed to select fabulous examples of found art and explain the significance of each piece in a way that highlighted the plight of its maker. My college age son, a government major, declared The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942–1946 "the best exhibit I have seen in a long time." I concur.
The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942–1946 is on exhibit at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC now through January 30, 2011.
Himeko Fukuhara, Kazuko Matsumoto (Interned at Amache, Colorado, and Gila River, Arizona). Bird pins. Scrap wood, paint, metal. Collection of the National Japanese American Historical Society. From The Art of Gaman by Delphine Hirasuna, ©2005, Ten Speed Press. Terry Heffernan photo.