The upcoming “The Art of Living” exhibit of work by the Japanese-Americans interned at Rohwer Relocation Camp during World War II, which opens Friday in Concordia Hall of the Arkansas Studies Institute, must-see show on many levels. There’s some wonderful art there, of course, but learning about the circumstances under which it was made will make a visit a rich experience.
We’ve seen work by Japanese Americans incarcerated at Rohwer and Jerome before — in 2004, when the “Life Interrupted” project brought internees and their families to Little Rock for a reunion. The Cox Creative Center featured an exhibit of the work of Henry Sugimoto, who was interned both at Jerome and Rohwer and who made a career as an artist and fabric designer in New York after his release from Rohwer. The University of Little Rock exhibited sketches made by students for murals describing their lives:
The center and its murals are gone, but Rose Jamison saved the sheet sketches, bequeathing them and other objects made by her students to museums and various people, including the former mayor of McGehee, Rosalie Gould. Back in Arkansas for the first time in 60 years, the murals depict the camp’s attempts at normalcy — innocently, it seems, and not as propaganda. A Christian minister takes center stage in Michi Tanakas’s mural “Community.” To his left are high school students walking to class and dancers in bright kimonos; on the right, boys are playing basketball and girls sewing. It looks like any community, though we know it was one in which life was so hard that Jamison nearly left many times, staying only for the students.
“The Art of Living” includes photographs of the finished murals, which were destroyed in a fire, and three works by Henry Sugimoto made post-incarceration. But its central attraction are the wooden bird pins, carvings and other objects, the portraits and the watercolors of the camp itself, a beautiful medium depicting a scene of guard towers, wooden barracks and muddy ground.
Art teacher Rose Jamison, referred to in the quote above, who became Rose Jamison (“Jamie”) Vogel after the war, bequeathed works of art she’d saved from the camp to Rosalie Gould, once the mayor of MGehee, the closest town to Rohwer. Gould donated the collection to the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, housed in the Arkansas Studies Institute, last year.
The exhibit opens Friday; the reception from 5-8 p.m. that evening is part of the evening’s 2nd Friday Art Night events.