Sunday, October 14, 2012

Art from the Camps

This week I have been working mostly on the computer, accessioning small artifacts and objects made in the internment camps. I have also been working on updating the biographies of people who either have donated to the archive, or who are associated with some of the materials. Knowing some of the background and relationships of the individuals connected to the items really brings them to life, and helps create a greater story around the objects. Instead of a selection of random objects, through the people involved the history we can develop a greater understanding of the significance of all of it.

While accessioning I came across a few very interesting items that force us to realize that the camps were a home to some people. Although their lives were halted and put off track by the events during the war; hobbies, traditions and creativity found a home in their makeshift temporary homes and communities.

The first piece I cam across was a small multicolored crocheted piece. It looked very much like a practice piece. With it was information about its origins. If I remember correctly, it was made in a relocation center in Topaz, Utah by a woman who was not the donor. When we go through these items, we often learn about the many different hands they have been passed through on their journey. We hope that at the archive we can give them a proper and respectful place to preserve their stories.

The second item I found included 4 little hand - carved and hand - painted birds. They appear to be made from found objects, as the back of one bird has a safety pin fastened to it (to be used as a brooch). Two of the birds have more sophisticated materials, and are much more detailed than the others. They are either built by a more skilled artist or perhaps the same artist using a different and more experienced style/ technique. I had information about their origin and the artist for the two more detailed birds. I hope to be able to dig up some other information about the simpler birds the next time I visit the archive. These objects were some of my favorite to work with because they gave me such a strong sense of the types of normal lives that the Japanese Americans interned hoped to achieve in whatever small ways they could. I think that art is one of the strongest links to the true experiences of people in history.

A third item was a miniature stone sculpture of a Japanese garden sculpture. This piece had a letter with it containing some information about its origin. Its was made in Block 38 of the Poston Relocation Center although the artist is unknown. The stones it is made of may have been collected from the surrounding area of the internment camp. If that is true, it could potentially be very interesting to a geologist, or anyone with an interest in natural history. Knowing the Block that the piece was made truly puts the work at the archive into perspective. In a normal circumstance, this tiny stone sculpture would be worthless, and simply a trinket. However, given the gravity of the nature surrounding it, the tiny stone piece gains great value for the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society. Without others also identifying its importance and donating these items, many features of our history would be lost forever. Without these pieces and their donors, there would be no history available to study, so we a truly indebted to their generosity.

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