A Finding Aid to the Chiura Obata Papers, 1891-2000, bulk 1942-1945, in the Archives of American Art
Digitized Content

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.obatchiu
Creators:
Obata, Chiura
Dates:
1891-2000
bulk 1942-1945
Languages:
Multiple languages
The collection is in English and Japanese.
Physical Description:
2.6 Linear feet
Repository:
The papers of Japanese-American artist and educator Chiura Obata measure 2.6 linear feet and date from circa 1891 to 2000 with the bulk of the material dating from 1942 to 1945. The collection contains biographical material primarily related to Obata's family's forced relocation from Berkeley to Tanforan detention center and incarceration at the Topaz Relocation center; correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues; writings by Chiura Obata and others; material related to the art schools Obata established at Tanforan and Topaz; teaching files and professional activities; exhibition files; printed material, including TREK, and Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata's Art of Internment; photographic material; and sketches and sketchbooks.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The papers of Japanese-American artist and educator Chiura Obata measure 2.6 linear feet and date from circa 1891 to 2000 with the bulk of the material dating from 1942 to 1945. The collection contains biographical material primarily related to Obata's family's forced relocation from Berkeley to Tanforan detention center and incarceration at the Topaz Relocation center; correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues; writings by Chiura Obata and others; material related to the art schools Obata established at Tanforan and Topaz; teaching files and professional activities; exhibition files; printed material, including TREK, and Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata's Art of Internment; photographic material; and sketches and sketchbooks.
Biographical material includes Chiura Obata's school diplomas and resumes, as well as material related to his family's forced relocation and incarceration at Tanforan and Topaz, and eventual resettlement. There is a small amount of biographical material on others, such as records of memorial meetings held for Perham Nahl and material related to the forced relocation of Hiro Niwa.
The correspondence series consists of letters between Chiura Obata and family, friends, and colleagues, primarily while he was incarcerated at Tanforan and Topaz. Notable correspondents include John Boylin, Monroe Deutsch, Dorothy Parker, Miné Okubo, and Ruth Kingman. There are also letters of appreciation from students who attended the art schools established by Chiura Obata at Tanforan and Topaz.
Writings include diaries, lecture drafts, notes, and essays. Most of the writings are about art, but some are about Obata's experiences at Tanforan and Topaz. Also included in this series are translations of Obata's paintings and poems and writings by others on various subjects.
The professional activities series contains materials related to Obata's work as an artist and educator from his time teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, to the Tanforan and Topaz Art Schools he founded. Most of the series consists of teaching files, but there are other files on projects, commissions, inventory lists, and art donations.
Exhibition files include a range of materials related to group and solo exhibitions of Chiura Obata's paintings. There are exhibition lists, price lists, catalogs, photographs, correspondence, loan forms, clippings, printed material, and one guest register.
Printed material includes exhibition announcements, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, clippings and calendars. Noteworthy items include copies of TREK, which were published by the Japanese Americans incarcerated at Topaz; printed material related to Miné Okubo; and copies of Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata's Art of Internment.
Photographic material includes an album from the Pan Pacific International Exposition and photographs of the Obata family's forced relocation from Berkeley, the Tanforan Art School, and their home in Webster Groves, Missouri, after they left the incarceration camps. There are also photographs used in the book Topaz Moon and photographs by the War Relocation Authority.
Artwork consists of a few watercolors, sketchbooks, and sketches, some of which were created during Obata's incarceration at Topaz. Other sketches were done for commercial work in St. Louis. There is an autograph book containing sketches and paintings by others.
Researchers should note that the term "evacuation" has been replaced in original folder titles with "forced relocation" for more accurate historical representation.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged in 8 series.
  • Series 1: Biographical Material, 1894-1898, 1935-circa 1975 (Box 1, OV 4; 0.2 linear feet)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, 1925-1992 (Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)
  • Series 3: Writings, 1924-circa 1964, circa 1986 (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
  • Series 4: Professional Activities, 1913, 1924-1967 (Boxes 1-2, OV 4; 0.3 linear feet)
  • Series 5: Exhibition Files, 1925-1951 (Box 2, OV4; 0.3 linear feet)
  • Series 6: Printed Material, 1901-circa 1906, 1925-2000 (Box 2, OV 5; 0.8 linear feet)
  • Series 7: Photographic Material, circa 1891-1969 (Box 3; 0.2 linear feet)
  • Series 8: Artwork, 1917-circa 1945 (Box 3, OV 5; 0.2 linear feet)

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Chiura Obata (1885-1975) was a Japanese-American artist and educator. Born Zoroku Sato in Okayama prefecture in Japan, Obata showed artistic talent early in life. He joined the artist group Nihon Bijutsuin (the Japan Art Institute) and apprenticed with Tanryo Murata. Obata also trained in Western and modern Japanese art.
In 1903 Obata immigrated to the United States. He worked as a commercial designer and as an illustrator for newspapers including the New World and the Japanese American, San Francisco's two Japanese newspapers. In 1921 he co-founded the East West Art Society in San Francisco. He had his first exhibition for American audiences in 1928 and began teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1932.
In April of 1942, as a result of Executive Order 9066, Chiura Obata and his family were forcibly relocated from Berkley to Tanforan detention center. By May he and fellow artists had established an art school with over 900 students. The school was successful and they were able to hold an exhibition outside of the camp in July. In September of 1942, the Obatas were moved to the Topaz War Relocation center, where Obata founded the Topaz Art School.
In the spring of 1943 in the wake of the controversy over loyalty oaths, Obata was attacked by another prisoner who considered him to be a spy. After recovering in Topaz's hospital, he was released for his own safety. He and his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where his son Gyo was attending architecture school.
In 1945 Obata was reinstated as an instructor at the University of California, Berkeley. He continued to exhibit his artwork and went on sketching and painting trips with the Sierra Club. In 1954 he became a naturalized citizen.
After his retirement from the University of California, Berkeley in 1953, Obata and his wife, Haruko, led tours to Japan to see Japanese gardens and art. He also gave lectures and demonstrations on Japanese brush painting and led tours through California. In 1965 Obata received the Order of the Sacred Treasure Emperor's Award for promoting good will and cultural understanding between the United States and Japan. Chiura Obata died in 1975 at the age of 90.

Administration
Existence and Location of Copies
The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2019 and is available on the Archives of American Art's website.
Processing Information
The collection was minimally processed and a finding aid prepared by Rayna Andrews in 2019. The collection was fully processed, prepared for digitization, and described in a finding aid by Rihoko Ueno in 2019 with funding provided by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
Author
Rayna Andrews and Rihoko Ueno
Sponsor
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Chiura Obata papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in 2018 by Kimi Kodani Hill and Mia Kodani Brill, Chiura Obata's grandchildren.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.
Conditions Governing Use
The Archives of American Art makes its archival collections available for non-commercial, educational and personal use unless restricted by copyright and/or donor restrictions, including but not limited to access and publication restrictions. AAA makes no representations concerning such rights and restrictions and it is the user's responsibility to determine whether rights or restrictions exist and to obtain any necessary permission to access, use, reproduce and publish the collections. Please refer to the Smithsonian Terms of Use for additional information.
Preferred Citation
Chiura Obata papers, circa 1891-2000. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Artists -- California Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Painters -- California -- Berkeley Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Educators Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Japanese American artists Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Asian American artists Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drawings Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sketchbooks Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Diaries Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Japanese Americans -- Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945 Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
World War, 1939-1945 -- Japanese Americans Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Obata, Gyo, 1923- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Okubo, Miné, 1912-2001 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Central Utah Relocation Center Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tanforan Assembly Center (San Bruno, Calif.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C. 20001
https://www.aaa.si.edu/services/questions
https://www.aaa.si.edu/