by Barbara Johns. University of Washington Press, April 2017. 352 p. ill. ISBN 9780295999999 (h/c), $39.95.
Reviewed Septermber 2017
By the mid-1930s, Takuichi Fujii had achieved a regional reputation as one of Seattle’s Group of Twelve, and he is frequently associated with fellow Group of Twelve and Issei (first generation Japanese American) artists Kenjiro Namura and Kamekichi Tokita. All three artists were the subject of the Johns’ dissertation and she has previously written a similar book focused on Tokita: Signs of Home: The Paintings and Wartime Diary of Kamekichi Tokita (2011). Hope of Another Spring is the first monograph devoted to Takuichi Fujii and the companion publication to the current exhibition Witness to Wartime: Takuichi Fujii, also curated by the author.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and FDR’s Executive Order 9066, Fujii was one of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans forced to relocate from the West Coast to a network of remote concentration camps across the interior of the United States. During the two and a half years he spent at Washington’s Puyallup Assembly Center and the Minidoka War Relocation Center in southeast Idaho, he kept a dairy of sketches and commentary recording his observations and experiences. His diary captures harsh realities of daily life in the camps as well as the community’s adaptive and resilient spirit.
The present volume fills critical gaps in Fujii’s life—especially during and after the war—through close analysis of this diary (previously unpublished). Chapters detail Fujii’s life as a Japanese immigrant living in Seattle, his early career, internment, and later years in Chicago, as well as his developing interest and experimentation with abstraction. Along the way, Johns makes several explicit connections between individual drawings from the diary and his later works.
Appropriately, selections from the diary (a majority of the original) make up the second half of the book. Fujii’s ink drawings are arranged chronologically and appear alongside translations of the original corresponding text. Omission of the untranslated text is a minor complaint; however, the diary’s translation is the subject of a chapter by co-translator Sandy Kita, an art historian and the artist’s grandson, whose involvement yields additional and unique insights.
While this book will be of particular interest to institutions in the Northwest (and Chicago), where Fujii was professionally active, it is broadly relevant and widely recommended as American History. Fujii’s diary is approachable and intimate documentation of an under-emphasized chapter and perspective, and Barbara Johns brings welcome attention and analysis to this artist and his work.