Blue Koho Yamamoto Painting

Blue Koho Yamamoto Painting

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Koho Yamamoto was the apprentice of the master artist Chiura Obata during their time at the Topaz detention center. Koho was able to hone the skills the eventually made her the standard for Sumi-E painting in New York City. During her incarceration with Obata she adopted his style and philosophy when it came to art. Both painted beautiful landscapes of the lonely, serene camp in Topaz.
This landscape by Koho depicts the Topaz imprisonment site at night. The small crescent moon sheds its weak light onto the barren camp. Koho captures the loneliness felt by many while imprisoned in these camps across western America. Another artist that felt and expressed his loneliness during his imprisonment through art is Jimmy Mirikitani. Jimmy and Koho actually met after the war around 1952, and Jimmy gave Koho a couple sketches of the Tule Lake detention center where he was held captive.
After moving to New York City and meeting Jimmy, Koho opened up her own art school in Soho. She taught Sumi-E painting and the Zen philosophy that went along with it. She gained fame by founding the only Sumi-E school in all of New York, as well as through her masterful paintings.
A color sumi-e painting of barracks in a Japanese American prison camp at night time by Koho Yamamoto. Different shades of blue dominate the painting and white ink has been used to make a small crescent moon in the sky. Koho, a student of Chiura Obata at the Topaz incarceration camp, has signed the work in the bottom right hand corner.
Born in California as Masako Yamamoto in 1922, Koho and her family were incarcerated at the Japanese American incarceration camp in Topaz, Utah during World War II. Koho became the star pupil of Chiura Obata (1885-1975), a master sumi-e artist and calligrapher who was also a Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of California, Berkeley. Koho received her name, meaning “Red Harbor,” from Chiura whose name translates to “Thousand Harbors,” as a symbol of spiritual succession to teach the art of Japanese brush painting. After the war, Koho moved to New York City and made a successful career exhibiting and lecturing as an artist. She founded and was the sole instructor of the Koho School of Sumi-e until it closed in 2010.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 10 5/8 in x 13 5/8 in; 26.9875 cm x 34.6075 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Koho Yamamoto
See more items in
Political and Military History: Armed Forces History, Japanese American
Executive Order 9066
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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