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Description (Brief)
This work of art shows that not every painting that was made in the camps was focused on the somber imprisonment. The Japanese American captives still managed to find beauty, and express that in creative ways like art. This painting was done by Obata or one of his students at the camps, and shows a beautiful twisted tree trunk. This painting showcases the Japanese sumi-e style that Obata was famous for.
A black and white sumi-e painting of a tree, likely done by a Chiura Obata (1885-1975) or one of his students at a Japanese American prison camp during World War II. The painting is composed with traditional sumi-e brushwork technique and depicts a tree with a twisted trunk and foliage at an angle on the side of a mountain.
Born Zoroku Obata in Okayama-ken, Japan in 1885, Obata moved to California in 1903 and was one of the earliest Japanese artists to live and work in the United States. Obata was the first artist of Japanese descent to be a faculty member at UC Berkeley, where he started teaching in 1932. In 1942 he and his family were removed from Berkeley and imprisoned at the Tanforan temporary detention center and Topaz Japanese American incarceration camp under Executive Order 9066. At Tanforan, Obata started an art school with George Matsusaburo Hibi which he continued upon transfer to Topaz, teaching hundreds of students and creating a large body of artwork depicting everyday life in the camps and surrounding landscapes. Obata became a naturalized citizen in 1954, a year after retiring as Professor Emeritus from UC Berkeley. He spent the rest of his life traveling widely, lecturing and demonstrating Japanese brush painting. Obata is most well-known for his signature style of painting which blends Japanese and Western techniques and his large-scale landscapes. He also created an award-winning series of color woodblock prints at the Takamizawa Print Works in Japan inspired by his 1927 trip to Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada. Chiura Obata died on October 6, 1975 at age 89.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
circa 1940s
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 21 7/8 in x 16 in; 55.5625 cm x 40.64 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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