On his first official trip to Hendrix College in 2013, President Tsutsui noticed a painting hanging on the wall in the Mills Center.
He knew it was a scene from the internment of more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, many of them U.S. citizens, during World War II.
Tsutsui thought the painting might be the work of Henry Sugimoto, an artist whose work Tsutsui had seen at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California. He was correct.
But Tsutsui didn’t know the story of how the painting — “Arrival in Jerome” — got to Hendrix.
Once he learned, Tsutsui wanted to make sure that everyone who saw the painting at Hendrix knew the story of the Japanese internment, Henry Sugimoto, and how Hendrix acquired the painting.
Born in Wakayama, Japan, in 1900, Sugimoto immigrated to the United States in 1919. He studied Western painting, earning a BFA with honors from the California School of Arts and Crafts in 1928. He studied the French masters at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and placed works in several exhibitions, including the prestigious Salon d’Automne.
In 1932, Sugimoto returned to California, married his high school sweetheart, Susie Tagawa, and continued to paint and exhibit. After Pearl Harbor, the Sugimotos and their daughter Madeleine were relocated. Two of the 10 internment centers were in Arkansas: the Rohwer camp in Desha County and the Jerome camp in Drew and Chicot Counties. Each held approximately 8,500 internees. When the Sugimotos arrived at the Jerome Relocation Center in October 1942, the artist had lost much of his life’s work and believed his artistic career was over.
In the camps, Sugimoto sketched the everyday experiences of internees in the camps. Military authorities discovered his work and used it for propaganda because they thought that it illustrated the “freedom” internees enjoyed.
In 1943, Hendrix art faculty members Louis Freund, Elsie Freund, and Floy K. Hanson visited the Jerome Relocation Center, where they met Sugimoto. Mrs. Freund and Ms. Hanson arranged an exhibition of 15 paintings at Hendrix in February 1944 to publicize the artist and the plight of interned Japanese-Americans. The Sugimotos attended the opening and a reception held in their honor. Paul Faris, Professor of English and Photography at Hendrix, photographed the occasion. At the exhibit’s conclusion, Hendrix purchased “Arrival in Jerome.”
“It is a testament to the Hendrix community and its enduring commitment to inclusiveness that, even in a time of war and fear and injustice, the campus could welcome a Japanese-American artist with talent and a quiet message of resignation, loyalty, and dignity in distress,” said Tsutsui.
The day before his inauguration as the 11th President of Hendrix, Tsutsui invited Hendrix faculty, staff, students, and community to a ceremony on campus to unveil a new interpretive plaque, which tells the story of Sugimoto, his exhibition at Hendrix, and the internment experience.
The plaque’s text was written with the assistance of Hendrix history professor Dr. Michael Sprunger and students in the yearlong interdisciplinary course Crossings: Peace, War, and Memory, including Ariel McDonald ’16, Michala Roberts ’17, and Jesse Gavin ’15.
At the plaque’s unveiling, Irene Hirano Innouye, President of the U.S.-Japan Council, spoke about her friendship with President Tsutsui, the legacy of Sugimoto’s work, and the importance of remembering the internment experience.
Madeleine Sugimoto, the daughter of Henry Sugimoto, who is depicted as a child holding her doll in “Arrival in Jerome,” told the audience of her experience as a child in the internment camps and her father’s determination to be an artist, recycling raw canvas material from the camp to paint on.
The Sugimotos were transferred to Rohwer in 1944. When the camp closed in the summer of 1945, the family moved to New York City, where Henry emerged as a powerful documenter of the Japanese-American experience. Sugimoto, who died in 1990, participated in the redress movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and his works were featured in exhibitions in New York and Japan, and at the National Museum of American History and the Japanese American National Museum.
View the event's photo album on Flickr.