An Issei Woman Artist: Hisako Hibi

Andréa Fernandes

Continuing our quest to bring you an artist from a different country in each June post of "Feel Art Again," today's post features Japanese-American artist Hisako Hibi (1907-1991) at the request of reader Therese.

1. When Hisako Hibi's parents moved to the United States, Hibi remained in Japan with her "Zen grandmother." A few years later, when her parents sent for her, Hibi was reluctant to join them in their new home "“ she was only 13, a difficult time in any girl's life even without moving to a whole new continent. Yet 5 years later, when her parents were financially established to move back to Japan, Hibi chose to remain in the United States by herself. (She didn't become a U.S. citizen for another 28 years, though.)

2. During World War II, Hibi and her husband, fellow artist George Matusaburo Hibi, along with their two children, were interned at the Topaz Concentration Camp. The Hibi family spent 3 years in Topaz, during which time Hisako and George served as teachers at the art school in the camp. Those interned in the camps weren't allowed to have cameras, so painting and journaling were their only ways of recording their lives inside the fences. Hisako's 70 or more paintings completed at Topaz depict family life in the internment camp "“ such as bathing children in laundry basins, as in "Laundry Room" (above) "“ as well as the nature surrounding Topaz.

3. Shortly after the Hibis' release from Topaz and relocation to New York City, George Hibi died of cancer. Apparently, his jaundice wasn't noticed by the Caucasian doctor because the doctor "thought Asians have naturally yellowish skin." Hisako, who believed "art consoles the spirit," continued painting while taking up work as a dressmaker to support herself and her two children.

4. Hisako Hibi's family has published two books that honor the artist. Peaceful Painter: Memoir of an Issei Woman Artist, Hibi's autobiography, was edited by her daughter, Ibuki Hibi Lee. A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, a children's book inspired by Hibi's paintings, was written by Amy Lee-Tai, Hibi's granddaughter, and tells the story of a young girl taking art classes at Topaz during WWII.

A larger version of "Laundry Room" (1945) and more information about the painting are available. Fans should check out the Hibi collection in the Japanese American National Museum; this photo of the Topaz art school, including Hibi; Hibi's autobiography, Peaceful Painter; and A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Hibi's granddaughter.