A story in the New York Times caught our attention recently. It announced the cancellation of a sale that would have put up for auction artwork collected from detainees of the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II. The art, which was given to historian Allen H. Eaton during the 1950s, was featured in Eaton’s 1952 book, Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps.
The Times reports that more than 6,700 people, including actor and former detainee George Takei, signed a petition on change.org to postpone or call off the sale. The protest was led by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, a memorial center, which filed legal proceedings to stop the sale. They noted that Mr. Eaton had received the gifts “for the purposes of educating the public about the Japanese American experience during World War II.”
Of the 10 internment camps constructed during World War II, two were built in Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas, during 1942. They were the only camps located in the South. George Takei’s family was among the more than 18,000 Japanese-Americans who were held at the two camps from 1942 to 1945.
There, Memphian Mabel Rose Jamison Vogel taught art to high school students and other camp residents. When the camps closed, she chose to save much of the work created by her students. She would carry those objects, which included fashion drawings, bird carvings, sculptures, letters, autobiographies, and other materials from camp life, in several steamer trunks for the remainder of her life. She finally bequeathed the material to Rosalie Gould, a former mayor of neighboring McGehee, Arkansas.
In 2011, Gould donated the material to the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock, where a showing of the collection took place in 2011.
The art objects are now housed and displayed at the Butler Center.