Posts Tagged 'DMFA'

Unnecessary Embarrassment: Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s Letters

Among the treasures in the DMA Archives are four letters exchanged in the summer of 1941 between artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi and the Director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Richard Foster Howard. For more than 40 years, these letters were the only works by Kuniyoshi housed in the DMA. Since 1988, Museum visitors have become acquainted with him through Bather with Cigarette. This star of the American art collection is currently on view in My|gration in the Center for Creative Connections.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Bather with Cigarette, 1924, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase Fund, Deaccession Funds/City of Dallas (by exchange) in honor of Dr. Steven A. Nash, 1988.22, © Estate of Yasuo Kuniyoshi/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Displayed alongside works by artists and designers including Hans Hoffman, Peter Muller-Munk, and An-My Lê, Kuniyoshi’s painting represents one of the 14 immigration stories shared in the exhibition’s “Arrivals” section. The 1941 correspondence between the 51-year-old artist and the DMFA director sheds light on the challenges and discrimination Kuniyoshi experienced in the US.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, from the Archives of American Art, photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son

Kuniyoshi arrived alone in Spokane, Washington, as a teenager in 1906. Although he initially planned to stay only a few years, by 1910 his artistic talents had led him to New York City. There he enrolled in a series of schools and entered the circle of leading figures in American art.

Bather with Cigarette was completed in 1924—the same year Congress effectively banned immigration from Asian countries. Kuniyoshi had already witnessed the government’s discriminatory policies. His marriage to fellow artist Katherine Schmidt in 1919 caused her to lose her citizenship. In 1922 the Supreme Court ruled that Japanese people were not the same as “free white persons” and thus did not have the same rights to naturalization. 

Fast forward to the summer of 1941. Headlines about naval attacks and international conflict fueled racism and xenophobia in the US. Kuniyoshi, like many American artists, wanted to travel the country in search of new inspiration. Unlike most of his peers, he could not embark on a trip without being hyper-aware that his appearance and national origins could be perceived as threatening. To mitigate the risk of police detention, he asked regional arts leaders to provide letters verifying his profession. The DMA Archives holds Kuniyoshi’s initial request to Howard (May 22, 1941), the director’s two-part response (here and here, May 26, 1941), and the artist’s thank you (mailed mid-journey from Colorado Springs, July 9, 1941).

Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s original letter to Richard Foster Howard.
Click HERE to expand.

In December 1941, Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the US declared war. Kuniyoshi was not among the 120,000 people of Japanese heritage who were forcibly moved to internment camps in early 1942. He was, however, declared an “enemy alien.” Federal authorities impounded his bank account and confiscated his binoculars and camera as potential spy equipment. Despite this maltreatment, he spent the war years working for the federal government as a graphic artist and radio broadcaster (valued for his fluency in Japanese). Following WWII, Kuniyoshi became the first living artist to be honored with a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1948. Although he had identified as an American and lived in the US for over 40 years, immigration laws prevented him from becoming an American citizen before his death in 1953.

Emily Schiller is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA.

From the Archives: The Museum During WWII

“No annual report, no discussion of affairs, at this time, can ignore the one major fact of this year: we are at war.”

This is the opening sentence of the Report of the Director, dated April 9, 1942, and published in the May-June 1942 Bulletin. The report goes on to describe the effects of the first months of WWII on the Museum. It sparked my interest to investigate how the Museum prepared for and supported the war effort.

Two service men at an exhibition of war posters

Two service men at an exhibition of war posters

I discovered that while many east and west coast museums focused on civil defense preparations, the DMFA (Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, which would later become the DMA) was able to focus its wartime efforts on offering cultural programs of wide general appeal, including exhibitions, musical performances, movies, gallery talks, art classes, and recreational activities. These programs were designed to support the service men and women stationed in the area and boost morale among the civilian residents of Dallas.

Twenty exhibitions representing the part that art plays in the war effort were assembled from army camps and individual artists in the Service and were held between 1942 and 1945.

Prints by British Artists in Service, July 1942
Red Cross Poster Exhibition, August 1942
British and American War Posters, September 1942
Art in War, July 4-August 8, 1943
Exhibition of Work by Soldiers from Camp Maxey, September 12-October 3, 1943
John Knott: War Cartoons, October 3-November 7, 1943
War Posters, October 10-31, 1943
Lt. Bill Lumpkins: Watercolors, December 1-21, 1943
Speak Their Language: British and American Cartoons, March 19-April 3, 1944
Pfc. Benham Dangers: Alaska Paintings, June 18-July 11, 1944
Costumes of 7 American Wars, June 18-July 16, 1944

The World War II section of the exhibition Costumes of Seven American Wars

The World War II section of the exhibition Costumes of Seven American Wars

Fred Darge: Paintings of Bougainville, July 2-August 1, 1944
Paintings from Camp Barkley, July 9-August 13, 1944
Alexandre Hogue: Aviation Production Drawings, October 15-November 3, 1944
[Pfc.] Walt Wiggins: Photographs, December 3-28, 1944
The Abbott Collection: Paintings of Naval Aviation, December 10, 1944-January 9, 1945

The Abbott Collection included over 100 paintings and drawings by seven nationally known American artists depicting the varied phases of naval aviation from pre-flight to combat. The artists visited Naval Air Stations and lived and talked with students, instructors, and fighter pilots in order to produce this important historical record of the Navy.

Mayor Woodall Rogers and Dr. Umphrey Lee, president of Southern Methodist University, view the Naval Aviation paintings with a group of Waves

Mayor Woodall Rodgers and Dr. Umphrey Lee, president of Southern Methodist University, view the Naval Aviation paintings with a group of Waves

Paintings from Frederick Army Air Field, December 31, 1944-January 30, 1945
Ben Culwell: War Paintings, March 4-16, 1945
Army Arts Exhibition-8th Service Command, April 29-May 13, 1945

The Army Arts exhibition included 191 works from 800 entries submitted. The jury consisted of Lt. Col. Ward Lockwood, Major Louis D. Smith, Lt. T.A. Reeves, Jr., DMFA Director Jerry Bywaters, and Dallas artist Allie Tennant. A national jury visited the Museum and chose 30 works to represent the 8th Service Command in the national exhibition in Washington, D.C.

War Bond House Organ Cover Designs Exhibition, July 15-29, 1945

Members of the Armed Services at the Sunday Canteen sponsored by the Museum League

Members of the Armed Services at the Sunday Canteen sponsored by the Museum League

In addition to programming, the Museum League sponsored a canteen for members of the Armed Services in the Museum’s Lounge every Sunday afternoon. The canteen is noted as one of the most appreciated activities by service men and women far from home. The Museum League also sold defense stamps, put on special events for soldiers and their wives, and generally worked to bring the Museum to the attention of those in the Armed Services.

Certificate of appreciation for the museum's wartime support from the United Stated Marine Corps, presented to Jerry Bywaters.

Certificate of appreciation for the Museum’s wartime support from the United Stated Marine Corps, presented to Jerry Bywaters

Hillary Bober is the Archivist at the Dallas Museum of Art.




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