Japanese American National Museum > Hibi (Hisako) Collection > A letter

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A letter
Hibi, Hisako
Date Created and/or Issued
Publication Information
Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Contributing Institution
Japanese American National Museum
Hibi (Hisako) Collection
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Unframed stretched canvas. Image of elderly woman in red dress and dark apron seated reading letter. Pot belly stove to the left, laundry hanging in background, broom and dustpan to her right.
This painting is the only example from this collection of an interior scene of one of the barracks. In this work Hisako Hibi provides a detailed and close view of one of the barrack "apartments" that families were housed in. A woman is seated slightly hunched over as she reads a letter. Her oval shape is echoed by the pot-bellied stove which stands sightly behind her and to the left. Although we do not know much about the woman, it is important to note that Hibi does identify her as a mother. The occasion of the letter is clearly significant and Hibi allows the viewer to see the opening of the letter which reads, "Dear Mother." This letter could have been from a son or daughter who had relocated outside of camp for a number of different reasons. Many young Japanese American men volunteered or were drafted into the US army, so it is possible that this letter is from the woman's son who became a soldier. Other young people were allowed to begin or resume their college educations in schools outside of the West coast. Many went to places in the Midwest and some went to the East coast. Still other individuals found work in other parts of Utah and places where there was a shortage of agricultural labor because of the war. The resettlement project conducted by the WRA was a complicated one. Its main purpose was to prevent Japanese Americans from repopulating the West coast which was considered vulnerable to attack by the Japanese. Thus, the letter referred to in this painting could have referenced a number of different situations. Hibi provides other details of the living quarters, including the hanging laundry and the drawing pinned to the wall behind the woman. (This drawing apparently refers to a picture made by Ibuki Lee, the artist's daughter, when she was a child.) The presence of the hanging laundry and the broom and dustpan at her side suggest that the woman may have interrupted her chores to read this letter.
Painting oil on canvas
Concentration Camps, Topaz | mother | letter | stove | broom