Amache Silk Screen Shop
The Amache Silk Screen Shop was in operation from June 1943 to May 15, 1945, and was the only successful silk screen shop functioning within a War Relocation Authority (WRA) incarceration camp during World War II. The Amache Silk Screen Shop produced over 250,000 posters for the U.S. Navy as well as countless prints for use within camp such as calendars, posters, and programs.
The Amache Silk Screen Shop was first opened in the Block 6E Recreation Hall barrack under the direction of Maida Campbell. The shop began operations on May 31, 1943, by request of the U.S. Navy Department. When the shop first opened the staff consisted of twenty-five employees, all Amache detainees, who were creating professional designs and producing excellent quality prints within the first few months of operation. By early June 1943 the shop had already printed 185 posters, 250 stickers, and 200 cards and was preparing to start production of navy training aid posters. The shop's first large order came in September 1943 when the U.S. Navy ordered 10,000 seven-color silk screen posters for use in the Signal Corps. Another large navy order was received in October 1943 calling for the first of fifty posters totaling more than 50,000 copies. In order to handle this big order the Silk Screen Shop expanded into the Block 7E Recreation Hall, using the old shop as an office, artists' room, storage, and photographic dark room.
In addition to producing posters for the navy, the Amache Silk Screen Shop also printed various documents for use by camp organizations, groups, clubs, and camp administration that included high school dance bids, annuals, commencement programs, WAC posters, Red Cross booklets, magazines, and various posters. The shop even produced a twenty-color 1944 calendar designed by artist Mac Nakata that was distributed as a Christmas gift to all Amache residents.
The Amache Silk Screen Shop continued to work on large navy orders through 1943 and 1944 and by April 1944 the staff had expanded to forty-five Nisei employees. Because of its great success the shop became an attraction for prominent government and community figures such as the ex-Swedish countess, WRA Washington officials, university professors, and local business men and women who made visits to Amache just to tour the facility. The shop gained national acclaim when it was highlighted in a full page spread in the April 1944 edition of the national advertising magazine, Signs of the Times. The article credited the silk screen shop with contributing to the country's efficient war training program, not finding any irony that the silk screen shop's Japanese American employees were contributing to the navy while incarcerated behind barbed wire and that nearly all Japanese Americans that attempted to enlist in the navy, army air corps, or marine corps during WWII were rejected because of their Japanese heritage. Similarly ironic war effort industries operated at other incarceration camps as well. At Manzanar a short-lived camouflage net factory was supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers until its closure in December 1942 and two privately run net factories in Poston and Gila River had contracts with the U.S. military until 1943. The incarceration camp at Gila River also had a model shop that manufactured models for use in U.S. Navy pilot training exercises.
The Amache Silk Screen Shop was not the only silk screen shop established in an incarceration camp. Another silk screen shop was established at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, but was shut down by spring of 1944 after efforts to coordinate the two shops failed. In May 1944 the Amache Silk Screen Shop received $1,500 worth of equipment from the discontinued Heart Mountain shop.
By its one year anniversary on May 31, 1944, the Amache Silk Screen Shop had a staff of fifty, had produced over 134,000 prints including 26,000 large training aid posters for the Navy and numerous products for use within camp, had expanded to four times its original size, and could claim that it was the only one of its kind in any WRA incarceration camp. The shop could also boast that twenty-five of its former employees had relocated to the East Coast and were employed in the silk screen industry.
As a part of Amache's preparations for closure, the Amache Silk Screen Shop was shut down on May 15, 1945. In its two years of successful operation the shop had produced more than 250,000 posters for the U.S. Navy and countless prints for Amache residents and its administration.
The calendars, posters, announcements, pamphlets, programs, and other ephemera produced by the Silk Screen Shop that still exist today offer a unique glimpse into daily life and work at Amache. Many of these objects have been saved by former detainees and their descendants, treasured as positive mementos that reflect their ability to create a thriving, successful community despite the hardships and injustice of incarceration. These objects add a visual and artistic element to the existing body of knowledge about daily life in camp. With more research other important information about the silk screen shop such as the details of its origins, operations, personnel, and individual stories can be learned and shared in order to illuminate new perspectives on social events, religion, education, art, and patriotism within the camp.
For More Information
The Amache Preservation Society, http://www.amache.org/silkscreen-shop/.
Behind Barbed Wire, University of Denver, http://www.du.edu/behindbarbedwire/silk_screen_shop.html
Sonoma State University Special Collections, http://northbaydigital.sonoma.edu/cdm/ref/collection/amache/id/141.
- "Naval Contract Within Grasp of Poster Shop," Granada Pioneer, August 7, 1943, 1.
- "Print Shop Underway," Granada Pioneer, June 5, 1943, 1.
- "Navy Asks for 10,000 Posters," Granada Pioneer, September 18, 1943, 1.
- "Shop Receives Naval Order," Granada Pioneer, October 2, 1943, 1, 3.
- "Center Silk Screen Shop Expands to Fill Navy Order," Granada Pioneer, November 6, 1943, 1, 3.
- "1944 Calendars Distributed by Silk Screen," Granada Pioneer, December 24, 1943, 1.
- "Silk Screen Shop's One Year Progress," Granada Pioneer, May 31, 1944, 4.
- "Silk Screen Shop Receives Full-Page Spread Write-Up." Granada Pioneer, April 22, 1944, 6; James McIlwain, "Nisei Served in U.S. Army Air Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Merchant Marines during World War II," JAVA Advocate, Fall 2012, 7.
- Jeffery Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord, Confinement and Ethnicity, An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002), 44–45.
- "Shop Receives $1,500 Worth of Equipment," Granada Pioneer, May 3, 1944, 5.
- "Silk Screen Shop's One Year Progress."
- "Shop Receives $1,500 Worth of Equipment."