Charles Isamu Morimoto


Name Charles Isamu Morimoto
Born March 9 1903
Died November 8 1953
Birth Location Hiroshima, Japan
Generational Identifier

Issei

Watercolor and oil painter who exhibited frequently before the war and taught portrait and life painting classes while incarcerated at Manzanar and Tule Lake during World War II.

Born in Hiroshima, Japan, Charles Isamu Morimoto (1903-53) immigrated to the United States in 1916 at age thirteen. After graduating from Pasadena High School, he won a scholarship to Otis Art Institute (1925-30), where he earned much praise for his work and received rave reviews while winning many local competitions. During this time he also studied at the Art Students League (1928) with numerous other Nisei artists under Stanley Macdonald-Wright, whose influence is apparent in Morimoto's work. Of Morimoto's work in the 1929 Younger Painters exhibition, Los Angeles Times critic Arthur Miller wrote, "Charles Morimoto goes the furthest toward abstraction with his three designs evolved from figures."[1] In 1929, he won the Huntington Assistance Prize at Otis. He married Shizuye Doi in about 1931 and the couple subsequently had two daughters.[2] Unable to pursue a commercial art career, Morimoto became a window designer for the Owl Drug Store chain.

After the issuance of Executive Order 9066, the Morimotos were incarcerated at the Manzanar concentration camp. In February of 1943, while Morimoto was teaching art classes and painting scenes of Manzanar that documented the lives of the inmates during the early period of incarceration, the War Relocation Authority issued a loyalty questionnaire that all inmates over seventeen were required to answer. Based on his responses to the questionnaire, Morimoto and others were deemed "disloyal" by the government and segregated at Tule Lake concentration camp, where he again taught art classes and painted landscapes of the area surrounding the camp. His daughters, Miyoko Mizuki and Keiko Kano, recalled that during this difficult time they and others were taught about Japan and how wonderful it would be to return when the war was over—an obvious ploy to rid this country of some "undesirable" aliens.[3] Morimoto ultimately decided to return to Japan with his family to his hometown of Hiroshima, even though many parts of the city were destroyed by the atomic bomb. He worked as an interpreter for the occupation forces at Kure military base, near Hiroshima, and also taught art to U.S. military officers' wives and children. When a cultural center opened in Hiroshima, he was hired there as a commercial artist.[4] In the remaining years of his life, Morimoto taught art classes to the Australian Occupational Forces and produced a number of abstract works. He died on November 8, 1953.

Seven years after his death, his family returned to the United States and have attempted to locate Morimoto's prewar works that were allegedly stored in a Los Angeles church, but have been unsuccessful in finding them.[5]

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Chang, Gordon H., Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors. Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Manzanar National Historic Site Virtual Museum Exhibit. "Pastimes: Artwork."

Yoshiki-Kovinick, Marian. "A Seed of Modernism: The Art Students League of Los Angeles, 1906-1953". Pasadena Museum of California Art, 2008.

Footnotes

  1. Arthur Miller, "Our Young Painters," Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1929, 24 cited in Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008), 392.
  2. "Records About Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II," Access to Archival Databases, the National Archives, accessed on May 18, 2015 at http://aad.archives.gov/aad/display-partial-records.jsp?dt=2003&sc=24943%2C24947%2C24948%2C24949%2C24942%2C24938%2C24928%2C24940&cat=WR26&tf=F&bc=%2Csl%2Cfd&q=&as_alq=&as_anq=&as_epq=&as_woq=&nfo_24943=V%2C10%2C1900&op_24943=0&txt_24943=morimoto&nfo_24947=V%2C8%2C1900&op_24947=0&txt_24947=&nfo_24948=V%2C1%2C1900&op_24948=0&txt_24948=&nfo_24949=V%2C1%2C1900&cl_24949=1&nfo_24942=V%2C1%2C1900&cl_24942=&nfo_24938=V%2C5%2C1900&cl_24938=&nfo_24928=V%2C6%2C1900&op_24928=0&txt_24928=00438*&nfo_24940=V%2C2%2C1900&op_24940=0&txt_24940=; "California Death Index, 1940-1997," Shizue Morimoto, 20 Feb 1989, Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento, FamilySearch.org, accessed on May 19, 2015 at https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VP2W-5YH.
  3. Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, "A Seed of Modernism: The Art Students League of Los Angeles, 1906-1953," Pasadena Museum of California Art, 2008, accessed August 4, 2014 at www.tfaoi.com/aa/8aa/8aa14b.htm.
  4. Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (Stanford University Press, 2008), 392.
  5. Yoshiki-Kovinick, "A Seed of Modernism."