Estelle Ishigo


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Name Estelle Ishigo
Born July 15 1899
Died February 25 1990

Artist and musician Estelle Peck Ishigo (1899–1990), a white woman who married a Nisei man, is best known for chronicling life at the Heart Mountain, Wyoming, concentration camp through her drawings and paintings. After enduring a difficult childhood, she struck out on her own after high school, pursuing an artistic career. She met Arthur Ishigo while a student at Otis Art Institute and the couple evaded anti-miscegenation laws by traveling to Mexico to marry in 1928. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she was fired from her job as an art teacher, and she subsequently opted to join her husband in his wartime incarceration at the Pomona Assembly Center and at Heart Mountain. Active in camp art circles, she documented camp life in watercolor paintings as well as charcoal and pencil drawings. After the war, the couple lived in a trailer camp in Southern California for a time. In 1972, the California Historical Society rediscovered some of her artwork and included it in the pioneering 1972 exhibition Months of Waiting. In that year, she also worked with the Hollywood Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League to publish her memoir in words and images of her incarceration, Lone Heart Mountain. In 1983, former Heart Mountain inmates found her living in poverty and having lost both her legs to gangrene. She subsequently became the subject of Steven Okazaki's Academy Award winning documentary film Days of Waiting, filmed just prior to her death in 1990.

For More Information

Days of Waiting: The Life and Art of Estelle Ishigo. Dir. Steven Okazaki. 28 min. Mouchette Films, 1990.

Dusselier, Jane. "Embodied Identity? The Life and Art of Estelle Ishigo." Feminist Studies 32.3 (Fall 2006): 534–46.

Ishigo, Estelle. Lone Heart Mountain. Los Angeles: Japanese American Citizens League, Hollywood Chapter, 1972. Los Angeles: Heart Mountain High School Class of 1947, 1989.