Gyo Fujikawa


Name Gyo Fujikawa
Born November 4 1908
Died November 26 1998
Birth Location Berkeley
Generational Identifier

Nisei


Gyo Fujikawa (1908–99) was a prolific author, illustrator and designer of children's books. She was born on November 4, 1908, in Berkeley, California, to Hikozo and Yu Fujikawa, a farmer and an aspiring Japanese social worker. Her artistic talents and temperament were evident from a young age, and with the encouragement of a high school teacher, she received a scholarship in 1926 to study at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. Once she arrived in Los Angeles, she was immediately drawn into a thriving artistic milieu, studying with modern dance pioneer Michio Ito and befriending other Nisei writers and artists.[1] Following graduation and a year spent in Japan, Fujikawa was hired to teach at Chouinard from 1933 to 1937. She began a highly successful career in advertising in 1933, when she was hired to work at the Walt Disney Studios as a designer, working on promotional materials that included a large book edition of the animated film, Fantasia. In 1941, she was transferred to Disney's New York studios, where she designed numerous "25 cent" Disney books for the mass market. After leaving Disney she worked briefly for the Fox Film Company and later as art director for William Douglas McAdams, a New York pharmaceutical agency. When World War II broke out, she avoided mass incarceration with West Coast Japanese Americans because she was in New York, although her family was forced to spend the war years at the Rohwer camp in Arkansas.

In 1957, she illustrated her first picture book, an edition of A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was published by Groset and Dunlap. She also produced more than forty of her own books, which were some of the earliest children's books to use multiracial characters— a consistent feature across her body of work. The first two books she both wrote and illustrated, Babies (1963) and Baby Animals (1963) have sold a combined 1.3 million copies and are still in print. Fujikawa's books have been translated into seventeen languages and are read in more than twenty-two countries.[2]

During her long career, she also designed six postage stamps for the United States Postal Service, including the 1997 32¢ yellow rose self-adhesive stamp, the United States-Japan Treaty ratification centenary stamp of 1960, and a postage stamp that commemorated first lady "Lady Bird" Johnson's "Plant a More Beautiful America" program, prompting an invitation to the White House by the President of the United States.[3]

In an autobiographical sketch written in her later years, she said, "I am flattered when people ask me how I know so much about how children think and feel. Although I have never had children of my own, and cannot say I had a particularly marvelous childhood, perhaps I can say I am still like a child myself. Part of me, I guess, never grew up."[4]

Fujikawa died on November 26, 1998, in New York at age 90.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

McDowell, Edwin. Gyo Fujikawa Obituary. New York Times, December 07, 1998. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/07/arts/gyo-fujikawa-90-creator-of-children-s-books.html.

Chang, Gordon H., Johnson, Mark Dean, and Karlstrom, Paul J. editors. Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970. Stanford University Press, 2008. 313-314.

Footnotes

  1. Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (Stanford University Press, 2008), 313.
  2. Edwin McDowell, Gyo Fujikawa Obituary, New York Times, December 07, 1998, accessed on January 9, 2014 at http://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/07/arts/gyo-fujikawa-90-creator-of-children-s-books.html
  3. Chang, et al., Asian American Art, 313.
  4. McDowell, New York Times obituary.