Miyoko Ito


Name Miyoko Ito
Born April 27 1927
Died August 18 1983
Birth Location Berkeley
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Miyoko Ito (1918–83) was a watercolor and abstract oil painter and printmaking artist who was born in Berkeley, California on April 27, 1918. Her father immigrated to the United States when he was just ten years old and was taken in by a church in Vallejo, where he worked as a houseboy. He graduated from Vallejo High School and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating with a degree in psychology in 1914. He returned to Japan that same year and married his cousin, who was a schoolteacher, then returned to California. Miyoko Ito was their first-born child in the United States.

In 1923, Ito and her family moved to Japan, arriving in Yokohama the day before a major earthquake devastated the city. For the next five years, she attended grammar school in Japan that had an immersive art curriculum that included landscape painting outings for second graders, to which she attributes her decision to become an artist. She also studied and excelled at calligraphy and found confidence and refuge in this practice, since she was a child prone to sickness. Fearing that Ito might contract tuberculosis, her family decided to return to California when she was ten years old. Back in Berkeley, she struggled to master the English language and in order to overcome her fears, completely suppressed all previous knowledge of her Japanese. She later explained that these problems with verbal communication also bolstered her development as a visual artist.

Ito attended Berkeley High School, where she took every art and music class she could (she played the violin because her father also played the violin), before studying at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland for a summer. Although her dream was to attend an art school, she enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley instead, to satisfy her parents wishes. At Berkeley, she majored in painting, studying with Worth Ryder, John Haley, and Erle Loran. Within a short period at UC Berkeley, Ito met her future husband Harry Ichiyasu, who was from San Francisco.

On April 11, 1942, in the middle of her senior year at Berkeley, Ito married Ichiyasu to avoid being separated during the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans. The couple were sent to the Tanforan Assembly Center and then to the concentration camp at Topaz, Utah. Ito applied for graduate school from camp and was accepted at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1943 and held her first solo art exhibit at the Smith College Museum of Art. After a year in Northampton, she transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was joined by her husband in Chicago following his release from camp in 1945.

In the late 1940s, Ito began experimenting with lithography and other forms of printmaking while simultaneously working with oil painting. She received a John Hay Whitney Opportunity Fellowship in the late 1940s and regularly attended the Oxbow Summer School throughout this period. Even after her children were born in the 1950s, she continued to work daily in her home studio in Chicago, steadily producing work while raising her family. In 1977 she received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.

Ito's work was included in numerous group exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1941, 1943, 1946-53); the Riverside Museum, New York (1947); Illinois Arts Council traveling exhibit (1967); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1975); and the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento (1977). She had solo shows at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago (1971) and the Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York (1973, 1978, 1992). A retrospective show,"Miyoko Ito: Mistress of the Sea," was held at the Thomas McCormick Gallery, Chicago in 2000.

She died on August 18, 1983 in Chicago, Illinois.

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.

Miyoko Ito oral history. Interviewed by Dennis Barrie, July 20, 1978. Archives of American Art.

Klekner, Len. "Miyoko Ito." Exhibition essay for Miyoko Ito (1918–1983): Paintings at the Adam Baumgold Gallery, 2006.

"Miyoko Ito, A Review (October 05 – November 09, 1980)." The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago.

Walker, Betty. "Miyoko Ito, Artist." Chicago Sun-Times. Reprinted in Pacific Citizen, June 2, 1951, 8.

Yau, John. "Miyoko Ito." Brooklyn Rail, May 9, 2006.