Sadamitsu Neil Fujita


Name Sadamitsu Neil Fujita
Born May 16 1921
Died October 23 2010
Birth Location Waimea, Hawai'i
Generational Identifier

Nisei


A successful mid-century commercial artist and graphic designer best known for his boldly graphic book and album cover art, Sadamitsu Neil Fujita (1921–2010) is credited with revolutionizing the record and publishing industry through his designs.

Fujita was born in Waimea on the island of Kaua'i on May 16, 1921. His father was a blacksmith for a sugar plantation and the family lived in the plantation camps; as a young man, he also worked in the sugarcane fields. His last two years of high school in Honolulu exposed him to his first art learning experiences, and following graduation, he decided to travel to California to broaden his opportunities.

While working at a fruit and vegetable market in Los Angeles, Fujita decided to apply to the Chouinard Art Institute. He studied at the prestigious art college for two years while living with a customer of the fruit stand, exchanging housework for room and board. In 1942, Executive Order 9066 forced him to move to the Pomona Assembly Center, and later to the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming. He served as the Heart Mountain Sentinel newspaper's art director and remained in camp until he joined the U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 1943. After four years serving in Italy, France, and as a military intelligence infantryman in Japan, Fujita returned to Los Angeles in 1947 and resumed his fine arts studies at Chouinard under the guidance of teachers Millard Sheets and Rex Brandt. He joined the California Watercolor Society and exhibited with the group four times, from 1948–1951. In his last year at Chouinard, Fujita met fellow student Aiko Tamaki. He also began to take graphic design courses, anticipating the need for a practical commercial skill following graduation.

In 1949, he and Tamaki were married and moved to Philadelphia, where he found work with N.W. Ayer & Son, the largest advertising firm in the United States at the time. While at Ayer, Fujita won a gold medal from the Art Directors Club for designing an ad for the Container Corporation of America. He also continued to paint, and in 1953 he had his first solo exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, in which all of his work sold.[1] In 1954, he applied for and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study design and architecture in Italy but was simultaneously offered the position of director of design and packaging at Columbia Records in New York. He accepted the job and worked for Columbia for six years. He was the first graphic designer to use painters, photographers and illustrators to do artwork on album covers, using abstracted images and pictures to convey the mood of the music. His own modernist painting appears on the cover of jazz pianist Dave Brubeck's classic album, Time Out.

Fujita left Columbia in 1957, returned a year later, and left for good in 1960 to start his own design studio. In 1963 he was approached by Ruder & Finn, the public relations firm, to form a design subsidiary, Ruder, Finn & Fujita, which evolved into Fujita Design. His distinctive graphic style graced many iconic book covers that such as Mario Puzo's The Godfather and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, in addition to other widely recognized logo and design work.

He taught throughout his career, first at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art and later at the Pratt Institute, the New School for Social Research, and the Parsons School of Design, where he taught for eleven years.

His work is in the collections at the Atwater Kent Museum in Philadelphia, the Floyd Memorial Library, Greenport, New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Fujita died on October 23, 2010, in Long Island, New York at age 89.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Grimes, William. "S. Neil Fujita, Innovative Graphic Designer, Dies at 89." New York Times, October 27, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/arts/design/27fujita.html.

Heller, Steven. "Waxing Chromatic: An Interview with S. Neil Fujita," AIGA, September 18, 2007. http://www.aiga.org/waxing-chromatic-an-interview-with-s-neil-fujita/.

"Sadamitsu Neil Fujita." Discover Nikkei database. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/resources/military/2009/.

"Fujita Design Inc: They Know What They are Doing and Why." Idea 23, no. 130 (May 1975): 10-21.

Fujita, Sadamitsu Neil. CAAABS project interview, October 30, 2000. Transcript, Asian American Art Project, Stanford University.

"S. Neil Fujita." CA Magazine 4, no. 9/10 (September/October 1962); 60-67.

Footnotes

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