Frank Taira

Name Frank Taira
Born September 21 1913
Died July 4 2010
Birth Location San Francisco
Generational Identifier


Artist Frank Morihiko Taira (1913-2010) was born on August 21, 1913, in San Francisco, California, to Japanese immigrant parents. When he was fifteen years old, his family moved to Japan, leaving him behind in the United States. Taira completed high school while working as a houseboy to support himself, with the hopes of attending art school. To help raise the funds for tuition, he entered a competition sponsored by a Japanese American newspaper to create a cartoon promoting Japanese American friendship and won. With the prize money, he was able to enroll for one month at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where he was awarded a scholarship that covered his tuition for the remainder of his education there. From 1935-38, Taira studied at the California School of Fine Arts with instructors Victor Arnautoff, Otis Oldfield and the director of the school, Lee Randolph. As Taira's interests and talents were diverse, he simultaneously studied voice and classical guitar at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

In 1939, he exhibited at a juried show at the San Francisco Museum of Art and at the Oakland Municipal Gallery, and the following year he won first prize at the school's student exhibition. Just as he was gaining recognition, the United States entered World War II and Taira was detained first at Tanforan in San Bruno, California and then sent to the Topaz camp in Utah. Taira, along with Chiura Obata , George Matsusaburo Hibi and Mine Okubo , taught art at the Topaz Art School. His work was included in the 1943 exhibition of incarcerated Japanese American artists organized by the Friends Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, winning the show's award for best portrait for a work titled "Bunny," which depicted his wife. He wrote of the piece: "To me it depicts not only the sad feeling of the people in the camps but of people all over the world. It is the thing that all of us who stop to think feel when we ask ourselves—How Long?" [1]

Following his release from Topaz, he moved to New York City where he continued his education at Columbia University in 1945, the Arts Students League, and the New School for Social Research. He worked as a china decorator for the Charles China Decorating Company, making and selling fine jewelry, while continuing to paint and pursue some work in bronze.

His paintings were the subject of numerous solo exhibitions post-war including two shows at the Hudson Guild Gallery, New York (1967 and 2005); Frank Taira: Oils , Caravan House Gallery, New York, 1980; Frank Taira: The Evolution of an American Artist, Garzoli Gallery, San Rafael, CA 1992; Frank Taira: Small Works , ArtsForum Gallery, New York, 1999; and Frank Taira: The Color Inside, Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, California, 2011. His work has been included in group exhibition across the country and in Italy. He was a member of the Artists Equity Association of New York and Painters and Sculptors Society of New Jersey.

Taira died on July 4, 2010 in New York.

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.

Goss, Frank, and Danielle Peltakian. Sullivan Goss Gallery.

Frank Taira: The Color Inside . Video produced by Sullivan Goss, 2011. 4 minutes.


  1. Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008), 425; Pacific Citizen , June 3, 1943, 2 and Oct. 16, 1943, 3 accessed on Jan. 11, 2018 at ; quote from the last.

Last updated Jan. 8, 2024, 7:32 p.m..