Gene I. Sogioka

Name Gene I. Sogioka
Born December 21 1914
Died February 21 1988
Birth Location Irvindale, California
Generational Identifier

Gene Isao Sogioka (1914-88) was a watercolor painter, illustrator and muralist, born in Irvindale, California, on December 21, 1914. When he was a very young child, his family took him to Japan to be raised by his maternal grandmother, who lived outside Hiroshima. He remained in Japan until he was fourteen years old, returning to the United States in 1928 where he was placed in a California second grade class since he was unable to speak or understand English. He eventually graduated from Covina High School, located near Los Angeles, in 1931. Sogioka attended two years at Pomona College before he quit and decided to attend Chiounard Art Institute, now the California Institute of Fine Arts, on full scholarship. He graduated in 1938 in fine art and commercial art before he went on to become an adjunct art instructor at Scripps College in Claremont, California, and assisting artist Millard Sheets on two major murals, including one for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, outside San Francisco. [1]

In 1940, he married Mine Mayebo, and found work as a background artist and animator for the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, working on Fantasia , Dumbo , Bambi , and several short animated films. In 1941, he exhibited in the San Francisco Art Association watercolor show at the San Francisco Museum of Art along with other Asian American artists, including Miyoko Ito . He remained at Disney Studios until 1942, when Executive Order 9066 forced him and his family into American concentration camps.

His daughter was born in January 1942, a month before the order was signed, which encouraged Sogioka and his family to move inland to an area in Central California outside Military Area 1 in an attempt to avoid the mass removal. When the army decided to remove Japanese Americans from Military Area 2 as well, Sogioka moved his family again to nearby Sanger, California, and spent the month of June hiding in canyons to avoid incarceration. [2]

They were ultimately found and sent to a camp in Poston, Arizona. During the two years he spent in detention, he produced more than 150 watercolors, depicting daily life in the concentration camp. He also taught art, painted the camp's Buddhist shrine, and was commissioned by the Bureau of Sociological Research under Dr. Alexander Leighton to make paintings that documented the camp experience.

In 1943, Sogioka was released from camp and settled in New York City. In New York, he was among the artists featured in an exhibition of camp art at the Friends Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in October 1943. [3] His wife and daughter joined him in January 1944, and their other children were born in New York in 1947 and 1951. He worked for various animation studios but later settled into a career in commercial art.

In the late 1980s, Sogioka's camp paintings were discovered at the archives of the Cornell University Library, where they were part of the permanent collection without his knowledge. As a result, Sogioka and several other artists who produced work in the WWII American concentration camps were interviewed and their work published in a book entitled Beyond Words: Images from America's Concentration Camps in 1987.

Some of Sogioka's paintings were exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution exhibition, A More Perfect Union: Japanese-Americans and the U.S. Constitution that were on display in Washington D.C. from October 1, 1987 – January 11, 2004.

He died of cancer on February 21, 1988, at his home in Larchmont, N.Y. He was seventy-three years old.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

"Gene I. Sogioka, 73; Painted Camp Scenes." New York Times, March 1, 1988. .

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

Gesensway, Deborah and Mindy Rosenman, eds. Beyond Words: Images from America's Concentration Camps . Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987.


  1. Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 417.
  2. Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 , 417.
  3. Pacific Citizen , Oct. 16, 1943, 3, accessed on Jan. 12, 2018 at . An unidentified WRA photographer documented this exhibition, taking pictures of the prize-winning works, including Sogioka's "Dust Storm." See , accessed on Nov. 19, 2014.

Last updated June 19, 2020, 3:39 p.m..