Hisako Hibi

Name Hisako Hibi
Born May 14 1907
Died October 25 1991
Birth Location Torihama, Japan
Generational Identifier


Hisako Shimizu Hibi (1907–91) was an Issei painter and printmaker who exhibited throughout her career, and by the end of her life she was well entrenched in the San Francisco Bay Area arts community. She was born on May 14, 1907, in Torihama, a farming village near Kyoto, Japan, and moved to San Francisco, California, in 1920. After graduating from Lowell High School, she decided to remain in San Francisco to pursue her art studies, although her parents returned to Japan in 1925. Hibi studied western-style oil painting at the California School of Fine Arts and participated in annual exhibitions at the San Francisco Art Association. While at the school, she met fellow student and painter George Matsusaburo Hibi , who was more than twenty years her senior, and the two were married in 1930.

In 1933, the couple moved first to Mt. Eden, and then to Hayward, California, where they raised their two children. In 1942, with forced removal imminent, Hibi and her husband donated their paintings to different venues in the Hayward community, to express their thanks for their support with the knowledge that they couldn't bring the work with them into the American concentration camps for the duration of World War II. The Hibi family was first moved to the Tanforan Assembly Center and then to the more permanent camp at Topaz , Utah. The family's eviction was documented by photographer friend Dorothea Lange who captured Hibi with her daughter Ibuki standing aside mountains of luggage, as they waited for the buses that would take them to camp. While at Topaz, Hibi created more than seventy oil paintings and was a guest lecturer for the Topaz Art School that was co-founded by her husband George and artist Chiura Obata . While both Hibi and her husband George were influenced by late nineteenth-century European and American painters, Hibi was particularly influenced by the work of Mary Cassat. Many of her oil paintings from the camp years depict the intimate daily life of mothers at work, the cold sterility of the barracks, and images such as persimmons and New Year's rice cakes, that symbolized a nostalgia for a previous life. In 1943, she received a prize for her painting of sunflowers that was exhibited in a show of work by incarcerated artists that was held at the Friends Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After the war the Hibis relocated to New York City. Tragically, George Hibi died shortly afterwards in 1947, and to support herself and her children, Hibi took up work as a seamstress in an garment factory. She later returned to school, studying at the Museum of Modern Art which influenced the style of her painting, which became increasingly abstract. In 1953, Hibi became a U.S. citizen, and a year later, she moved back to San Francisco where she remained until her death in 1991. Hibi exhibited widely in the Bay Area in the postwar years, where her first solo exhibit was held at the Lucien Labaudt gallery in 1970. In 1985, the San Francisco Arts Commission presented Hibi with an Award of Honor, and mounted an major solo exhibition "Hisako Hibi, Her Path" at the Somar Gallery. She was an early member of the Asian American Women Artists Association.

Hibi died on October 25, 1991, in San Francisco, at the age of 84. Her memoir, Peaceful Painter: Memoirs of an Issei Woman Artist was edited by her daughter Ibuki and published posthumously in 2004 by Heyday Books, along with an accompanying exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Brown, Michael D. Views from Asian California, 1920-1965 . Michael D. Brown, 1992.

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

Hibi, Hisako. Peaceful Painter: Memoirs of an Issei Woman Artist. Ed. Ibuki Hibi Lee. Berkeley, Calif.: Heyday Books, 2004.

Hisako Hibi Collection at the Japanese American National Museum. http://www.janm.org/collections/hisako-hibi-collection/ .

Kano, Betty. "Four Northern California Artists: Hisako Hibi, Norine Nishimura, Yong Soon Min, and Miran Ahn." Feminist Studies 19.3 (Fall 1993): 628–42.

Taylor, Sandra C. Jewel in the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Last updated July 16, 2014, 4:58 p.m..