Miki Hayakawa

Name Miki Hayakawa
Born June 7 1899
Died March 6 1953
Birth Location Hokkaido, Japan
Generational Identifier


A prominent California oil painter and printmaker celebrated for her modernist forms and rich use of colors. Hayakawa was part of a fledgling Nisei art milieu that exhibited widely in the 1920s and 1930s.

Miki Hayakawa was born in Hokkaido, Japan, on June 7, 1899 to Man and Chiyo Hayakawa. In 1908, at age nine, she emigrated to California with her mother to join her father, a pastor, who had arrived a year earlier. Resolute to make art her career, she defied her father's disapproval of her chosen vocation and left the family home in Oakland while still a teenager. Hayakawa received scholarships to study at the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts (which was then located in Berkeley) in 1922, and at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco for the next several years.

While at the School of Fine Arts, which she attended intermittently until 1929, she became close friends with classmates Yun Gee and George Matsusaburo Hibi , who served as her mentors. Like Gee, her paintings from the 1920s show influence of cubist studies and modern color. Early in her studies at the School of Fine Arts, she won a first prize and an honorable mention for her work. In 1924, she was included in her first group exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, and would exhibit there again in 1925 and 1931. Hayakawa continued to exhibit at prominent California museums for nearly a decade including the Los Angeles Museum (1927, 1936), the Foundation of Western Art, Los Angeles (1937), and the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939). Her first solo exhibition of more than 150 major paintings was held at Kinmon Gakuen, or the Golden Gate Institute, a Japanese American language school and cultural center located in SF Japantown in 1929. In 1935, Hayakawa was included in the inaugural exhibition of American Art at the San Francisco Museum of Art, the predecessor of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and was the only Japanese woman represented in this milestone show.­ By the mid-1930s, Hayakawa was living in Monterey and Pacific Grove and continued to paint and exhibit both locally and in the San Francisco Bay Area to critical acclaim.

At some point after 1942, Hayakawa moved from California to New Mexico, though the exact circumstances are unclear. According to Form 26 records about Japanese Americans relocated during World War II, with the onset of war in 1941, her parents moved from Alameda, California to the detention center at the Tanforan Assembly Center and then at the Topaz camp. There are no official records indicating whether Hayakawa was detained in any of the WRA or DOJ camps, and according to her friend, Mateo Lettunich, she left California with an "older gentleman" and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. [1]

It is conjectured that from 1940 until her death in 1953, Hayakawa remained in New Mexico, creating Santa Fe-inspired landscapes and portraits. In New Mexico, she became familiar with other Santa Fe artists including John Sloan and Foster Jewell and was an active member of the local art community, exhibiting work regularly at the New Mexico Museum of Art, selling paintings, and even taking home a top prize at the Albuquerque State Fair in September 1952. She married artist Preston McCrossen in 1947.

Although Hayakawa died from cancer at the age of 53 on March 6, 1953 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, her work has experienced a public resurgence, largely due to the inclusion of a single painting, "Portrait of a Negro" (c.1926). In 2013-2014 Hayakawa's "Portrait of a Negro" was included in an exhibition designed to introduce American art and identity to new audiences in Australia, then in the summer of 2014, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art included the painting in their submission to the Art Everywhere campaign, which asked five U.S. art museums to select twenty digital works from their collections to be placed on a website. [2] In 2017, scholar ShiPu Wang included a detailed biographical essay on Hayakawa in a comprehensive book of early twentieth-century American artists of Asian descent that he authored. combining years of research on her exhibition history and accolades with a detailed analysis of her work, opening paths to further exploration of Hayakawa's legacy.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

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

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

Japanese and Japanese American Painters in the United States: A Half Century of Hope and Suffering, 1896-1945 . Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum and Nippon Television Network Corporation, 1995.

Kovinick, Phil and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick. An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West. University of Texas Press, 1998.

Wang, ShiPu. The Other American Moderns: Matsura, Ishigaki, Noda, Hayakawa. Penn State University Press 2017.


  1. Hayakawa to Albert M. Bender grant-in-aid April 6, 1943. Oakland Museum of California Artist Files. Wang, ShiPu. The Other American Moderns: Matsura, Ishigaki, Noda, Hayakawa. Penn State University Press 2017, page 126.
  2. Wang, ShiPu. The Other American Moderns: Matsura, Ishigaki, Noda, Hayakawa. Penn State University Press 2017, page 97.

Last updated Feb. 12, 2024, 10:05 p.m..