Riyo Sato

Name Riyo Sato
Born June 4 1913
Died October 10 2009
Birth Location Palo Alto, California
Generational Identifier


Riyo Sato (1913-2009) was an artist, photographer, and an arts educator for over thirty years. She was born on June 4, 1913, in Palo Alto, California, and studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, graduating in 1940. After her time at CCAC, Sato worked as a designer in Oakland for the California Cotton Mills before returning to Palo Alto. She found work in San Francisco with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), assisting mural artists while dedicating time to her own watercolor and lithographic works. Her watercolor painting, "Good Old Summertime" was exhibited at the deYoung Museum in February 1943 as part of an allocation of artwork made to the museum by the Federal Arts Project. [1]

During World War II, Sato and her family were incarcerated at the Santa Anita Assembly Center in California, and later at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. She taught art classes in the camp along with Hideo Date , Robert Kuwahara , Shingo Nishiura, and Benji Okubo . In 1943, through a sponsorship by the YMCA, she was able to leave camp and move to Buffalo, New York, where she worked for two years at the Curtis-Wright Aircraft Manufacturing plant in the engineering design department as an industrial artist. In the evenings, she was a counselor with junior high school groups at the YMCA.

In 1945, she moved to Chicago and worked for the next ten years as a commercial artist at Bielefeld Studios. In the 1950s, she earned an M.A. in design and art education at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and led her to become an art teacher at Garfield Elementary School and Roosevelt High School in East Chicago, Indiana. She was also a member of the Chicago Geographic Society and traveled extensively while honing her photography.

Her work is included in the collections at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. In 2013, the Gilb Museum of Arcadia Heritage mounted "Life Interrupted: Personal Sketches Behind Barbed Wire, Santa Anita, Summer 1942, Riyo Sato (1913 – 2009)," an exhibition of Sato's wartime sketches.

Sato died on October 10, 2009, at the age of 96.

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.

Gabbay, Tiffany. " You Need to Know The Story of Riyo Sato. " BlazeTV, July 12, 2012.

Mills, Michelle. " Riyo Sato’s Sketches from Japanese-American Internment Camp on Display in Arcadia." Press Telegram , September 16, 2013.


  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), 412.

Last updated Jan. 20, 2024, 1:25 p.m..