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The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946 Hardcover – October 1, 2005

4.9 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Flowerlike brooches delicately made from tiny seashells; a large vanity table crafted from persimmon wood; intricately carved slate teapots; elegant dolls sewn from old kimono fabric. These are just some of the gorgeous arts and crafts presented in this moving, full-color volume by Hirasuna (Long May She Wave, etc.). All of them were made by Japanese-Americans confined in internment camps during WWII. "The objects that [internees] made from scrap and found materials are testaments to their perseverance, their resourcefulness, their spirit and humanity," Hirasuna writes. As such, they are "a physical manifestation of the art of gaman"—the art of "enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity." Certainly, the treatment Japanese-Americans received at the hands of the U.S. government was unjustifiable. In 1942, some 120,000 of them were forced to move into shoddily constructed camps located in some of the most barren areas of the western United States. They were given only one week to settle their affairs and allowed to bring with them only what goods they could carry, with the result that predatory merchants bought most of their property for a pittance and many of the families lost their homes. Trapped in the camps with only cots for furniture, the internees began their crafts from necessity, constructing rough-hewn tables, chairs, bureaus and woodworking tools from found materials. But as their skill progressed and their confinement stretched from one year to four, they began to produce objects of startling elegance and beauty. Hirasuna's exceptional volume give fair treatment to both the depressing conditions of the camp and the ingenuity and fortitude that its residents mustered to survive it. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Gaman is a Japanese word for endurance with grace and dignity in the face of what seems unbearable. Hirasuna presents a searing and soaring tribute to this human attribute in a volume of color photographs of artworks rendered from everyday objects by the 112,700 Japanese American internees held in World War II detention camps. After the post-Pearl Harbor panic that led to the rounding up of Pacific Coast Japanese American communities, FBI searches, and forced relocations, the internees felt a need to establish order and community as they were subjected to isolation and subsistence living conditions. Even in such grim circumstances, the urge to make art was a powerful one, as these arts and crafts created in the internment camps attest. Whether one considers butterflies fashioned from shells, or a surprisingly elegant chair made of scrap two-by-fours at the Tule Lake California camp, or birds carved from Arkansas cypress in Camp Rohwer, one is witnessing testimony to human character, courage, and irrepressible creativity. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press; First Printing edition (October 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580086896
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580086899
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.7 x 12.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By JeanB on January 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book shows artwork done with minimal supplies in the Japanese-American concentration camps of the western US during WWII. The images are high quality, in color, and very thought-provoking.
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Format: Hardcover
The heart and spirit of the japanese internees continued to shine within the walls of their confinement. They found beauty and admiration of beautiful things living in desolate and inhumane conditions of the prison camps. This is a understated book with touching stories to tell.
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Format: Hardcover
This work documents the extensive detainment of Japanese

citizens during the later period of WWII. These prisoners

were kept in whitewashed horse stalls in California, Oregon

and the State of Washington. The camps emphasized education

including arts/crafts with a shortage of teachers.

Fine works of art include:

- The Natural Form of a Snake by Obata

- Kobu by Matsuhiro

- A Bonsai Notebook by Iseyama

- Shell Broaches and Corsages by Iwa Miura and Shintaku

The volume is a solid value for the price charged. It is a must

for serious students of WWII and historians everywhere.
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Format: Hardcover
Human beings have an amazing capacity for art. In even the most dire circumstances, when it seems like they wouldn't have the energy to do much more than lay down and die, they create. That is the story of "The Art of Gaman."

I am old enough that I never learned about the Japanese internment camps in school. The first I ever heard about them was when I saw the film Come See the Paradise, and I was shocked. Not only that the US had also had concentration camps, a word I associated only with the nazis, but about the fact that it had been so hidden from my history books. Thankfully, that is not the case now, and people are much more aware of the suffering the Japanese people and their children, many native-born Americans, suffered during the racial paranoia of WWII.

But "The Art of Gaman" is not about the suffering. It is about the living, about the beautiful things that people did and made in order to make their situation more bearable. Forced to leave their homes with nothing more than they could carry, forbidden objects of metal, the people found themselves in cold, comfortless surroundings, far from the things they knew and loved. It started simply at first: a chair to sit in. a toy for a child. a picture to remind them of what they had lost. From there, it became a way to survive. Long hours with nothing to do were filled by making beautiful things. Those who had skills and knowledge set up classrooms to teach what they could. The making of art was even encouraged by the prison guards who saw the calming effect it had on their captives.

Few of these items survive.
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Format: Hardcover
Delphine Hirasuna is to congratulated on producing a fascinating and moving tribute to the 120,000 Japanese who were interned, firstly in makeshift Assembly Centers for a few months then in Relocation Camps until 1946. It took until 1988 before a Presidential apology was forthcoming for the blatant violation of their civil rights by the federal government.

I think the strength of the book is the background to why the art and craft was produced. Hirasuna explains the rounding up process and public perceptions towards the Japanese only a few months after Pearl Harbor, the locations of the camps (as remote as possible it seems) and daily struggle in a hostile environment.

On page seventeen there is a map of the US and some camp statistics including a reference to Crystal City in Texas which bizarrely held 2264 ethnic Japanese from Latin and South America (1811 from Peru) who, having been forcibly taken to the camp, were then accused of entering the country illegally! After the war the Peruvians were not allowed to return home until Congress sorted out this injustice in 1953.

Look at the paintings, sculpture, craftwork and furniture and be amazed that most of it was created from whatever materials were available, discarded wood, sacking, vegetation, rocks, shells and anything that could be cut, woven or molded. My favorites are twenty-two brooches made from shells, ribbon and wire and they look just stunning. On pages 104-5 you can see a Buddhist shrine, five foot tall, with the most intricate carvings and hard to believe that it was probably made from firewood.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book will have you in tears with its beauty in the face of diversity so extreme you can't imagine unless you've talked with a survivor of these internment camps. The level of the art is very fine, museum quality. It is hard to believe they had to scrounge the materials from dump piles and surplus. Anyone who doesn't think art can save lives should get this book.
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