He was locked up for being different. His drawings tell the story

Art from “Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii.”
Art from “Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii.” Washington State History Museum

Like thousands of other Japanese and Japanese Americans living on the West Coast in 1942, Takuichi Fujii was incarcerated during World War II.

Unlike most of his fellow internees, Fujii left behind an extensive collection of images to document it.

“Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii” displays those images at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

Fujii’s grandson, Sandy Kita, owns the seldom-seen body of work, which was brought back into public view by art historian and curator Barbara Johns.

“It gives a sense of what it is to be confined by your own government,” Johns said.

Fujii, an artist, immigrated to Washington in 1906 and settled in Seattle.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which effectively imprisoned more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent or nationality.

Fujii was 50 at the time of his internment.

First in Puyallup and then Idaho, Fujii wasn’t content to just draw landscapes or portraits. Instead, he used his pen like a photojournalist uses a camera.

Ink drawings show people being rounded up in downtown Seattle, loaded onto trains, sleeping in cramped quarters and watched over by armed guards.

A color drawing shows a barbed wire fence with a sign that reads, “Puyalup Assebly Center.”

One part of the show focuses on the temporary detention camp at the Puyallup fairgrounds. Another part is built around Fujii’s time at Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho.

Fujii’s 400-page diary has been digitized and is on display.

Though Johns is sure the diary was made in the camp some of the paintings could have been made later.

“I can’t tell you with any certainty what was produced in the camp and what was produced later upon reflection,” she said.

The artist probably didn’t have the luxury of fine materials to work with. He sometimes crammed two images per page into his small diary. Several paintings were made on cardboard.

During her research, Johns found references to Fujii’s fame as an artist while in the camp.

He drew and painted during the 3 1/2 years he spent incarcerated.

In all, 70 pieces are on display at the museum but they’re not all drawings and paintings. A display case holds delicate carvings made of peach pits, a handy medium in the camp.

After the war, Fujii and his wife resettled in Chicago.

“Chicago had become the center of Japanese America during the way and remained a strong community after the war,” Johns said.

Fujii died in 1964. His widow held onto the art, which eventually was passed on to grandson Kita.

Johns had been aware of Fujii’s pre-war work but it wasn’t until 2011 that she was introduced to Kita. She has produced a book on the artist’s work, “The Hope of Another Spring.”

“It makes the story on internment very personal,” Johns said of Fujii’s work. “It’s an insider story. It’s a very intimate story.”

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

‘Witness to Wartime:

The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii’

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. every third Thursday, through Jan. 1

Where: Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma

Tickets: Adults: $14; seniors, students and military: $11; children visit free.

Information: 253-272-3500, washingtonhistory.org/