Hisako Hibi

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Hisako Shimizu Hibi
Hayward, California. These people of Japanese ancestry are awaiting the special bus which will take . . . - NARA - 537522 (cropped).jpg
Hisako Shimizu
Hisako Shimizu

(1907-05-14)May 14, 1907
Torihama, Fukui, Japan
DiedOctober 25, 1991(1991-10-25) (aged 84)
San Francisco, California
OccupationPainter, teacher and printmaker
Years active1927–1991
Known for72 paintings while interned in Tanforan and Topaz
Spouse(s)Matsusaburo 'George' Hibi
ChildrenSatoshi (son, b.1931);
Ibuki (daughter, b.1937)

Hisako Shimizu Hibi (1907–1991) 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.

Early years[edit]

Hisako Hibi was born on May 14, 1907, in Torihama, a farming village located in the Fukui Prefecture, Japan. Hibi was born into a Buddhist family.[1] She was the eldest of six children and stayed with her grandmother after her parents moved to the United States. She reluctantly moved to San Francisco, California in 1920.[2] After her father's business prospered, her parents returned to Japan, but Hibi stayed in the United States, graduating from Lowell High School in 1929.[2] Hibi studied western-style oil painting at the California School of Fine Arts and participated in annual exhibitions at the San Francisco Art Association.[3][4] She has exhibited with fellow artists including Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Karl Kasten, and Earle Loran, all of whom are renowned and were active in California in the early 1930s and 1940s.[3][5]

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.[6] In 1933, the couple moved first to Mount Eden, and then to Hayward, California, where they raised their two children.


Hibi family awaits evacuation in Hayward, California on 8 May 1942, by Dorothea Lange for the WRA

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.[7] The Hibi family was first moved to the Tanforan Assembly Center in May and then to the more permanent camp at Topaz, Utah in September. At Tanforan, the Hibis and several other interned professional artists, including Byron Takashi Tsuzuki and Miné Okubo organized the Tanforan Art School under the leadership of Chiura Obata within the first month of internment.[8]

Hisako Hibi and daughter, Ibuki, in Hayward, California on 8 May 1942, by Dorothea Lange for the WRA

The family's eviction was documented by photographer friend Dorothea Lange, who captured Hibi with her daughter Ibuki standing aside mountains of luggage on 8 May 1942 as they waited for the buses that would take them to the assembly center.[9]

While interned in Tanforan and Topaz, Hibi created seventy-two paintings and taught classes in drawing, painting (oil and watercolor) and sculpture to students at the Topaz Art School, which was the resumption of the Tanforan Art School.[8] 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.[10][11] 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 a still life of flowers[12][13][14] that was exhibited in a show of work by incarcerated artists that was held at the Friends Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[6]

Of the seventy-two paintings, one is in the collection of the Oakland Museum of California, one was given to the San Francisco Buddhist Church, seven are in a private collection, and sixty-three were donated to the Japanese American National Museum between 1996 and 1998.[8] Some of the works that George Hibi created while interned are stored at UCLA.[15]

When Hisako Hibi her family was sent to internment camp, her artwork was later influenced by the conditions that they were all accommodated. She was raising her two children in the camp, having her document her experiences as a painting she created, Laundry Room (1944).[16] In the camp bathing facilities were inadequate for the inmates, so the mothers improvised by bathing their children in the laundry room.[17]

Post-war years[edit]

[...] nothing stays still, everything changes in time and condition, and that which included the human thoughts and behavior – love, hatred, anger, happiness and so on – yesterday's enemy is today's friend, and reverse, often. It says, what is not change is changes![18]

After the war the Hibis relocated to New York City. George Hibi died shortly afterwards in 1947, and to support herself and her children, Hibi took up work as a seamstress in a garment factory. She later returned to school, studying under Victor D'Amico at the Museum of Modern Art which influenced her painting style, becoming increasingly abstract.[19] In 1953, Hibi became a U.S. citizen, taking advantage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.[8] A year later, she moved back to San Francisco where she remained until her death in 1991. In 1954, Hibi worked as a housekeeper for Marcell Labaudt, who was important in the visual arts and directed the Lucien Labaudt gallery. During this time, she was able to work in a studio in Labaudt's garage.[19] Labaudt presented the work of both Hisako Hibi and her husband George Matsusaburo Hibi at the Lucien Labaudt gallery, with Hisako's work being shown in 1970 and her husband's in 1962.[1] A neighbor from Hayward, who had stored several of the family's paintings, died by 1954, and many of the early works were lost.[2] 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.[20] In 1985, the San Francisco Arts Commission presented Hibi with an Award of Honor, and mounted a major solo exhibition Hisako Hibi, Her Path at the Somar Gallery. She was an early member of the Asian American Women Artists Association.[6][17] Art was important to Hibi, in which it kept her at peace and happy after the struggles she went through in the U.S.[19] Post internment her artwork and on how she goes forward on making her paintings has evolved and improved, she was abandoned sketching all together in her process and just paint directly on the canvas. Now Hisako Hibi's art style is more abstract like one of her six post-war paintings like for example Autumn (1970).[17]

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.[6] Hibi's granddaughter, Amy Lee-Tai, wrote a children's book based on the experiences of the Hibi family in Topaz.[21]


  1. ^ a b Chang, Gordon H (2008). Asian American Art, a History 1850-1970. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. p. 329.
  2. ^ a b c Chan, Leonard D.; Chin, Philip (July 2005). "An Interview with Ibuki Hibi Lee". Asian American Books. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  3. ^ a b Kano, Betty (1993). "Four Northern California Artists: Hisako Hibi, Norine Nishimura, Yong Soon Min, and Miran Ahn". Feminist Studies. 19 (3): 628–642. doi:10.2307/3178104. JSTOR 3178104.
  4. ^ Hirasuna, Delphine (2013-11-19). The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946. Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. ISBN 978-0-307-80836-3.
  5. ^ Interview with Hisako Hibi at her residence in San Francisco, 15 Mar. 1990, by Betty Kano and Elaine Kim
  6. ^ a b c d Wakida, Patricia. "Hisako Hibi". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  7. ^ Kano, Betty (1993). "Four northern California artists: Hisako Hibi, Norine Nishimura, Yong Soon Min, and Miran Ahn". Feminist Studies. 19 (3): 628–642. doi:10.2307/3178104. JSTOR 3178104.
  8. ^ a b c d "Hibi, Hisako". Japanese American National Museum. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  9. ^ Hibi, Hisako; Lee, Ibuki H. (2004). Peaceful Painter: Memoirs of an Issei Woman Artist. Berkeley, California: Heyday Books. p. 13. ISBN 1-890771-90-2. OCLC 54952893. Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  10. ^ Kimmelman, Michael (16 June 1995). "Art in Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  11. ^ Hirasuna, Delphine (2013-11-19). The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946. Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. ISBN 978-0-307-80836-3.
  12. ^ "Flowers grown in Tanforan". Calisphere. 1943. Retrieved 18 September 2015. This entry in the art exhibit recently held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under the sponsorship of the Friends Meeting, received a special award, first in flower painting. ARTIST: Hisako Hibi, Central Utah Relocation Center, Topaz, Utah. -- Cambridge, Massachusetts. ?/?/43
  13. ^ Hibi, Hisako (August 1942). "Flowers". Calisphere. Retrieved 18 September 2015. August 1942 at Tanforan Assembly Center, San Bruno, Calif.
  14. ^ Hibi, Hisako (August 1942). "Flowers". Calisphere. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  15. ^ "Finding Aid for the Matsusaburo Hibi Papers, 1893-1972". Online Archive of California. 2001. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  16. ^ "Hisako Hibi -". DiscoverNikkei.org. Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  17. ^ a b c "New Exhibition: "A Process of Reflection: Paintings by Hisako Hibi" Opens July 27 | Press Releases | Japanese American National Museum". www.janm.org. Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  18. ^ Hibi, Hisako (1976). "Artist Statement". Asian American Arts Centre. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  19. ^ a b c Kano, Betty (1993). "Four Northern California Artists: Hisako Hibi, Norine Nishimura, Yong Soon Min, and Miran Ahn". Feminist Studies. 19 (3): 628–642. doi:10.2307/3178104. JSTOR 3178104.
  20. ^ Cozzens, Robert; Myer, Dillon S.; Kingman, Ruth (1974). "Japanese-American Relocation Reviewed: Volume II, The Internment" (Interview). Berkeley: University of California. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  21. ^ Hudson, Sigrid (20 July 2007). "A Place Where Sunflowers Grow: A Granddaughter's Tribute to Artist Hisako Hibi". Discover Nikkei. Retrieved 17 September 2015.



(in approximate order of creation)

  • "Hisako Hibi Collection". Japanese American National Museum. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  • "Guide to the Hisako Hibi Collection". Online Archive of California. 13 November 2000. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  • Hibi, Hisako (May 1945). "Dinnertime". Oakland Museum of California Collections. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  • Brown, Michael D. "Gallery". Asian American Art. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  • Hibi, Hisako (1948). "Fear". Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  • "Hibi, Hisako". Asian American Arts Centre. 1943–1980. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  • Hibi, Hisako (1943–1985). "The Hisako Hibi Gallery". Asian American Books. Retrieved 17 September 2015.

External links[edit]