S. Neil Fujita
Born in Waimea, Hawaii to Japanese immigrants, Fujita attended a boarding school in Honolulu, where he adopted the name Neil. He enrolled in Chouinard Art Institute, but his studies were interrupted by World War II and his forced relocation in 1942, first to the Pomona Assembly Center outside Los Angeles and later to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. During his confinement, he worked as the art director of the camp newspaper, the Heart Mountain Sentinel. He enlisted in the United States Army on January 1, 1943, and served in an anti-tank unit with the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a segregated regiment of Japanese American volunteers and draftees that became the most decorated unit in the war. He was assigned to combat duty in Europe—seeing action in Italy and France—but eventually worked as a translator in the Pacific theater in Okinawa. He completed his studies at Chouinard after the war on the G.I. Bill.
Fujita joined a prominent Philadelphia ad agency—N. W. Ayer & Son—after completing his studies. He worked for Ayer for three years and during his tenure was awarded an Art Directors Club gold medal for his Container Company of America ad. He employed an avant-garde style and was noticed by Columbia Records. Columbia hired him in 1954 to build a design department to build on the work of Alex Steinweiss who established the concept cover art. Fujita was the first to introduce painters, photographers and illustrators to create cover art for albums. Columbia felt a particular need to keep up with the cover art of Blue Note Records. Fujita created numerous iconic covers of the period, including that of Time Out, 'Round About Midnight, and Mingus Ah Um.
In 1957, Fujita left Columbia in order to broaden his portfolio. He started his own firm, but rejoined the company soon after. In 1963 he joined the public relations firm Ruder & Finn, creating a design division called Ruder, Finn & Fujita (later Fujita Design) where he embarked on a long career of book cover design. He designed the covers for In Cold Blood, The Godfather, and Pigeon Feathers. He taught design at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, the Pratt Institute, and Parsons School of Design.
A resident of Southold, New York, Fujita died at age 89 due to complications of a stroke on October 23, 2010, in Greenport, New York. He was survived by three sons and six grandchildren. His wife, Aiko Tamaki, whom he met while she was also a student at Chouinard, died in 2006.
- Aim for a job in graphic design/art (1979)
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- Fujita, S. Neil (October 2005). A Mouth of Reddish Water: A Japanese American Story.