Crocker Museum kept Japanese American art safe during WWII internment

An agreement between E.B. Crocker Art Gallery and a Japanese American to store art possessions during World War II.
An agreement between E.B. Crocker Art Gallery and a Japanese American to store art possessions during World War II. blindelof@sacbee.com

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, clearing the way for the Japanese Americans to be removed from their homes and relocated in camps throughout the West.

That same year, on April 10, what was then called the E.B. Crocker Art Gallery began receiving and storing artistic works from 27 Japanese American families, most of them in the Sacramento area.

The Crocker kept the kimonos, dolls, Buddhist shrines, ceremonial tea services, vases, paintings and other items until they were reclaimed by the Japanese American citizens who were sent to the war relocation camps.

Some Americans of Japanese descent lost land and homes, but, thanks to the Crocker, some of their coveted art objects and family possessions were retained.

“Crocker stood up at the right time and helped out,” said John Caswell, the Crocker Art Museum’s registrar.

Only recently was the Crocker’s good deed rediscovered when Caswell started to piece together the details of the art safekeeping of 73 years ago. While researching information for a lecture in 2011, he found an entry on an old Crocker shipping ledger that mentioned the return of boxed paintings to Henry Sugimoto, a painter from Hanford, Kings County, of some renown who was incarcerated in a camp during the war.

In 2013, he found original receipts for the acceptance of stored property and began to collect the names and compile a list of objects.

The receipts for the 27 families included the phrase: “The above objects are accepted for storage without charge during the conditions arising from the war between Japan and the United States; more particularly the enforced removal of the Japanese from the Sacramento area.”

Most of those who availed themselves of the Crocker’s offer lived in Japantown, then a tight-knit community around the museum.

They included Mrs. I. Ishi on Fourth Street, Alice Abe on T Street, Miss Susie Shizuye Otani from Fourth Street and Lillian Date of O Street.

“There was a real physical connection between the Crocker and Japantown,” Caswell said. “They were neighbors.”

On May 27 the city of Sacramento voted to repeal the law supporting Japanese internment during World War II.

Call The Bee’s Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079.

“Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit” is a photographic exhibit featuring the work of Paul Kitagaki Jr., a Sacramento Bee photographer.

The Japanese concept of gambatte is the triumph over adversity. Kitagaki’s exhibit juxtaposes historic images of Japanese Americans interned during WWII with contemporary photos of the same individuals or their descendants by Kitagaki.

Where: California Museum, 1020 O St., Sacramento

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and noon-5 p.m. the first Sundays of each month through May 3

Cost: $6.50-$9, free for children 5 and under and for members.

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