Monday, February 27, 2012

The Close of the Nakagawa Exhibit

The exhibit of the Internment Camp Art of Kasumi “Gus” Nakagawa at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center ends this Wednesday.
The show has been well received with visitors dropping in from San Jose to Santa Rosa as well as from all around Marin County. (As is often the case with our monthly exhibits,  I’m sorry to see  this one go; this one perhaps more than most).

After leaving the internment camp at Poston, Arizona, at the close of the war, Gus Nakagawa headed east.He continued his art studies there. In 1951, he participated in the 75th anniversary exhibition of painting and sculpture by 75 artists from the Art Students League at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He spent much of his life in commerical art.
George Washington Bridge
Here are a few watercolors—post internment camp-- he did in the late 1940’s while living in New York.

Snowball Play, New York City circa 1946

Chinatown, New York City circa 1946

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Executive Order 9066: The Internment Camp Art of Kasumi “Gus” Nakagawa

"Latrine and Laundry"

This month, at the galleries of the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, I’m pleased to be presenting an exhibit I think is of some historic significance: The internment camp watercolors of Kasumi “Gus” Nakagawa.

Gus Nakagawa

February 19, 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's signing of Executive Order 9066, authorizing the exclusion of persons of Japanese ancestry from designated areas of Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona, in order to prevent any possible acts of espionage or sabotage.  More than 110,000 Japanese Americans were ordered to dispose of their homes and possessions within a matter of days, and report for relocation, bringing with them only what they could carry. 

Evacuation Order

Due process of law was suspended as they were rounded up without being charged of any crime and banished to prison camps in isolated regions of the country for the duration of World War II.   

In the early 1940’s, Gus Nakagawa along with his parents and siblings were sent to the War Department Internment Center in Poston, Arizona, near the California border. 

While there, the still teenaged Gus produced a series of watercolor paintings during his family’s three years of internment.

This photo presumably taken by camp officals while artists were painting a mural.

At Poston, Gus studied watercolor painting under Gene Sogioka (a former Disney animator). Fellow students included Harry Yoshizumi whose work is held in the Japanese-American Archival Collection, Cal State Sacramento

"Barracks" by Nakagawa

"Garage" by Nakagawa

"Outdoors" by Nakagawa

 "Afternoon Dust Storm"  Watercolor by K.Takamura
(The  remarkable piece above is probably the work of Kango Takamura. It was among the works held by the Nakagawa family. Takamura had been a photo retoucher for RKO Studios before his internment at the Manzanar camp).

Cameras (and other recording devices) were not allowed at Poston and in most cases were confiscated.This means that the artwork by Nakagawa and other interned artists is the only personal visual record in existence.

After the war, Nakagawa studied at the Arts Student League in New York and worked as a commercial artist on the East Coast. His work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is in the Huntington Library Collection. Gus is now deceased.  The artworks in this exhibit are now held by his brother Henry Nakagawa, age 91.

David and Henry Nakagawa

The Nakagawa family has loaned the works to the Center for the February exhibit.

A few shots from the art reception.

Harry Cohen and Al Ardelle

Leah Stander, Scott Oakes and Molly
Thanks to David Nakagawa for all his tremendous work on this exhibit.
Artwork and memorabilia courtesy of the Nakagawa family

Here are a few sources on the subject:

Beyond Words: Images from America's Concentration Camps by Deborah Gesensway and Mindy Roseman

"Internment and Identity in Japanese American Art " by Kristine C. Kuramitsu, American Quarterly #4, Dec. 1995

Treasures from Ten Centuries  The Huntington Libary, 2004
(features Gus Nakagawa's artwork)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Larry's Cartoon Vault: Creig Flessel's 100th Birthday

February 2nd was the birthday of Creig Flessel.  He would have been 100 !

I was very pleased to learn that The Art League of Long Island ( Dix Hills, New York)  just held a month long exhibit of Creig’s work.  (See: )

One of Creig's early comic book covers

Creig was a grand master cartoonist and illustrator. One of the pioneer comic books artists of the late 1930’s (he was already working for Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s  comic book titles when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first walked in with Superman ).

Boy's Life cover  1959

 He later worked as an assistant for Al Capp on Lil’ Abner, drew advertising comic strip for Johnstone & Cushing, did  illustrations for Boy’s Life and the Sunday Pictorial Review and hundreds- actually  more like thousands- of other drawings for publication.
David Crane original
 At one time he drew the syndicated soap opera comic strip featuring a church pastor,David Crane, followed by the creation of a naughty feature, Baron Von Firstinbed, for Playboy.
Creig was fond of saying he went from piety to porn in one lifetime.
Sketch of me by Creig Flessel

I had a chance to get acquainted with Creig and Marie Flessel while they were living at the Redwoods Retirement Center in Mill Valley.  Molly’s mother, Virginia Irvin, lived there as well and our regular visits to the Redwoods meant we ran into the Flessels quite often.

Creig remained very active as an artist. He was in essence the house artist for the Redwoods. His artwork was all over the facility on flyers and posters. He contributed cartoons and illustrations to the Redwood’s Review, The Redwoods Bark newsletter and the magazine The Raconteur.

Cover of The Raconteur by Creig


from the Raconteur

From the Pacific Sun

He also organized the monthly art exhibits of resident artists including Virginia Irvin. (Since Virginia had been a newspaper illustrator for the San Francisco Examiner and her father, Rea Irvin, was a well known cartoonist-illustrator and original New Yorker art editor, I think Creig felt a kinship with Virginia).

Creig Flessel died on July 17, 2008. He was 96 but he didn’t seem ready to leave. He had just won a ribbon at Marin County Fair art show.
A remarkable gift of life was bestowed in Creig-he never lost his wit, his talents or his love of drawing. His skills did not wane. His last drawings were still masterful, filled with knowledge. I was always amazed by this.
He was a gentle and open person. At the Redwoods he stood out among the many powerful, creative (and occasionally eccentric) personalities there. He was always doing drawings for others, always on the move.

Drawing for Hilda on leaving the Redwoods

I remember one of the last times I ran into him. He was shuffling along pushing his wheeled walker ahead of him (We were in the health care unit, a considerable distance from his and Marie’s apartment). He was on his way to deliver one of his specialty drawings to a friend. His friend, a sergeant in the army during World War 2, had told Creig about the time he had encountered an Italian brigade. He thought he was in trouble until he realized they were trying to surrender to him. The sergeant took in the entire brigade apparently including tanks and a general (!).  Crieg liked the story and drew a full color cartoon of the experience as a gift.

There was a celebration of his life held at the Redwoods some weeks after his death. The room was packed. Crieg’s daughter-in-law asked for a show of hands of those in attendance who had ever received a drawing from Creig.  Almost everyone in the room raised their hand.

Redwood's Celebration of Life program

Random factoids and misconceptions:
I once showed him a copy of some artwork –billed as original Flessel - up for auction on ebay.  It was a romance comic book page from the ‘60’s or 70’s.  He remembered drawing some romance comics for Joe Simon (circa 1950’s) as fill-in between other commercial l work in the 1950’s but the example I showed him was definitely not his.  He was often bothered by the factual errors regarding his past work and career found on the internet and in the fan press. He told me of discovering he was misidentified as the cover artist of an issue of a 1930’s Blue Book (a cover drawn by Flannery) and then being credited with work on the Superboy comic book that he was pretty convinced he didn’t do (DC continued to send him royalties for the work despite the fact he told them he didn’t do it).
Another was the assertion-by way of Wikipedia-that he graduated from Alfred University * (This ‘fact’ made its way into every obit—internet and print media-- I found on Crieg).
* He attended Grand Central Art School.
He won the Inkpot Award from Comic Con, the National Cartoonist Society’s Silver T-Square and the Sparky Award from the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum. He was mentioned in Michael Chabon’s novel , The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (as “Craig” Flessel).  
Marie Flessel  died January 20, 2011

After his appearance at the 2008 WondeCon, Creig told me “ I’ve got a photograph of you”.
The photo he sent made me laugh:

I’m not the young Asian woman next to Creig—but I am in the picture.