Members of The Six & Twenty Book Club met via Zoom Friday, May 7. Program leader Kathleen Blake chose the book “Obata’s Yosemite” to pass among members last year, which is now the current year due to pandemic rescheduling.
Published by the Yosemite Conservancy, the book details the art and letters of Japanese artist Chiura Obata from his trip to the High Sierra mountains in 1927. Blake had seen Obata’s work at the National Portrait Gallery in fall 2019 and was amazed at his treatment of Yosemite’s awe-inspiring monuments from her home state of California.
El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, as well as the quiet majesty and intimacy of the national park’s streams, lakes, wildflowers and trees were the subjects of more than 150 sketches and paintings drawn during the six-week trip.
Obata, who lived from 1885 to 1975, ranks among the most significant artists and Japanese American cultural leaders of the last century. He immigrated to San Francisco in 1903 and made firsthand drawings of the historic 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck San Francisco April 18, 1906. Obata was an art professor at UC Berkeley from 1932 to 1954, but he and his family were incarcerated in California and Utah when World War II fears force more than 100,000 West Coast Japanese into camps from April 1942-1945. During the camp years, Obata and others conducted comprehensive art classes in 25 subjects for more than 1,500 students.
After leaving the Berkeley campus, Obata and his wife spent 15 years offering tours to Japan to see Japanese gardens and art, plus traveled throughout California giving lectures and demonstrations on Japanese brush painting. They became naturalized citizens in 1954.