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Peaceful Painter
Memoirs of an Issei Woman Artist
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Peaceful Painter
Memoirs of an Issei Woman Artist

By Hisako Hibi
Edited by Ibuki H. Lee
2004, 75 pages, Paperback.
Book Description from the Cover Flaps
Comments from the Editor
Comments from Back Cover
About Hisako Hibi

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Book Description from the Cover Flaps

"The powerful sunflowers towered above the eaves of the barracks, with their seed heads growing to more than a foot in diameter….They bloomed firmly in the white heat of the summer, as though a symbol of existence in their desert life, like the Issei immigrants who had endured the heat and cold and the stormy political weather."
Hisako Hibi

Born in a Japanese farming village, Hisako Shimizu Hibi arrived in the United States in 1920 at the age of fourteen. Six years later she enrolled in the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) to study western-style oil painting. "It was a great joy and it was exciting to carry a paint box for the first time," she writes in her memoir.

It was a great joy that never subsided. Through the early years of her marriage to George Matsusaburo Hibi, through years of incarceration at the Tanforan Assembly Center and the Topaz internment camp during World War II, and through the years of working in dress factories as a single mother after her husband's death, she continued to paint. Her work was exhibited throughout her career, and by the end of her life she was well entrenched in the San Francisco Bay Area arts community-and still learning.

Peaceful Painter is Hibi's memoir, lovingly edited and embellished by her daughter, Ibuki Hibi Lee, with reproductions of Hibi's paintings as well as photographs taken throughout her life. Other contributors include Kristine Kim, director of program initiatives at the Japanese American National Museum, who wrote the introduction, and Jim Okutsu, professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, who contributed a historical afterword.

Written in a deceptively simple style, Hisako Hibi's memoir is rich in detail that graciously invites us into the life of a caring wife and mother, a dedicated artist, an acute observer caught up in the tumultuous history of the twentieth century.

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Comments from the Editor

My late mother, Hisako Hibi (1907-1991), was a visual artist, a painter for sixty years of her life. She began painting in San Francisco and continued to paint throughout her internment years at Tanforan Assembly Center and at Topaz, Utah, and during her post-war years in New York City and after her return to San Francisco in 1954.

Peaceful Painter Hisako Hibi, Memoirs of an Issei Woman Artist, is a book project made possible through a grant from CCLPEP. I edited my mother's manuscript, Memoirs of an Issei Woman Artist, and added the title Peaceful Painter, which she was. I received later assistance on the book's text from the editorial director at Heyday Books, Jeannine Gendar. Kristine Kim of the Japanese American National Museum wrote the Introduction and Jim Okutsu of San Francisco State University the Afterword. Art Professor Mark Johnson of SFSU was very helpful to me in this project, and his selected paintings and family photographs are also included in this book.

My mother always referred to herself as a very simple farm girl from a small country village near Kyoto in her native Japan. "I'm Hisako," she would reiterate. She wanted only to be Hisako, not anyone else. She came to the United States to join her parents here when she was fourteen years old. Though small and timid, her self-reliant spirit allowed her to prevail.

There were continued disruptions in her life, and World War II caused the relocation of her family along with 120,000 others of Japanese ancestry to inland internment camps. She became aware of the racial, economic, and social problems through personal experience, as she was a Japanese alien, poor, and female. She sought refuge in art, as she was unable to control her outward circumstances.

She wrote, "Art transcends time and space for it a universal language which enriches the human spirit by awakening us to our innermost being. I seek something beautiful with line, color and form in a way that will convey a message of peace."

She had her own style, Hisako's style, and she would not be like anyone else. She saw life simply and may not have comprehended all of the world's complexity. Yet she believed in the power of art to transform lives in a positive direction. She spoke of art with a personal, big vision—that artwork can induce joy and peace in the minds and hearts of human beings…. artists and onlookers alike.

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Comments from the Back Cover

"This is a beautiful and inspiring book. The words and paintings of Hisako Hibi add an important chapter to the still-unfolding story of what Japanese Americans experienced during the World War II internment. They also tell the story of a remarkable life, one that illustrates the indomitable spirit of the Issei, the pioneering first generation."
- James D. Houston and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, authors of Farewell to Manzanar

"With her luminous art and the grace and poignancy of her words, Hisako Hibi tells her remarkable journey as an immigrant woman, wife, mother, and artist. Her story of survival and accomplishment is made all the more extraordinary by the gentle wisdom of her voice."
- Kimi Kodani Hill, author of Topaz Moon

"Through her words and art, the remarkable Hisako Hibi conveys the harsh challenge of life within the Tanforan Assembly Center and the Topaz internment camp, as well as the generous, resilient spirit that enabled her to endure and prevail. Her compassion and creative drive infuse this engaging memoir."
- Valerie Matsumoto, Professor of History/Asian American Studies, UCLA

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Background on Hisako Hibi

Hisako Shimizu Hibi (1907-1991) was born in a farming village near Kyoto, Japan, and moved to California at age fourteen. She studied western-style oil painting at the California School of Fine Arts and participated in annual exhibitions at the San Francisco Art Association. During World War II Hibi was relocated with her family to the Tanforan Assembly Center and the Topaz internment camp. There she and her husband, George Matsusaburo Hibi, taught art in the camp schools. Once released, her family moved to New York City and her husband died soon thereafter. While working as a dressmaker to support her family, Hibi continued to paint. She returned to San Francisco in 1954. Her work was exhibited throughout her career, and by the end of her life she was well entrenched in the San Francisco Bay Area arts community.

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