A watercolor depicting a slice of life while incarcerated at the Poston WRA Center in Arizona, titled “Mr. Nosey Gives Marriage Counseling,” was among the many paintings by Gene Sogioka displayed publicly for the first time.
Poston Watercolors by Former Walt Disney Studios Artist Gene Sogioka Are Celebrated in the First Public Presentation of His Work.
Jean Sogioka La Spina, the daughter of former Walt Disney Studios artist Gene Sogioka (1914-88), gave the first public presentation of her father’s 1942-43 Poston watercolors at J-Sei in Emeryville, Calif., on March 24 during a special event sponsored by the Berkeley chapter of the JACL.
JACL Executive Director David Inoue and former JACL Executive Director and National Redress Chair John Tateishi were among the capacity crowd from the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and Santa Cruz that were gathered at the event.
The presentation included vivid pictures of Gene Sogioka’s paintings that depicted life at the Japanese concentration camp at Poston, Ariz., in which he was confined with his wife, child and in-laws in spring 1942 as a result of Executive Order 9066. Sogioka was 26 at the time and had been employed at the Walt Disney Studios, where he worked on films such as “Bambi,” “Dumbo” and “Fantasia.”
The paintings were originally made for Alexander Leighton’s research project at Poston and show rare scenes of the Poston Strike of 1943 in which work stoppages, bonfires and beatings of suspected informers captured national headlines.
Sogioka also used humor to show the lack of privacy in the barracks, a “mochi mishap” and the dating headaches of Nisei.
The 134 paintings went missing after World War II and were found in a campus attic at Cornell University in upstate New York in 1980.
Sogioka’s daughter, Jean, who resides in Florida, was a featured guest speaker. She reflected on her father’s work as well as spoke about her book, “An American Family Album,” which details the Japanese American internment experience as well as delves into her own family’s history as told through her father’s watercolor paintings.
In addition, the event allowed La Spina to meet for the first time three Sogioka relatives, Bessie, Suzie and Richard Masuda.
The Sogioka paintings are currently featured in the digital history project “50 Objects/Stories of the American Japanese Incarceration,” which is funded by a Japanese American Confinement Sites grant.