Friday, September 16, 2011

A dark time in Arkansas' past

While generally I will talk about the history of Little Rock, tonight is not one of those nights.

Earlier this evening, I had the opportunity to attend one of the Dishongh Lectures sponsored by the Central Arkansas Library System, as well as view an exhibit at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in the Arkansas Studies Institute on President Clinton Ave.

The lecturer this evening was Delphine Hirasuna, who has written a book on the arts and crafts which were created in Japanese-American interment camps during World War II.

The lecture and the exhibit were both rather incredible and shed a great deal of light on a period of time that many Arkansans, if not many Americans would rather forget.

In response to the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Orders 9066 and 9102 over fears of treason by Japanese who lived on the west coast.  These Executive Orders allowed for the relocation of Japanese citizens and aliens in the United States to one of ten relocation centers.  Ten relocation centers were designated, two of which were at Rowher and Jerome, in southeastern Arkansas.

Rowher Camp, National Archives
As a child, Ms. Hirasuna was one of over 110,000 that were forced into the camps by the government, and ended up with her family at Rowher.  The land for the camps was often in the desert, where temperatures routinely reached 120 degrees, or as in the case of the Arkansas camps, the swampy delta.

While some internees were able to find agricultural or construction jobs within the camp, many were unable to find any work and were forced to find other ways to keep themselves busy.  Beginning with building more practical pieces such as tables and chairs, internees began to develop their skills.  More decorative pieces were soon to follow, as art and craft classes taught by skilled internees became popular ways to pass the time.  Much of Ms. Hirasuna's lecture focused on showing some of the incredible works of art that were turned out by people that were previously store owners or farmers, frequently focusing on the camps for their subject matter, as seen below.

Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

One of the crafts of particular note in the collection that is on display at the Arkansas Studies Institute are the bird pins, which were created at every camp and were the genesis of Ms. Hirasuna's interest in the art of the camps.  The pins are rather intricate and some of them were quite beautiful.

Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

Ms. Hirasuna suggested that the art is indicative of the concept of "Gaman" which is Japanese for "enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity."  That out of the pain and shock of relocation, community and culture sprang up and sustained itself in the face of hardship.  

In 1946, the relocation program ended, the internees began the process of returning to homes which had in many cases been ransacked, and only the art from Rowher was collected into a rather central place and held by a single person until the collection was given to the Butler Center archives.  For a lot more information on the exhibit and the history of the camps, you can check out the Butler Center.

The traveling exhibit has been on display around the country, including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution and is currently on display until November 26 at the Arkansas Studies Institute (401 President Clinton Ave.) in the Concordia Hall Gallery.  Everybody in Little Rock should check it out.

Butler Center Rowher Experience Website
The Art of Gaman on Amazon

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'm not from around here.

Until about month ago, the only home I'd ever known was Fayetteville, Arkansas.  I feel like after living there for twenty-seven years I know practically everything about the town.  I know the best restaurants, the best shortcuts through football traffic, and as a history student, I like to think I know a good bit about the history of my hometown. 

Then I moved to Little Rock for grad school.

It has been an adjustment for sure.  I don't know my way around very well and I'm lost when trying to find different places around town.  One of the other things that I've quickly realized is that I know next to nothing about the history of this town.  I mean, I've learned about the Little Rock Nine and a little about how Little Rock became the capital, but aside from that...I have no idea.

Enter this blog.  For my Intro to Public History class, every student has to undertake some sort of Public History project.  This is my project.  I want to learn more about Little Rock and the rest of the state and write about it here, so that's what I'm going to do.  As often as possible, I'm going to write about the history of something.  Mostly Little Rock, but not always.  I hope you'll stick around and learn a bit with me.