Internment Camp Auction
FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2020, file photo Lori Matsumura visits the cemetery at the Manzanar National Historic Site near Independence, Calif. The auction of a series of sketches purportedly drawn by an artist at the Japanese internment camp has been canceled Tuesday, April 6, 2021, after groups protested it was offensive and immoral to profit off the misery of incarcerated people. Matsumura, the granddaughter of Giichi who recently reburied her grandfather's remains after a hiker unearthed his skeleton in 2019, thought the sketches could be by her late father, Masaru, or another family member. (AP Photo/Brian Melley, File)
national

Auction of Japanese internment camp art pulled after protest

28 Comments
By BRIAN MELLEY

The auction of a series of sketches purportedly drawn by an artist at the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar was canceled Tuesday after groups protested it was offensive and immoral to profit off the misery of incarcerated people.

The auction was halted by eBay hours before it was to conclude after company executives met with Japanese American groups who called the sale “hurtful, and a degrading reminder of the mass roundup and incarceration.”

“It’s seems unethical and immoral to put this artwork up on eBay to the highest bidder," said Shirley Higuchi, author of “Setsuko’s Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration.” “When you sell artwork created during an oppressive time for money ... that's against what our society feels is moral.”

The groups were led by the Japanese American National Museum and Japanese American Citizens League, which also led a successful effort in 2015 to block the auction of a much larger collection of items of internment art in New Jersey. In that case, hundreds of pieces were turned over to museums that commemorate the U.S. internment of more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent for more than three years on the dubious claim they might betray America in the war.

The artwork for sale on eBay were 20 pencil sketches from 1942-43 with the name Matsumura written at the bottom, along with the word Manzanar. The drawings depict mostly what appear to be Japanese landscapes, including one of Mount Fuji.

The groups suggested the artist could be Giichi Matsumura, the subject of a series of stories first reported by The Associated Press about a Manzanar incarceree who died in a storm while sketching and painting in the high Sierra in the final days of the war. Several Matsumura families were held at the camp 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Los Angeles.

Lori Matsumura, the granddaughter of Giichi who recently reburied her grandfather's remains after a hiker unearthed his skeleton in 2019, thought the sketches could be by her late father, Masaru, or another family member. The name printed in block letters was similar to the way her father signed high school reports.

She had discovered the auction Monday, day six of the weeklong bidding, and entered an $82 bid to try to buy the works. The price had climbed to over $470 when the sale was yanked by eBay.

The online auction site removed the sale because it violated an artifacts policy prohibiting the sale of items from government or protected land, spokeswoman Parmita Choudhury said in an email.

Matsumura had a mixed reaction to sale being halted.

“I feel I may never see those sketches again,” she said. “It depends how the seller reacts.”

Higuchi said eBay would contact the seller and put one of the groups in touch to try to obtain the collection.

The seller, listed as sunsetderby in Sharon Springs, New York, said the works came from a former girlfriend in the 1980s. The seller would not name the girlfriend in a follow-up message and said the full name of the artist was unknown.

The seller said they weren't violating eBay's policies and said other major auction houses had sold similar art.

“It’s absolutely preposterous to think that I am doing anything wrong,” the person wrote in response to a question sent through eBay.

But Nancy Ukai, project director at 50Objects.org, said sale would cause harm by putting a dollar sign on items that come from the trauma and suffering of what she said was essentially a hate crime against Japanese Americans.

People of Japanese descent were forced to burn letters and books before being bused to camps and often abandoned artwork and other items when they returned home.

“To put on a platform to the highest bidder is like a ransom to reclaim your history,” she said.

In a letter to eBay, the groups cited the current wave of attacks on Asian Americans in the U.S. that have escalated recently.

“Sales of our history are never a good thing but are especially hurtful now, when we hear cries to ‘go back to your country,’ exactly what we were told during World War II,” they wrote.

© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


28 Comments
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Ethically, the should have* NO ‘commercial value’. -

The internment is another, shameful event ‘as part of acknowledged American history’ yet, should never be forgotten. -Take heed.- It’s a testament of how ‘nationalism’ can be manipulated and turned against ‘some’ of a country’s own citizens.

With regard to the signed sketches, it appears to be about ‘historical’ and, possibly*, *a** *Matsumura family’s ‘heirlooms’.

Perhaps “50 Objects.org”, a project, partially funded through ‘private donations’ and, partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites Program. With backing ‘by private funds’ yet ‘petitioned by the government’, 50 Objects.org should:

1) seek to directly purchase the sketches for ‘a reasonable cost’;

2) ‘authenticate the origin and author’ (if possible); and

3) return the “IP” to the respective family members.

The designated ‘family’ could then decide if the sketches should be curated to a museum ‘for all’ to bear witness to ‘events that should be memorialized’.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

What current influence does this story have on ‘Japan and its citizens’, by categorizing it as a current,National’ issue?

Yes, ALL internees there were Japanese ‘descendants’. *62% of internees were ‘native-born US citizens*and, the other *38% were from Japan and had varying ‘statuses’ of residency for work, travel, etc *when FDR instituted Executive Order 9066 from Feb 19, 1942 – Mar 20, 1946.

So, some additional, editorial questions remain: What affect, or ‘thought-provocation’ is intended when media assigns certain categories to news stories? Once again, this is the editor’s choice but, clearly not currently, a so-called “National” issue in ‘a publication intended for readers in Japan’.

Issues concerning ‘America History’ and/or their political ‘sentiments’ are routinely put in the “*World” section. **Wouldn’t the intent **of a story’s assigned ‘category’ be to garner ‘worldwide’ attention and, not just ‘National’ attention and/or to stimulate Japanese ‘sentiments’ for, or against America and its citizens? ***

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Paintings by Hitler have been sold. Nazi stuff is openly sold daily.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

I don't see the big problem, and Zichi is spot on with what he says.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Acknowledged @zichi 11:07am.*

But, *@zichi, *would you agree ‘the issue Here’, ‘in This story’, is about the ‘ethical’ and ‘moral obligations’ to the deceased, the other survivors and what little, recorded history and ‘legacy’ survived of their internment?

(To stay ‘on topic’, and ‘not to detract from the issue at hand’, can we discuss those other horrific events *at another time in another forum?)

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The owner of anything has the right to sell. The ownership of the sketches are not in dispute. Only ebay decided to cancel the sale. There are no ethical or moral obligations in free market capitalism. There are millions of items from those times.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

An artist will sell many works over a lifetime and then dies. A works comes up for sale. Can the family of the artist claim they should be able to buy it back because they are family.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

We previously discussed “ownership and ‘artists’ rights” Mar 21 @zichi 12:32a. - Agreed, not disputed.

However, we don’t think you’d agree with profit (“free market capitalism”) to be made from artwork that may have been possibly, illegally seized and possssed.

- “eBay cancelled the sale.”

Agreed *@zichi 12:29a **yet, **not with the ‘terms of the cancellation’.***

*- From the article: “The online auction site removed the sale because it violated an artifacts policy prohibiting the sale of items from government or protected land,” -*

- @zichi 12:29p - “The ownership of the sketches are not in dispute.”

AND, the origin and ‘transfers of ownership’ ARE ‘in question’.

*- From the article: - “The seller in NY, said the works came from a former g/f in the 80s, would not name the g/f and said the full name of the artist was unknown.” -*

The current, ‘allegedly gifted’ ‘owner’ still has ‘possession’ of the sketches. We don’t know how “the ex-G/F”, the ‘giftor’, acquired them. (it’s yet to be determined)

It’s Hypothetical, but we can’t imagine ‘sketches’ made by a POW signed with the name of POW camp depicting landscapes of his country of origin would NOT be seized, especially by those falsely accusing them, without trial, of being ‘spies’ for the country of their ethnicity.

Many details are yet to be disclosed and legal rights to property need to be established,

3 ( +3 / -0 )

GREED has NO ethics, NO borders, and NO morals.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

So photos of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should not be sold?

Similar stories have happened previously, like this on in 2015.

https://abc7news.com/internment-camp-art-auctino-world-war-ii-mementos/660109/

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Once again @zicih 5:54P, the event you reference in your first sentence *is “*another, shameful event ‘as part of acknowledged American history’ yet, should never be forgotten.” However, those 2 horrific events are NOT synonymous with ‘internment’.

{So, respectfully requested again, to stay ‘on topic’, and ‘not to detract or detour from ‘the issue at hand’, can we discuss those 2 horrific events at another time in another forum?}

Yes. - “Similar stories have happened previously, like this on in 2015.” -

Respectfully, we watched the ‘news story’ and read the accompanying article. Looking at the ‘family photos’ and ‘artworks’, we are left with these additional thoughts:

We can imagine the range of emotions the artists felt trying to craft any semblance of creative expression while enduring their loss of freedom during internment.

As an artist yourself, you can probably imagine the limited art materials made available to them and the few, scarce, natural materials found in such a desolate place {(We’ve seen it in-person)}.

Furthermore, it’s equally shameful that’s New Jersey-based Rago Arts and Auction Center and the unrelated, non-family member ‘sellers’ were not haunted by those Japanese ‘family photos’ they chose to profit from, even after rejecting ‘known family members who identified the subjects and offered to purchase the photos directly’.

Can’t condone it. @Mark 5:45p sums it up appropriately:

“GREED has NO ethics, NO borders, and NO morals.” -

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If this eBay seller had any sense of decency they would donate the drawings to the US National Park Service for public display at Manzanar.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@zichi 9:28 Read your efforts. Thanks. Peace. -

Geez moderators WE are BOTH ‘on topic’ and resolving ‘the issue at hand’

Please let us post to show resolutions can be met. or it may look like suppression and unwarranted censorship, for an unknown, unstated and ambiguous reason.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

snowymountainhell

But, @zichi, would you agree ‘the issue Here’, ‘in This story’, is about the ‘ethical’ and ‘moral obligations’ to the deceased, the other survivors and what little, recorded history and ‘legacy’ survived of their internment?

I don't agree. The only issue is who is the legal owner of the sketches. We don't even know the Provenance  of the sketches. Painted at the Japanese internment camp with the name Matsumura on them. There were several Matsumura families. There were other people making paintings too.

The sketches could have been given to another person or abandoned at the camp which to me would be unlikely since they would take up a small part of a case or bag.

What matters utmost are the legal matters and not the ethical or moral obligations.

It's unlikely, since these sketches are without Provenance, that true ownership can be proven or disproven. The media attention on the story is more likely to arouse interest from collectors than prevent their sale.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The artist died while going for a hike in the mountains, which suggests the conditions in the camps weren't all that bad (especially by the standards of WW2).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

We did agree, @zichi 10:22a, in part, earlier today:

@zichi 9:28a - “The Japanese Imperial Army looted hundreds of thousands of artifacts from China and most were never returned to their owners or families.” -*

Acknowledged, and finally, somewhat equivalent events relatable to the internees’ experiences. -

Then, can we agree:

There were possible, and probable, ‘misappropriations’ of U.S. Japanese ‘family possessions’ during wartime and the ‘rights to ownership and conveyance’ need to be investigated and established before any additional profit or, ‘curation of artifacts’ can proceed ?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

snowymountainhell

Then, can we agree:

There were possible, and probable, ‘misappropriations’ of U.S. Japanese ‘family possessions’ during wartime and the ‘rights to ownership and conveyance’ need to be investigated and established before any additional profit or, ‘curation of artifacts’ can proceed ?

In this case that is unlikely. Ownership would have to be claimed and proved by his surviving family and show rights of ownership. Since it was more than 70 years ago, and the artist survived the internment camp for many years and died in the mountains recently never mentioned those sketches in documents or letters.

I think in this case, ownership will be the person having them in their hands. And free to sell them to whomever they want.

Illegal ownership should have the sketches returned to the family.

Even after leaving the camp the artist could have sold or gifted the works.

Only a court injunction can put a hold on a sale but in his case they don't even know the name or address of the current owner.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In a famous Tokyo art museum there is a famous painting which they purchased but was stolen from a family in the UK. Provenance in this case can be proven. The museum refuses to return the painting unless the family pay the back the money paid for the painting.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

That’s tragic news @zichi 12:06p for the U.K. family, especially IF they are having to petition for repossession through the Japanese legal ‘system’. Courts here styled the rule of law similar to ‘Continental European’ rules derived from the German and French systems. Unfortunately, those legal rules of civil law are founded on the notion that "in the case of movables, possession is equivalent to title". They may never recover that art unless they pay a ‘compenransompation’.

Fortunately, for the case in the article above, it’s all taken place within U.S. jurisdictions, where ‘common law’ still prevails. There is possible recourse for the survivors and objects from the internment camps. In the U.S. federal intervention can always supersede local jurisdictions, especially when ‘artifacts’, including ‘sketches of federally protected lands’, have been ‘removed from federally protected lands’. Regardless of who the author or craftsman may have been, ‘artifacts’ can be seized and recovered, without compensation to the possessor, regardless of any monetary loss or expenditure.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Regarding your 12:03p comments: No, of course not, we don’t have to agree an all points. And, WE are willing to concede where You may be correct. However, some of your assumptions may be from misunderstanding or misinterpretation of a few, yet important details from the article.

-  @zichi 12:03p: “Since it was more than 70 years ago, and the artist survived the internment camp(?) for many years (??) and died in the mountains recently (???) and never mentioned those sketches in documents or letters.(????)

Sorry, @zichi 12:03p, it was impossible for him to ‘mention’ the sketches as the ‘grandfather/possible artist’ died decades ago, ‘during the war’

From the article -

“the groups suggested the artist could be ‘Giichi Matsumura’, a Manzanar incarceree who died in a storm while sketching & painting in the high Sierra “in the final days of the war” {and} recently reburied remains after a hiker unearthed his skeleton in 2019. {The granddaughter} thought the sketches could be by her late father, Masaru, or another family member. {in that} The name printed in block letters was similar to the way her father signed high school reports.

Your “Possession is representative of ownership” argument is the difference between traditional U.S. “common law rules” and those of the Continental European jurisdictions you may be citing:

“I think in this case, ownership will be the person having them in their hands. And free to sell them to whomever they want.” - {and} - “Only a court injunction can put a hold on a sale” -

However, since it’s a U.S. issue, “common law” will most like prevail IF a ‘preponderance of evidence’ can be shown in a U.S. civil court of law.  U.S. legal precedents show: “The original owner and heirs of an asset can repossess it and overcome a possessor’s/buyer's claim. Founded on the doctrine that "he who hath not cannot give", the possessor/buyer is stripped of any rights in the asset, even if they were ‘innocent’ in receipt of the property.”

“Even after leaving the camp the artist could have sold or gifted the works.” -

Again, @zichi 12:03p, it was impossible for him to have ‘sold or gifted’ the sketches as the ‘grandfather/possible artist’ died decades ago, ‘during the war’

“but in this case they don't even know the name or address of the current owner.”

No.  A simple Ebay/Google search (easily done, last night) followed by a court-ordered subpoena discloses the identity and location of the current ‘possessor’ of the sketches.

However, civil procedures are not cheap. Legal fees and court court costs may be what is curtailing the families further efforts, at this time. It may be time for federal authorities to step in unless the current possessor has a ‘change of heart’.

“Illegal ownership should have the sketches returned to the family.” -

Agree with you on that final point.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The camp was opened from march 1942-August 14 1945.

If the artist had died in the final days of the war he must have been already released from the camp since he died in the High Sierra which is some road distance from the camp. Was he released and did he take his property with him? So his skeleton was tested for DNA?

Where are any other works by him.

I know little about Ebay. Do you give your address?U thought it was only the phone number. There are digital prints available of works from the camps. The current owner could also make digital prints and sell them. There are also photos from the camps.

Is there a difference between sketches and photos?

The current owner could just destroy the sketches out of spite.

Not all claims for art stolen/looted have been successful and had them returned to heirs.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"...groups protested it was offensive and immoral to profit off the misery of incarcerated people..." Pssst, don't tell the Chinese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A good account of what happened to Giichi Matsumura, and his death in the mountains.

https://3riversnews.com/in-the-shadow-of-the-mountain-part-six/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have always respected what Zichi had to say regarding the 3-11 crisis, but he is off the mark this time. As an amateur historian I have done significant research on the assembly and internment camps in California. Giichi Matsumura was still interned in 1945, as were many Japanese Americans who were waiting to see if they could return to their neighborhoods, and if they could reacquire their homes (most did not). Many whites effectively barred their return by strong threats of violence.

Depending on the camp, by 1945 restrictions were relaxed and many internees could sign out of their camp for hours or days at a time. In Manzanar it was not unusual for internees to go hiking or fishing in the nearby Sierras, as Manzanar was located at the base of the southern Sierras. A number of famous artists were interned at Manzanar.

I also disagree that the “owner” has a right to sell whatever is in their possession. When it comes to art objects acquired in the periphery of WWII, this is especially true, as the original owners were often forced or coerced to give up objects of value before evacuating. How many times have we read of Nazi-confiscated art being returned by museums or nations (such as US and Argentina) to families of the original Jewish owners?

In this case, many Issei and Nisei were told to leave most of their possessions at warehouses under US military jurisdiction and located along the West Coast, as they could only bring into the camps what they could carry. Some also trusted white neighbors with their possessions. In many cases this was a mistake. The warehouses were unguarded and many items were later found stolen or vandalized. Likewise many white neighbors stole, sold off or eventually threw out items they had been entrusted with.

Until provenance of these drawings can be determined by more research, speculation here is useless. However it is notable that the Matsumura family had apparently been unaware of the existence of these drawings and want to acquire them. Some artists gave their works to white workers in the camps. But in the case of Giichi Matsumura, it needs to be determined what happened to his possessions after his disappearance. Did these drawings even come to Manzanar or were they been left behind? Estate sellers have few scruples, but I hope this seller does right by the family.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

KansaiTen

the link I have posted explains in detail about Gilchi Matsumura and how he died when a group of men from the camp went fishing in the mountains.

His family remained at the camp for sometime after the exclusion order was lifted. They had no where to go. They would have had access to his belongings including any paintings and sketches.

So what happened to those sketches from the time the family left the camp until the recent time when they were put up for auction on Ebay.

I believe the Provenance of these works will be very difficult to discover.

I believe the dates of the works will be difficult to prove. Were they created prior to the internment or were they created during the internment.

The family would have to show Provenance to claim ownership.

The best and least costly action would be if the Ebay seller sold them to the family for the amount he would have achieved. Or give them back to the family which is unlikely to happen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Erin Thompson, a professor of art crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said anyone who legally owns a work of art is entitled to sell it. But she said consideration should be given to the circumstances of a work’s creation and the artist’s intent. When the creator can’t be consulted, a community consensus could be sought."

https://news.yahoo.com/auction-japanese-internment-art-pulled-234049859.html

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It appears from accounts that  Gilchi Matsumura wasn't a professional artist and only started to paint and draw after he was interned. The sketches of the post are small pencil sketches with little value in money terms. The sketches could have been in a trunk of his belongings owned by a relative who recently died. The estate of the deceased relative were sold.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Having read you questions @zichi 4/8 3:45p started looking more into it. So, it seems like we were both on the same ‘path’ for answers yesterday evening. After reading and watching the plight of Giichi Matsumura’s extended family, had to take a break from the ‘humanity’ of this story. With more details learned, as stated @2:48p, willing to consider other possible scenarios where there remains doubt and concede where wrong.

Came across the same 3rivers piece and others accounting for his life and last days, as well.

Also, read Erin Thompson’s scholarly opinion about entitlement to sell. Giichi’s family would most likely use the second part for their assertions:

*- “...but, consideration should be given to the circumstances of a work’s creation and the artist’s intent. When the creator can’t be consulted, a community consensus could be sought."*

Yes @*zichi**, they had ‘freedom’ in the last year of the war yet**, were afraid to return to outside areas with no money, possessions or prospects for work while America was still at war with Japan, ***the country of their ethnicity but not their loyalty. ( Matsumura himself signed for the draft for WW1.)

Yes. His wife had him leave behind his art materials before the ill-fated fishing trip, but he did borrow other materials and lagged behind the group to sketch.

So, yes, someone else in the camp could be the the artist of the Ebay works in question.

No artworks are depicted as recovered from the site of death first discovered by 2 hikers weeks after his disappearance. No artworks were depicted as recovered by the first ‘burial party’ in 1945. And, no artworks were recovered by the 2nd set of hikers who uncovered his resting place in 2019.

The search/burial party cut his hair and nails yet those were enshrined with his wife later when she died. Yes, his recovered body was DNA tested and matched with the surviving granddaughter.

With regards to photos, Toyo Miyatake, also interred at Manzanar was one of three people chronicling the landscape, building and other aspects of the camp. Yet, Miyatake’s photos are more intimate with the mood of the people and events during their interment.

Of course, the other two, notably Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, had freedom outside the camp. Miyatake began a longtime collaboration with Adams since 1943 when Adams visited and photographed the camp. After the war, they showed their photographs in a collaborative exhibit and published the book Two Views of Manzanar featuring both Miyakake’s and Adams' photos of the camp. These may be some of the photos you’ve seen for sale.

Sorry, we won’t conflate the issue here further with any debate of possible differing ‘value’ of “sketches, photos, prints, reprints, etc” or speculation on what the ‘current possessor’ may choose to do.

From here, will defer to @KansiaTen 12:07a who expresses has similar sentiments about ethics and morality surrounding ‘family possessions’ misappropriated during wartime.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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