By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR
Henry Fukuhara, the Nisei watercolorist who painted vibrant landscapes of Manzanar and served as a teacher and mentor to a generation of artists, passed away on Sunday. He was 96.
Fukuhara’s abstract landscape watercolors are represented in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Bernardino Museum of Art, and the Japanese American National Museum. He is listed in “Who’s Who in American Art” and is a member of the prestigious National Watercolor Society, as well as an honorary member of Watercolor West.
“I enjoy myself when I paint. I’m in another world, I forget everything,” Henry Fukuhara said at the 2005 Manzanar Paint Out, a watercolor workshop he led every year to the Owens Valley. “If you are a painter, you can move mountains, you can move trees.”
Fukuhara started the Paint Outs in 1998, bringing students and fellow artists back to the desert where he was interned with his family in 1942. The annual Henry Fukuhara Workshop attracts more than 80 painters ranging from amateurs to popular art teachers. All were drawn by their affection for Fukuhara, who would wear a floppy brimmed hat as he energetically painted the dramatic vistas of the Alabama Hills, Mt. Whitney and Manzanar. Paintings from the workshop are exhibited every year and have increased awareness of the Japanese American experience.
“The Manzanar Paint Outs were the beginning of learning about my family background,” said artist Mary Higuchi. “I was relocated to Poston, Arizona with my family in 1942. This period of internment was never a topic of conversation in my family. The only tangible remembrances were beautiful miniature carvings my father had made during that period. Because of those Manzanar Paint Outs, it has recently stimulated conversation with my mother about her experiences.”
“Over the years, it is probably fair to note that Henry had every reason to be bitter and cynical but he chose instead to focus on the good he saw in people. I consider myself fortunate to have met a with a wonderful teacher and role model,” said Woody Hansen, a Sacramento artist.
Born in Fruitland, Calif. on April 25, 1913, Fukuhara attended Santa Monica High School and enrolled in Otis Art Institue for a short time, but withdrew to help his family during the Great Depression.
He was 29 when he first came to Manzanar with his wife and child in 1942. Back then he painted in watercolors to “pass the time” behind barbed wire. The artist left Manzanar in the spring of 1943 to pick sugar beets in Shelly, Idaho. Eventually he resettled in Long Island, New York with his family in 1945 where he lived for the next 42 years working in the floral business. Tired of the cold winters, the family moved back to Fukuhara’s hometown Santa Monica in 1987 and he credited trips to the old LACMA in Exposition Park for his love of watercolor. The artist also taught master classes at Emeritus College in Santa Monica.
Even in recent years, when Fukuhara went blind, he continued to paint, with the assistance of friends, who would help him paint at the nursing home in Brea where he lived with his wife, Fuji.
“The topics are from my past—like the ferris wheel—I’ve been there a number of times so I know what it’s like. I can draw the ferris wheel, or going to Manzanar, I can draw Manzanar,” said Fukuhara in 2008.
A memorial service for Fukuhara will be held on Sunday, Feb. 7, at 1 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, 1220 Second St., Santa Monica.
The Fukuhara Family requests that in lieu of flowers donations may be made in the name of Henry Kazuo Fukuhara to the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012, or to the East Los Angeles College Foundation (Fukuhara Endowment) 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park, CA 91754.