Henry Fukuhara, 96; Manzanar Watercolorist


Henry Fukuhara paints a landscape of the Manzanar concentration camp at his eighth annual watercolor workshop in April 2005. Fukuhara, a former Manzanar internee who passed away on Sunday, found inspiration and inspired others with his popular Paint Outs held yearly in the Owens Valley. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)


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’s “Reflections of Manzanar.”

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.

Visitors view paintings from the Fukuhara’s Manzanar Paint Out Workshop at the Fine Arts & Graphics Gallery in Torrance last August. (Visitors view paintings from the Fukuhara’s Manzanar Paint Out Workshop at the Fine Arts & Graphics Gallery in Torrance last August. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

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.



  1. Pingback: Renowned Manzanar Watercolorist Henry Fukuhara Dies At 96 « Manzanar Committee

  2. Our lives are so enriched just to be associated with Henry. He was a wonderful, unique artist, a mentor and a very caring person. We are blessed by God for sharing him with us! I feel a sense of great personal loss, but feel relief that he is now at peace.

  3. Henry touched my life in several ways……My mentor of art, a great insperation of humanity, a kindest person of all, and a sweet friend of mine. And we both liked sushi & curry beef turnovers. I wish I had visited him more often with some curry turnovers in the last few months.We will miss him & talk about him for very very long time. We will always remember how much he contributed to this world.

  4. To know Henry is to love him … and be influenced by him. Henry was an irreplaceable friend, a role model to many people. He was an artistic original, a special, caring, sharing, nurturing, forgiving human being; an artist’s artist, a teacher’s teacher, a mentor’s mentor, and an American’s American. Artists of the world will miss Henry, but will not forget him, … nor will they forget his unique watercolor paintings.

  5. My family had a great deal of respect for Henry. I grew up with his daughter Helen, in the Deer Park Community Presbyterian Church located in Deer Park, N.Y.
    I remember when Henry invited my wife and myself to his studio to pick out one of his paintings for a wedding present. I have been married for a second time, so I have two paintings hanging proudly in my home!
    Henry did presentations for students in Sachem High School. Henry knew I taught at Sachem so he used to call me for a ride to and from school.
    I was always impressed with his quiet, proud presence. As I learned more about our nation’s treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII, I was amazed at how he and his family were not bitter. The Fukahara family’s industriousness and determination are a model for all Americans.
    I hope Henry’s family is doing well and knows the high regard the Spelman family held for the Fukahara family!
    Kevin Spelman

  6. On behalf of the Fukuhara family we thank you for your wonderful stories & messages about my grandfather. Many thanks to Gwen Muranaka for this article. This article & especially this particular photo is a real treasure. I love that Grandpa is photographed painting Manazar while Mary & Tom are looking on.

  7. for Henry I have not much to said .That some one has not said .but his energy and entusiasm I will never forget, I will miss him, I miss him now but I will have a shrine on my mind and heart because I will always hear that boice . T want to paint ..I know he will be with us for ever and ever. Gladys Checa

  8. Uncle Henry has shared many memories with numerous individuals – but he will always be my “Hippie” Uncle Henry with his long “graying” hair back in the 60’s before he got his floppy hat. The Buddhist believe – Positive causes positive effects – negative causes negative effects – Uncle Henry’s choice to focus on Manzanar positively helped others to be positive. The Japanese have a proverb “We are who we are because of those who came before us – for this we will forever be grateful” Uncle Henry epitomizes this for many. He is missed by many.

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  10. Henry and I often painted together, during my many ” Dial-A-Demo ” watercolor presentations back East, in L.I. and NJ. I am now an active 85, yet Henry was a magnificent highly talented creative designer of everything. Henry was a ” true friend ” of everybody. I miss henry. I would complete a full sheet WC in 45 minutes. Henry would take 15 minutes to complete a ” monumental statement “.Hi Henry.

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