Heart Mountain to Hold Opening Event for New Estelle Ishigo Exhibit

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A watercolor by Estelle Ishigo of a swimming hole at Heart Mountain. Her paintings depicted everyday life at the camp.

POWELL, Wyo. — Heart Mountain Interpretive Center will host an opening event for its newest exhibit, “The Mountain Was Our Secret: Works by Estelle Ishigo,” at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 25.

In addition to a viewing of the exhibit, the opening will feature two presentations about Ishigo and her artwork. The event is open to the public and is free with museum admission. Wine, beer, and hors d’oeuvres will be served, and reservations are encouraged.

Estelle Peck Ishigo holds the unusual distinction of being one of the only white women incarcerated at Heart Mountain. She was married to a Japanese American man, Arthur Ishigo, and refused to leave his side when the U.S. government began forcing Japanese Americans into camps during World War II. While at Heart Mountain, Ishigo worked tirelessly to document everyday life in the camp through her art. She later published an illustrated book, “Lone Heart Mountain,” exposing the government’s poor treatment of Japanese Americans.

Ishigo also sent some of her watercolor paintings to Allen Eaton, a sociologist and art collector putting together a touring exhibit featuring art from the camps. Eaton died before he could realize his plans, and the artwork was never returned. His collection passed through a number of hands and, in 2015, was put up for auction. The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and other Japanese American groups successfully protested the auction, and the pieces were eventually acquired by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Ten of Ishigo’s watercolors, on loan to Heart Mountain from JANM, form the center of the upcoming exhibit, which will run through December. Heart Mountain Museum Manager Dakota Russell says this will be the first time these paintings have ever been publicly exhibited.

“This is the first major showing of Estelle Ishigo’s work in nearly 50 years,” says Russell. “We’re excited to celebrate an artist who doesn’t always get the credit she’s due.”

The couple were married from 1928 until Arthur’s death in 1957. Ishigo passed away in Los Angeles in 1990 at the age of 90. Just prior to her death, she became the subject of Steven Okazaki’s Academy Award-winning documentary “Days of Waiting.”

The May 25 event will begin with a presentation about Ishigo’s life and work by Bacon Sakatani, a close friend of Ishigo’s who carried out her final wish: for her ashes to be scattered on the summit of Heart Mountain. Following Sakatani’s talk will be a presentation by Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation Chair Shirley Ann Higuchi, detailing the foundation’s role in rescuing the Eaton Collection from the auction block.

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center tells the story of some 14,000 Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated in Wyoming from 1942 through 1945. The center is located between Cody and Powell on Highway 14A. Museum admission is $9 for adults and $7 for students and seniors. Children under 12 and members of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation are free. For reservations or questions, call Heart Mountain Interpretive Center at (307) 754-8000 or email [email protected]

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