The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation released the following statement Tuesday.
Since mid-March, The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF) has been exploring every possible avenue to prevent a priceless collection of art and crafts created by Japanese Americans, who were illegally confined in remote camps during World War II, from being auctioned.
The collection of Allen Hendershott Eaton artifacts is set to sell at auction this Friday, April 17, through Rago Arts and Auctions in Lamberville, N.J. The lots concerning the Japanese American incarceration artworks amount to 450 pieces and images, many prominently featuring Heart Mountain as their subject matter.
“When the camps closed, many Japanese Americans were focused on rebuilding their lives. They weren’t in a position to think about keeping or preserving their artwork,” said Shirley Ann Higuchi, chair of the foundation. Her parents met while confined at Heart Mountain. “The idea of making these pieces of art, which symbolize incarcerees’ efforts to make something beautiful out of a miserable experience. Making them available to the highest bidder re-opens old wounds. If we don’t act now to slow this auction down or delay it entirely, we’re not doing the right thing,” she said.
The HMWF began their protest by respectfully asking the consignor to consider donating the items to Japanese American institutions capable of conscientiously preserving and exhibiting them to serve the public interest. The HMWF added that if the consignors were unwilling or unable to donate, they should at least consider a private, negotiated sale with one or more appropriate community-supported, non-profit institutions.
When these suggestions were rejected by the consignor, the HWMF secured pledges from its board members and friends to make a substantial cash offer — one that far exceeded the estimated auction value of all the incarceration-related items. With the offer, the HMWF made its intent clear: If allowed to secure the collection through such an offer, the foundation would work with interested and appropriate Japanese American institutions and organizations to reach consensus on where the items would be most appropriately preserved, housed and exhibited.
Unfortunately, on April 13, the HWMF learned their proposal to enable all parties to escape the indignity of a public auction and to assure the rightful stewardship of this exceptional collection had been rejected. It is now clear that the consignors are resolute in allowing this unconscionable auction to proceed.
“Over the last several days, we have worked in good faith with the consignor through Rago to find a positive resolution that would end the auction,” said HMWF Executive Director Brian Liesinger. “The fact that we were met with rejection on all of our appeals — and the Japanese American community’s appeals — is baffling.”
Along with a growing number of individuals and groups, both within and beyond the Japanese American community, the HMWF is saddened and offended by the consignor’s and auction house’s apparent indifference to the history, meaning, and appropriate treatment of the invaluable community legacy this collection represents. The value of these precious objects cannot be measured in dollars; their value instead lies in the suffering, resilience, spirit and dignity of those who created them while wrongfully confined behind barbed wire.
The HMWF will continue to pursue and support any and all lawful actions to oppose this wrongful public sale.
The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation manages the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center on the site of the former “Heart Mountain Relocation Center.” The National Historic Landmark site is devoted to memorializing the experiences of more than 14,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated there during World War II with a museum, gallery, archive, original camp structures, war memorial and memorial walking trail. It is located between Cody and Powell on Highway 14A. For more information, call (307) 754-8000 or visit www.HeartMountain.org.