Chiura Obata Biography

Chiura Obata





Chiura Obata was born on 18 November 1885 in Okayama prefecture and was raised in the city of Sendai, Japan. While still a small child, Obata was adopted by his older brother, Rokuichi, and at the age of seven was apprenticed to study classical sumi painting. Rokuichi envisioned a military career for his younger brother and enrolled him in a military academy. Obata ran away and took the train to Tokyo where he studied with Tanryo Murata, Kogyo Terasaki and Gohō Hasimoto. In 1903 he immigrated to California and settled in San Francisco. While working as an illustrator for the city’s Japanese newspapers The New World and the Japanese American, Obata made on-site sketches of the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake. He married Haruki Kohashi in 1912, and from 1915 to 1927 worked as an illustrator for Japan Magazine. He spent much of the 1920s painting landscapes throughout California and helped establish the East West Art Society in San Francisco in 1921. During the summer of 1927, he went on a sketching tour of Yosemite and the High Sierra and produced over 100 new paintings. Following his father's death, Obata returned to Japan in 1928. Over eighteen months, he supervised the cutting and printing of thirty-five colored woodblock prints of California landscapes for his World Landscape Series. In 1930, these color woodcuts were exhibited at the Eighty-Seventh Annual Exhibition at Ueno Park in Tokyo and Lake Basin in the High Sierra won first prize.

In 1932 Obata was appointed an instructor in the Art Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Between 1930 and 1941, solo exhibitions of his work were held in numerous locations. In April 1942, Obata was interned at the Tanforan detention center twenty miles south of San Francisco, where he organized an art school with over 650 camp residents as students. In September 1942, he was moved to the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Released from Topaz in 1943, he moved with his family to St. Louis, finding employment with a commercial art company. In 1945, when the military exclusion ban was lifted, Obata was reinstated as an instructor at U.C. Berkeley. He was promoted to Associate Professor of Art in 1948. Solo exhibitions continued, as did his sketching and painting trips in the high country, often with the Sierra Club. In 1954, Obata became a naturalized citizen and retired as Professor Emeritus from U.C. Berkeley. From 1955 to 1970, he traveled throughout California giving lectures and demonstrations on Japanese brush painting. In 1965, Obata received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 5th Class, Emperor's Award, for promoting good will and cultural understanding between the United States and Japan.

The works of Chiura Obata are represented in the permanent collections of the Denver Art Museum, Colorado; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City; the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Chiura Obata died in Berkeley, California on 8 November 1975 at the age of ninety-years old.

Posthumous exhibitions of Chiura Obata's works have been organized at the Oakland Museum of California, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and, most recently, at the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco in 2000.