Japanese American National Museum
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Hibi, Hisako

1907 - 1991

Hisako Hibi was born Hisako Shimizu in Torihama, Fukui prefecture located near the city of Kyoto, Japan. In 1920, at the age of thirteen, she immigrated to the United States to rejoin her parents already living in San Francisco. After a few years, Hibi's parents and siblings decided to return to Japan, but Hibi was determined to stay in the U.S. and continue her education.

She graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco. In 1927, she decided to pursue her interest in art by enrolling at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) which she attended for three years. Hibi studied primarily with Gottardo Piazzoni and was influenced by Cezanne and other Post-Impressionist painters. It was also at the California School of Fine Arts that she met her future husband Matsusaburo George Hibi who was also an artist and teacher at the school. They were married in the fall of 1930 and had two children, a son, Satoshi and a daughter, Ibuki. Through the 1930s and 1940s, Hibi continued to paint and exhibit her work in the San Francisco Art Association Annuals, The California Artist Exhibition at the Golden Gate International Exposition and the California State Fair and Oakland Art Gallery.

The Hibis were living in Hayward, California when Executive Order 9066 was issued and in May 1942 they were sent to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, California. The Assembly Center was a former horse race track and the Hibis, along with approximately 8,000 other Japanese Americans were forced to live in only slightly renovated horse stalls. Among the internees were a number of accomplished, professional artists including the Hibis, Chiura Obata, Byron Takashi Tsuzuki, and Mine Okubo. Under the leadership of Obata, they organized the Tanforan Art School within the first month of their arrival. In September 1942, the internees of Tanforan were relocated further inland to the Topaz Concentration Camp in Utah. The art school resumed its courses as a division of the Topaz Adult Education Program and set up an elaborate curriculum for its students ranging in age from six to over seventy years old. Mrs. Hibi taught drawing and painting in oil and watercolors as well as clay modeling. The Hibis were held in Topaz until the end of the war and the closing of the concentration camps.

In September 1945, the family relocated to New York City. Tragically, in 1947, George Matsusaburo Hibi died. Mrs. Hibi worked as a dressmaker to support herself and her two children. She continued to paint and attended art classes at the Museum of Modern Art where she was influenced by Victor D'Amico. In 1953, Hibi took advantage of the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, to officially become a United States citizen.

In 1954, Hibi decided to return to San Francisco where she supported herself by working as a housekeeper and dressmaker. She studied with Ann O'Hanlon's Perception Workshop, University of California, Berkeley Extension Program and Sight and Insight. Hibi was also a member of the Asian American Women Artists Association based in Northern California. As a result of various influences and her individual growth as an artist, Hibi's painting style gradually changed in the post-war period. Taking off from her initial impressionistic style of painting, Hibi went on to experiment with xpressionism and abstraction. Since the 1960s, Hibi's paintings have been exhibited steadily from the in a number of group and one-woman shows. She has also been recognized with various awards, including being selected Artist of the Year by the City Arts Council of San Francisco in 1985. Hisako Hibi remained in San Francisco until her death in 1991.

Hisako Hibi painted 72 works while incarcerated at Tanforan and Topaz. Currently one of these is in the collection of the Oakland Museum and another was given to the San Francisco Buddhist Church. Another seven paintings are in a private collection. In 1996 fifty-five paintings were donated to the Japanese American National Museum. The remaining eight, initially thought to be missing, were located and added to the donation in 1998.



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