Japanese American National Museum will Acquire Collection of Incarceration Artifacts | #StopRago

A collection of wood carvings are being sold. These carvings were described in Eaton's book on Japanese American incarceration, where Eaton said they were carved using makeshift tools and waste metals, since carving tools were prohibited in the camps.
A collection of wood carvings are being sold. These carvings were described in Eaton’s book on Japanese American incarceration, where Eaton said they were carved using makeshift tools and waste metals, since carving tools were prohibited in the camps.

Last month, I blogged about a large collection of artifacts from Japanese American incarceration that was originally collected by folk art historian Allen Eaton, and which was being auctioned to the highest bidder against the wishes of the Japanese American community by Rago Auction House. After a week of vocal outrage and a coordinated social media campaignthe community was able to halt the planned public sale of the Eaton Collection following a threatened lawsuit by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and the intervention of actor and activist George Takei. Instead, the Collection’s current owner agreed to work with a group of Japanese American community leaders, including Takei, to identify an appropriate recipient organization to acquire the entire Eaton Collection.

This just in: I just received a series of tweets saying that at their annual gala, the Japanese American National Museum (which has a close working relationship with Takei, one of its co-founders) announced that they will be the recipient organization to receive the entire Eaton Collection of incarceration artifacts originally intended for public sale through Rago Auction House. Takei was scheduled to receive JANM’s Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement at their gala tonight for his work.



There are a number of amazing organizations in the Japanese American community that are dedicated to the original purpose of the Eaton Collection — to educate about and preserve the history of Japanese American incarceration. The Japanese American National Museum is among the largest and among the best equipped to honour the Eaton Collection. I can think of few better choices to receive these important artifacts.

Many thanks to Sean, who blogs at Down Like JTown, for breaking the news!

This post will be updated with details as they emerge.

Update (5/2/2015, 11:30pm EST): JANM issued a press release picked up by Japanese American History: Not For Sale, which reads in part:

“JANM worked through Rago Arts and Auction Center in New Jersey and the consignor to acquire the private collection, which includes artifacts and photographs collected by Allen Hendershott Eaton who wrote a book in 1952 publicizing the injustice of America’s concentration camps for Japanese Americans, where more than 120,000 men, women, and children were kept behind barbed wire by their own country.

“‘The mission of the Japanese American National Museum is to share this story,’ said JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura. ‘We honor the sacrifice of our forebears who suffered to prove their loyalty to the U.S. by ensuring that such Constitutional violations never happen again. I’m very pleased that our museum, Rago Arts and Auction Center, and the John Ryan family of Connecticut, which possessed the artifacts, were able to reach an agreement that reflects our mutual interests. We all want to see these items appropriately preserved.’“

“Building upon JANM’s already sizable collection of art and artifacts, some of which are on display as part of its core exhibition Common Ground: The Heart of Community, the new Eaton acquisitions include nameplates carved from wood that were once attached to tar-paper barracks, as well as oil and watercolor paintings by Japanese American families living in the camps during World War II. The objects tell an important story for all Americans about the creativity and resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of extreme racial prejudice.

“Today’s announcement was made during JANM’s annual Gala Dinner, which honored actor and activist George Takei with the museum’s Distinguished Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement and Public Service. A young Takei and his family were among those incarcerated during World War II.

“‘I believe that through understanding comes respect, and JANM continues to take major steps forward to increase the public’s understanding of a grievous chapter in American history,’ said Takei, chairman emeritus of the museum’s Board of Trustees, and the fifth recipient of JANM’s Medal of Honor. ‘All of us can take to heart that our voices were heard and that these items will be preserved and the people who created them during a very dark period in our history will be honored. The collection will now reside at the preeminent American museum that tells the story of the Japanese American experience.

Update (5/3/2015, 9:20pm EST): The full JANM press release has been published here. George Takei also issued a short statement over Facebook, confirming the acquisition and asking supporters to donate to JANM by supporting Takei’s Legacy Project.

Over 450 artifacts made by internees in U.S. camps were nearly auctioned off. But after a community outcry, I’m pleased to report that the Japanese American Nat’l Museum has acquired the lot, preserving priceless history. I’m raising funds for JANM to continue its work, but need 10K more generous donors to reach our goal. Will you join the Takei Thirty-K?

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