Annual Watercolor Workshop keeps Manzanar artist’s legacy alive
Artists traveled to Lone Pine in mid-May to attend the 16th Annual Fukuhara Watercolor Workshop. Henry Fukuhara was a well-known American watercolorist teacher who was incarcerated with his family in the World War II Manzanar Relocation Center located north of the town of Lone Pine.
Fukuhara would later use the Manzanar relocation camp to teach workshops on abstract watercolor painting to students. He started the first workshop in 1998 with less than 20 participants. Over the years the interest has grown as participants told others of the charm, beauty, and variety of landscapes to be found in the Eastern Sierra. Adding to the attraction is the area’s long history of filmmaking, silver mining, Paiute Indian tribes, white settlers, and the long-running battles with the City of Los Angeles over water. And then there is the history of the WWII Manzanar Relocation Camp, which held special meaning to Fukuhara.
According to a wonderful tribute written by fellow watercolor artist John Salchak, Henry Fukuhara was born in Los Angeles in 1913 and he developed a strong interest in art while in high school. He briefly studied at the Otis Art Institute and showed promise as an up-and-coming artist until, during World War II, at the age of 29, Fukuhara, along with his wife and two young daughters, were sent to the Japanese-American Relocation Center at Manzanar. After being released in 1944, he moved with his family to New York where he joined his father and brother in the wholesale flower business, leaving little time for art.
In 1972, he once again took up painting and quickly developed his own unique personal style. It was not long before he began winning awards and his artwork was being shown in numerous galleries. According to Salchak’s tribute, Fukuhara discovered that he enjoyed teaching and taught many workshops around the country. When Fukuhara and his family moved back to Santa Monica, Calif. in 1987, he continued teaching and mentoring others.
It was in 1998 that he began returning to Manzanar to conduct workshops in watercolor. Because of failing health and eyesight, Fukuhara no longer was able to attend the workshops after 2005, and he passed away in 2010 at the age of 96. His artistic legacy lives on in the workshops that have continued under the aegis of Al Setton, a friend, artist, and great admirer of Fukuhara. He and others are determined to keep the art and memory of Henry Fukuhara alive.
According to Setton, all of the instructors and organizers donate their time to keep the workshop affordable and to encourage artists of all levels to attend. As the organizer of the event, Setton went on to say that treading in Henry’s footsteps was an honor, a privilege, and a large responsibility.
“The workshop has grown quickly,” said Setton, “and includes high profile artists like Milford Zornes and Roger Armstrong, all of whom wanted to support Fukuhara’s legacy. They brought their students and the group grew to about 80 artists annually. This year we have over 100 participants and about 40% of them are first-timers.”
Setton explained that this is an opportunity for professional and amateur artists to get together with others whose artwork reflects their own unique and personal expression. Over the 16 years of the workshop, the artists have painted at various locations in the Alabama Hills, the Manzanar Historic site, Lone Pine, Independence, Keeler and Olancha. There is more information on the annual workshop to be found by visiting www.AlSetton.com.
The visiting workshop artists repeatedly commented on the beauty of the area and the remarkable friendliness, cooperation, and hospitality of the people that live in the area. The Spainhower Anchor Ranch has hosted the group for a number of years, even throwing in a chuckwagon lunch. The Rangers, Superintendent and others at the Manzanar Historic Site have facilitated access and have provided support, lent equipment, and sheltered the group in bad weather.
Speaking of the weather, the group has painted in high wind, dust, cold and snowy conditions. They have had occasion to seek shelter at the Lone Pine airport, as well as the Boulder Creek RV Park. According to Setton however, the majority of the time the weather has been perfect, with sunny blue skies and a slight breeze — perfect for outdoor painting.
The Lone Pine Film Museum provides its theatre for critiques and the Best Western Motel serves as the local headquarters while the group is in the area. The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce has also been very supportive, as has local resident and professional artist Dan Dickman of Keeler who, according to Setton, has been an invaluable, facilitator and host; serving as both location finder and local guide.
A showing of the work produced in this year’s workshop will be held at the Thousand Oaks Community Gallery from 1-5 p.m. on Aug. 4. The Fukuhara Workshop will also be bringing back concurrent shows of selected works from the 2013 workshop to the area at the Manzanar Interpretive Center and the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center. While the dates have yet to be set, the shows typically run from the beginning of April through mid-May, with an ending date that coincides with that of the 2014 workshop which will start on the Thursday following Mother’s Day and go until the following Monday.
Fukuhara once said, “If you are a painter, you can move mountains, you can move trees.”
If you were Henry Fukuhara, you could also move people.