The power of the works by Everett artists Jan and Chris Hopkins is measured in part by some of the messages written in a guest book by those who have seen the exhibit.
“Our parents’ families were at Minidoka,” referring to the Idaho site where more than 9,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned, wrote someone with family ties to Bainbridge Island.
Another wrote: “Thank you for this moving, powerful exhibit.”
One entry is a single word: “Crying.”
Some visitors seem to pause at the images far longer than typical in art museums, perhaps reflecting both on the history of the time as well as the artwork.
“So many people feel the need to stop and say how it has touched them,” said Linda Nelson, who works in the art center’s gift shop. Some have said they have family members who were affected by being forcibly removed from their homes.
People from as far away as Hawaii and Virginia have come to the exhibit. “They’re bringing their kids. They want them to see this,” she said.
What they experience is a variety of images, evoking a time forgotten by some, unknown to others.
There is Chris Hopkins’ portraits of the Japanese-American soldiers who served in the Army’s famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. With 21 Medal of Honor winners, it was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service.
“Rolling Toward the Unknown,” is his portrait of people waiting to be transported to the internment camps.
The exhibit includes a display with an example of the bare wooden barracks they were housed in and a video on Minidoka.
One of Chris Hopkins’ portraits shows a young boy hugging his dog before their forced separation. Pets were not allowed in the camps.
A sculpture by Jan Hopkins, “Paper Dolls,” tells the story in searing images of a family member who changed her identity, not just during the war, but for her lifetime.
The portrait is of her cousin Ellen, who for all of her life was afraid to admit she was Japanese. “To her dying day, she wouldn’t tell anybody,” Jan Hopkins said.
The sculpture includes a copy of Executive Order 9066 authorizing the evacuation of Japanese citizens. And there’s a copy of her cousin’s falsified birth certificate, claiming Latino descent and that her mother’s last name was Torres.
She worked for the federal government in a time of war. “Her biggest fear was that she could be prosecuted,” Jan Hopkins said.
The piece, wrapped in a hornet’s nest, is laced with symbolism. On one side of the image she is dressed in clothes with a Latino flare.
“That’s why I called it ‘Paper Dolls,’ ” Jan Hopkins said.
Her own parents never talked about their time in the internment camps until after the government issued an apology in 1988 and paid $20,000 in reparations to Japanese-Americans.
“They didn’t want to talk about it because it was so humiliating to them,” she said.
When internees were allowed to leave the camps, they were given $25.
It didn’t get them very far in trying to rebuild their lives. “My parents were young. The loss wasn’t as great as for their parents.”
After the war, her parents tried to keep quiet and “be part of the landscape,” she said. They lived their lives with the unspoken motto: “Don’t rock the boat.”
The psychological aftershocks lasted for years. Yet her father wasn’t embittered or angry about it, she said.
“He told me that was in the past. He felt it was time to move on.”
The Hopkinses decided to collaborate on the artwork that would turn into the Schack’s exhibit about five years ago. Chris Hopkins was drawn to learning more about the history of the time. The faces of family members are used in some of his portraits. His wife wanted to know more about her family’s experiences.
Art can be a powerful tool of communication, he said. But those who think the show was specifically timed to coincide with current events are missing the point. The timing is pure happenstance, he said.
“I’m not an an activist, I’m a historian,” he said. The point of the exhibit was doing something important and getting people to think.
Its lessons are left up to you — “what you take away with it.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
“Americans Interned: A Family’s Story of Social Injustice,” an exhibit of 34 oil paintings, Sumi ink block prints and graphite drawings by Everett artists Jan and Chris Hopkins, is on display at the Schack Art Center through Sept. 1 in the main gallery at the Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett. The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Call 425-259-5050 or go to www.schack.org for more.
“The Pine and the Cherry,” a talk on Japanese-Americans in Washington by author Mayumi Tsutakawa, is scheduled for 2 p.m. July 29 at the Schack. She will speak about her family’s history, including their internment during World War II.