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Disputed internment art goes to L.A. museum

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    A Los Angeles museum has acquired a collection of photographs and artifacts created by Japa­nese-Americans while interned at World War II camps. Shown here are nameplates that were attached to internment camp barracks.

SAN FRANCISCO >> A Cali­for­nia museum has acquired an art collection created by Japa­nese-Americans held in internment camps after an East Coast auction house canceled the sale of photographs and other artifacts amid protests.

The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles will display the collection of art done by people of Japa­nese descent who were imprisoned over fears that they were spies. Roughly 120,000 Japa­nese-Americans were incarcerated at 10 relocation camps after the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“The mission of the Japa­nese American National Museum is to share this story,” said Greg Kimura, the museum’s president and chief executive officer. “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.”

The collection includes nameplates carved from wood that were once attached to tar-paper barracks, watercolor and oil paintings, wood animal sculptures, wooden furniture and black-and-white photographs of residents in their daily lives.

The art and artifacts will become part of the museum’s permanent collection, which includes more than 100,000 items.

Internees gave the collection to historian Allen H. Eaton while he was researching his 1952 book, “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japa­nese in Our War Relocation Camps.” Eaton’s daughter sold the lot to the John Ryan family of Connecticut.

The Ryan family had the artifacts for many years before turning to the auction house last fall to help find the most appropriate home, said David Rago, founding partner of Auction Center. However, the auction was canceled last month amid backlash and protests.

Japanese-American groups had rallied across the country to block the auction, saying the items were given to Eaton to be used to educate people about the injustice of the incarceration, not to be auctioned piecemeal to the highest bidder. Hawaii residents had added their voices to the protests through a letter signed by the Hono­lulu chapter of the Japa­nese American Citizens League, social media and phone calls.

The announcement about the acquisition came during the museum’s annual gala dinner, which honored “Star Trek” actor and activist George Takei with its Distinguished Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement and Public Service.

A young Takei and his family were among those incarcerated during World War II.

“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,” Takei said in a statement.

The Star-Advertiser contributed to this report.

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