Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Hatsuko Mary Higuchi Interview
Narrator: Hatsuko Mary Higuchi
Interviewer: Virginia Yamada
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 4, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-456-12

<Begin Segment 12>

VY: Okay, let's see. So let's talk about your life as you transitioned from being a schoolteacher to an artist. How did that come about, and when did you start taking art classes?

HH: Well, in 1989 I saw an ad for a one-day workshop in Palos Verdes, and that's close to where I live. And it was given by a Japanese artist. No, I think it was in Torrance Recreation, a one-day workshop with Henry Fukuhara.

VY: Did that seem unusual, that it was a Japanese artist?

HH: Yes, yes. And I thought, "Wow, I'd love to take this class," it was a one-day workshop. And I went and he was just so pleased to have me in his class, he says, "Why don't you come and paint with us once a month when I go take out a group for outdoor painting?" And so I did, and he really encouraged me, I mean, there was a special bonding that occurred and he was just fatherly, like missing my long-gone father. He just wrote me letters every week encouraging me to read this book, that book, and every time I went out on a Paint Out with them once a month, he would bring me a stack of books and he says, "Go through these books," and he was just so encouraging. If there was a show, he would call me and say, "Make sure you go see this show," or, "Go to this gallery," or, "Come to Santa Monica and see this show." And so I continued to go to his classes when he was teaching at the Emeritus in Santa Monica, and he was the one that guided me through all the ins and outs of the art world. He introduced me to all the very international and very significant watercolorists, and just introduced me, encouraged me to take their classes and so I did. I did pretty much everything.

VY: Sounds like he really took you under his wing and mentored you.

HH: Yes, he did, yes. I was very fortunate.

VY: So tell me again, what year did you, or around what time was that?

HH: This was in 1989 and then that's when my first encounter with Henry, and after that, he did this once a month. And then he started, a few years later he started his Manzanar Paint Outs.

VY: Talk about those, what was that like, and what was the motivation for doing those?

HH: So he invited his group of students to go to Manzanar, so we went there for the weekend, and he would do a demo of Mt. Whitney or go to the Manzanar site, and he would paint there. And then he'd let us go off on our own and paint, and at maybe two o'clock, we would gather together and we critique, we would put all our paintings against the buildings at the visitor center. And we would sit out there and he would crit our work, and that was quite an experience. He was a very good teacher, very good teacher. He gave his demonstration, he was so carefree, he flung his brushes around and he was just really very, very loose. It was amazing what he can do with those few splashes, and they would really register into something emotional, great painting.

VY: How many students would be on these trips?

HH: It first began with our small group of about eight to ten. And gradually through the years, it came to over a hundred. People from all over, I mean, it was word of mouth, people coming from up north, San Luis Obispo, and just everywhere.

VY: Was it primarily art students, or was it just kind of anybody?

HH: It was art students, watercolorists from all over, because he was well-known in our area, plus other areas inland, towards mid-valley, which would be Pomona, Arcadia, he was just well-known, because he taught in Santa Monica as well. And they all flock to be in this group.

VY: How often would the Paint Outs happen?

HH: Once a month.

VY: Do you know why he picked Manzanar?

HH: Because that's where he was incarcerated. He was there, but he never talked about it. He never made it a political theme or political... he just never talked about it, but he just painted the scenery, what was there. I mean, I think that was politically, just to paint the scene, and people going to the site and seeing what it's about. I think it was the first experience for many, many people.

VY: Do you think most of the people that participated in the Paint Outs understood what Manzanar was?

HH: Yes. Yeah, I think they all understood, because they visited the site, went to the museum, read about it, and they know his family was incarcerated there. And they were older, educated group of students. So they knew what happened.

VY: Let's see, what other kinds of art media have you done?

HH: I tried working with acrylics. I love all kinds of art, sculpture, I used to do just anything. I used to just have my kids do blocks of plaster of paris and do sculptures, and do wire sculptures and wood sculptures, and going to the lumberyard and getting all their lumber, and they would build beautiful sculptures. They would sit out when they were through with their work, they would sit outside our classroom and there was this huge tree, and they would sit and draw the branches of the freeway of branches, they just covered a whole page of beautiful paintings. They were so good. Kids have a lot of natural talent if you just ask them to go and study it and try to draw what they see. Did some beautiful work.

VY: Makes me think about your stories of your dad when you talk about that kind of artwork, too.

HH: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.