Painting with Okinawan Artists from the Nishimui Artist Society

May 29- Sept 7 UC Berkely Institute of E. Asian Studies Gallery. A historical exhibit of rare photographs, oil paintings, watercolor paintings, drawings and Christmas cards by Okinawan artists from the Nishimui Artists Society.

Painting with Okinawan Artists from the Nishimui Artist Society
From the private collections of Stanley Steinberg, Walter Abelmann, Ashitomi Chosho, Jane Dulay, and David Dahlin, a historical exhibit of rare photographs, oil paintings, watercolor paintings, drawings and Christmas cards by Okinawan artists from the Nishimui Artists Society: Adaniya Masayoshi, Ashimine Kanemasa, Gushiken Itoku, and Tamanaha Seikichi, and the American physician who painted with them, Stanley Steinberg, will be held at UC, Berkeley, Institute of E. Asian Studies Gallery, May 29, 2007 - September 7, 2007, 2223 Fulton St., 6th Floor, Berkeley, California. The opening reception will be held Thursday, June 14, 2007 from 4pm - 6pm. The guest speaker will be Professor Emeritus Ashitomi Chosho, University of Ryukyus. Ashitomi sensei was the first art student to graduate from the University of Ryukyus in 1954, under the tutelage of Professors Adaniya, Ashimine and Tamanaha. He joined them in their artistic group, Goninten in the 50's and Sotokai in the 60's, and is a renowned artist in his own right. He recently won the prestigious Ryukyuan Shimpo (newspaper) 2006 award for the promotion of Okinawan Culture, the second artist in the 42 years history of these awards to win such an honor. Professor Ashitomi will be sharing some of his paintings he did while a student of Adaniya at the University of the Ryukyus.

The historical significance of this art exhibit cannot be understated. The people and island of Okinawa were devastated by the deadliest battle of the Pacific War. The end of the war placed Okinawa under American Military occupation for the next 27 years creating an ambivalent relationship for the Okinawans, who desperately relied on the occupiers for the first few years after the war. Aside from subsistence measures, little was done to rehabilitate the local economy in the first several years, except for one fateful act. Aware of the racial and cultural rift between the Okinawans and mainland Japanese, the Americans instituted policies that promoted a distinct Okinawan cultural identity separate from Japan.

In 1945, the Arts and Monuments Department was established under the supervision of the Navy. Okinawan artists were gathered in Higaonna, Ishikawa and hired to perform in cultural exhibitions. Painters, at the request of Military personnel, made Christmas cards and painted portraits, the local landscape and the daily life of Okinawans. In 1948 the Arts and Monuments Department was abolished and with it the employment of the Okinawan artists. Several artists moved to Nishimui, Shuri where they constructed their studios and homes. Known to Americans as the Artist Colony, the artists referred to themselves as the Nishimui Artist Society. Among them lived Adaniya, Ashimine, Gushiken and Tamanaha.

In 1948, fresh out of Psychiatric Residency from Stanford University, Stanley Steinberg was assigned as Chief of Psychiatry of the Ryukyuan Command. He, along with other fellow physician, Walter Abelmann, MD, Cardiologist from Harvard, happened upon the Nishimui Artist Colony near the ruins of Shuri Castle, and began painting as often as they could, several times a week, over the next two years with Okinawan artists Adaniya, Ashimine, and Tamanaha in Tamanaha's studio/home. In addition to painting with the Okinawans, they were patrons of the artists, bringing other physicians, David Rose, MD, gynecologist and obstetrician from Princeton, New Jersey and his wife Edith, an attorney who found work as a medical librarian at the 34th Hospital in order to join her husband on Okinawa, and George Beddell, MD, Pulmonologist from the University of Iowa, to commission the artists for paintings. They provided much needed artist's supplies and books on Western art. The distinction between occupier and occupied was left unsaid as a deep sense of comraderie, friendship, recognition and appreciation of these Okinawans as talented artists developed. The Okinawans were appreciative of being recognized and valued, which was vitally important for their survival as artists. These Okinawan artists have been credited with starting the modernist movement in Okinawa.

The Okinawan artists from Nishimui Artist Society have all passed away except for Gushiken Itoku who is seriously disabled from a stroke. Ashitomi Chosho, student and fellow painter, is the last living oral historian able to talk about these artists and this time period. Dr. Steinberg, a psychoanalyst, is currently in private practice, San Francisco and continues to paint. Dr. Walter Abelmann is Director, Alumni Affairs, Professor of Medicine Emeritus, Harvard Medical School. Dr. George Bedell is retired Professor Emeritus of Pulmonology, University of Iowa. Dr. David Rose passed away 2005, but he is survived by his wife, Edith, who lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

I am deeply grateful to Ronald Nakasone for translating Tamanaha's Japanese calligraphy of several ancient Chinese poems and letter to Dr. Steinberg; Wesley Ueuntan, who will be acting as translator for Professor Ashitomi's lecture in Japanese at the opening ceremony; Professor Yamazato Katsunori and his wife, Marie, for introducing me to Professor Ashitomi and helping arrange his visit to California; the Northern California Okinawan Kenjin Kai for co-sponsoring this event; Art Bobroski, whose website: was instrumental in locating other collectors of these fine artists; and Suzanne Ryan, Program Director, University of California, Berkeley Institute of E. Asian Studies for providing the gallery and sponsorship of Prof. Ashitomi for this important exhibit.

Jane Dulay, MD, curator

One thought on “Painting with Okinawan Artists from the Nishimui Artist Society

  1. Hello,

    Thank you for visiting the website. I believe the woodblock print you have is by Hiroyuki Tajima. I came across a Wikipedia page with his information on it, which has an image of what his signature looks like.

    As for the Okinawan Artist, Akira, I cannot be 100% sure since I do not have the paintings in front of me where I could examine them. However, there is a possibility that the watercolor paintings you own are by Akira Taira. Here’s his information in Japanese with examples of his works on the bottom. Taira was born in Ie-mura in 1936 and studied art at Ryukyu University. He built a memorial statue of Iejima Handuguwa (伊江島ハンドー小) on Iejima. Taira is known to have established the Okinawa chapter of Japan Watercolor Federation.

    I hope this helps. If you have any further inquiries, please feel free to contact us again.

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