2016 Year of the Monkey

These past 365 days are going to linger in my memory, probably forever. It was a cycle of surprise, of risk, of big challenges and big honking love. My husband and I got into the grown-up game by purchasing a house in the city we first fell in love in— Oakland, despite off the charts, record housing prices and brutal competition for those homes that were available. We moved into the new house in late November, just about now, when the first autumn rains began, and the persimmons and pomegranates were hitting their peak.

We were ecstatic. The two of us! We bought a home, and immediately began nesting, cooking warm hearty meals together, planting a vegetable garden, luxuriating on Sundays in bed with the sun streaming through the upstairs windows.

One month later, I felt....odd. Not sick exactly but off.  Lo and behold, and at an age one easily believes as "out of range" for such possibilities, we discovered to our complete surprise, that we were pregnant. A baby!

Our precious Takumi was born on August 6, 2015 in Oakland and our lives have been utterly transformed, and so has my art and art practice. As many of you know, I try to produce a linoleum block/letterpress calendar every year, and though its always a push for me to get it out in time for holiday sales, this year I had completely written the possibility off of the table. Being a new mom of a three month old, I was still favoring sleep over creative time.

But then one sleepless night, I started researching Japanese snow monkeys (native to Northern Japan, the Japanese Macaque), thickly furred beasts who love to luxuriate in mountainside hot springs, and fell in love again with the social bonds that these magnificent mammals share.  I had to do a block print.

It took nearly two weeks to complete the drawing and do the carving, which was especially challenging given my very very limited schedule to work (I spent all night and day with Takumi during the weekdays, and get breaks in parenting with the support of my most excellent husband late nights and on the weekends), plus I've been suffering from debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome since the baby was born.

The key block was drawn and carved in Oakland, before we headed up to the Sierra Nevadas, and I finished the second color block, coincidentally, in the snowy climes of Reno.

Finally, in the first weeks of November, I was ready to jump onto the press, and over two Saturdays, I worked on getting the blocks printed (two-color) and the calendar pages printed on a Vandercook SP20 letterpress in Berkeley.

Pink monkeys for an especially tender beginning for 2016. I actually chose the color with the Japanese sweet potato (its skin is a very vibrant mauve) in mind, and likely a favorite food of the monkey.

The calendars are available at my Etsy store for $25.00 each plus shipping.  My humblest thanks to Mary Risala Laird for lending me her boxcar base, to Katherine Case, for the use of her calendar plates, Coriander Reisbord for use of the Sp20 letter press, and Samuel Arbizo for doing double daddy duty two Saturdays in a row so mama could run off into the studio. You guys are everything.

Mimi-nashi Hoichi, a "Small Plates" artist residency at the San Francisco Center for the Book


My newest letterpress/linoleum block book, "Mimi-nashi Hoichi," recounts the story of a sightless biwa player named Hoichi, whose ears are sheared off following a score of nights performing the "Heike Monogatari" song cycles in a cemetery off the shores of Shiminoseki, Yamaguchi-ken. 

Over the course of roughly four months, I was one of three artists that were invited to do a residency at the wonderful San Francisco Center for the Book, to complete the project. The challenge of the Small Plates residency is that the book must be 4" x 4" trim size, and utilize the resources and equipment of the Center as best as you can. It was an incredible experience, with the best access to book arts tools, equipment, and most importantly— knowledge in the form of staff, other fellow printers, and even the other two artists in residence, Michelle Wilson and Andy Rottner.

The first step required me to draw and hand carve the many linoleum block illustrations to accompany the text which was printed entirely on letterpresses.

The text was printed from polymer plates created by local printing powerhouse, Logos Graphics, which took a fair amount of wiggling around to make sure that everything registered correctly since the pages were printed six pages up per run. No room for errors!

The entire final book was printed using black Ganson rubberbased inks on Chandler and Price and Vandercook letterpresses.

And then there was the binding. I gathered up a group of my most awesome book arts friends in the SF Bay Area, plied them with food (thank you for cooking, Thy Tran!) and had many, many hands at the table to pierce, clamp, trim, collate, glue, fold, sew, and put the books to bed.

 Twenty pages printed on natural and jade handmade Loksa Nepalese papers with a Japanese stab binding. Wheeee!

First Public Artwork- I Am An American/Family No 25344/Wartime Civil Control Station

When the first Japanese immigrant laborers arrived in rural Fresno County in 1900, they cultivated the sandy loam and hardpan lands bordering the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers, helping to transform them into lush grape vineyards, fig and stone fruit orchards, and vast fields of cotton and wheat. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I am a fourth-generation descendant of immigrant farmers who settled in the Central Valley farming communities of Sanger and Fresno, and with a legacy of family members who had thriving businesses in the pre-war Japantown downtown. I grew up surrounded by the hard-scrabble ethics of working farmers and the pleasures of their bounty, found in the fog of peach blossoms misting the valley air, and the long rows of pruned and tied grapevines ticking past the window of our family car. Both sides of my family were unjustly incarcerated in American concentration camps out of the Fresno area during World War II.

Three original concept sketches.

In the summer of 2014, I was invited to submit a proposal for a public art work piece to be permanently installed not only in downtown Fresno, but on the site of the building where thousands of Fresno's Japanese Americans were instructed to line up, register their names for government numbers, and were ultimately bussed out to the first leg of their incarceration experience in the spring of 1942. I have no photographs of my family from the days that they packed all of their earthly belongings in a panic, or of the long lines my grandparents had to wait in to be fingerprinted and receive their identification tags, nor of the tearful farewells they bid their friends and colleagues. Both the registration and the departure occurred at the Droge Building, located on the corner of Inyo and Van Ness.

On May 12-13, 1942, all persons of Japanese descent living in the city of Fresno were instructed to meet at the Droge Building, where an official wartime civil control station was established, to exchange their personal identities for family numbers. The Droge Building was the civil control station for the city of Fresno, although it was not the only station in the area (as far as I can tell, there were at least eight stations for Fresno county.)

How has the Droge Building been a witness to Fresno's own complex history and identity? What happened between those walls? Who were the people who were hired to process these individuals into numbers and statistics, many who had been born in Fresno and had known no other home? What small gestures of humanity, if any, occurred in those devastating months and days when the civil control station at Inyo street became the point of departure into a future unknown?

My medium of choice was, of course, linoleum block— an artform with its own historical echoes in Japanese culture and is exceptionally well-suited for the type of fabrication that the program is proposing: laser or water-cut metal panels, which accentuate the strength of line and positive/negative spaces.

The final piece stands 3' x 5' and was installed and dedicated in February 2015. In honor of my late maternal grandmother and grandfather, Johnson and Miyeko Kebo, I have affixed their family number onto the artwork, so that her journey in particular through the Droge Building, itself now a ghost of the past, will be remembered.

(My father, Donald Mitsuru Wakida, who was also incarcerated, standing in front of the work. He didn't even know it was there until I made him drive over with me to look at it!)

2015 raptor calendar

Just when I was pretty might resigned to the idea that the move from Los Angeles back to the Bay Area (and correlating temporary displacement of my press and studio space) meant that there was NO WAY that I could handle making a 2015 calendar, up comes a sudden rush of inspiration and within two days, I've drawn, carved and started designing a run of fifty linoleum block and letterpress one pagers...by the skin of my teeth.

We were going for a hike, my husband and I, a steep march straight up a sun-beaten mountainside in the Hayward hills, with a pewter sky overhead. On the descent half an hour later, through pungent tunnels of bay laurel, we emerged to the piercing sound of hawks hidden somewhere in the sycamores and oaks. I noted that I'd never seen a hawk's nest before, although I was lucky enough some years back to see the nest of a Great Horned Owl and its inhabitants. To this, Sam replied, "there are hawks that are nesting over by our house." I had not known this. Returning home, I did some research on birds of the San Francisco East Bay and became enraptured by the raptors, as they say. Twenty-four hours later, I had a good solid drawing on the linoleum and some ideas for calendar design. Four hours after that, I had carved the whole thing, and this morning I pulled the first hand test prints on the living room table.

My usual rule is to have the calendar printed and up on my Etsy store by November 1st at the latest, and with more moving in my very near future its likely that I won't get on the press for at least another week or so, but here goes...With any luck, my Etsy store (still "on vacation" as a casualty from our move in May) will be up and running again soon, with new calendars and a restock of the rest of the backstock inventory.

Heyday's squid ink broadside

2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the cultural institution that truly built my career, the amazing Heyday— publishers of books about California and the West. As many of you know, I was first an employee of this venerable institution (hired at the tender age of 29 as a bookkeeper and as special events coordinator of the now defunct "California Poetry Series"), before I became an author/editor of several titles published by Heyday and finally in 2012, I joined the organization's board of directors.

I was lucky enough to celebrate Heyday's 30th anniversary, and am honestly stunned to realize that another ten years have already passed. In honor of the occasion, our founder's biography/memoir, "The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin: The Damn Good Times of a Fiercely Independent Publisher" was released this year and we threw a blow-out gala anniversary party last Saturday at the Berkeley Art Museum. Nearly 500 guests were in attendance, and we raised over 100k for a series of children's books.

For my small contribution, I illustrated and hand guests pull their own prints of a quote by our very own Malcolm Margolin, which was mined from a recent interview in one of the top trade magazines, "Publishers Weekly." The entire interview can be read here.

The illustration was done last minute, and I had four days to illustrate, two days to get the design completed, and two days to have plates made for my press, Design by Rebecca Legates; Polymer platemaking by Logos Graphics.

Loading and setting up my 250lb platen press for the party took some serious work but hey! I wore a good dress.

Clouds on the Horizon

Overcast winter day in Los Angeles, and the light on the kitchen table— my preferred place to work— is an ashy gray. Surprisingly, it is a quality of midday light that works well for the linoleum carver, since it illuminates paper softly, and it doesn’t throws no harsh angular shadows that sully my view of the block. Pencil marks layered with more insistent marks with a permanent pen lay tangled on the grey surface, but its just enough for me to see my way.

When I was on the road with the Steinbeck Center team and other artists, every waking day was absolutely electric with possibility, every glimpse out the passing window of our RV a running scroll of visual experience. Three months later, in my everyday life, the challenge now is to sift through the journey and find out where the eye of one’s memory lingers.

At times, there are two lines of inquiry in my memory working side by side. One is of images conjured up from Steinbeck’s prose; the other is a continuation of the trip we experienced in person. Although I am a very literary artist (meaning that I draw a tremendous amount of inspiration and energy through the written word), I occasionally explain to others that my process of creating artwork is by thinking through my hands. In order to create compelling visual work, I have to follow a hunch of something with potential physically, on the page, with my pencil, xacto blades, carving tools, through the ink and the paper. What blooms within the drawings is a matter of balancing the vibrancy of the lines, what begs for color, the wit of the image’s metaphors.

With some luck and continued persistence, I’m hoping that the resulting series of prints will encapsulate some of the sheer, absurd power of the human condition that is experienced in the pages of “The Grapes of Wrath”, and then again, the blunt and immediate moment you step outside into the real world.

The Steinbeck Journey Videos

All along the road, through thunderstorms in Oklahoma, the high grasses of Texas, voluptuous clouds of New Mexico, dry desert winds in Arizona, and finally the tic tic tic of cultivated rows of crops in California— we conducted heartbreaking interviews with people we met and asked them "what keeps you going when times are tough?" Our resident artist and filmmaker PJ Palmer and his amazing crew filmed and edited four extraordinary preview films in our clunky RV as we hustled west.

National Steinbeck Center Journey Day One

National Steinbeck Center The Journey Continues

National Steinbeck Center Journey Moves Onwards

National Steinbeck Center The Journey Concludes

What Happened Next

NOTE: Six months ago, I was invited by the National Steinbeck Center to participate in an epic roadtrip across the United States, retracing the journey of the Joads, a fictional migrant farming family featured in John Steinbeck's powerful story of economic and environmental ruin, "The Grapes of Wrath." This is one of the posts that I wrote and published on the Grapes of Wrath 75 blog as part of that incredible artistic project. I am now in the process of creating artwork in response to the journey, and will post some updates about my creative work.


We were looking for things as we made our way westward. Things amidst the wind that had significance or struck us as beautiful, found by accident, or through any manner of incidents along the ditch, the prairie, the sun blotted cliff.It took some adjustments at first because we were hesitant, but by the time the state border into Arizona had been crossed, our Journey team had truly merged into a single seeing, listening, and feeling unit. Through the tremendous compassion and intelligence of my companions, I watched as the fine grain of the human condition sprang into focus before our very eyes.

Flagstaff, geographically the highest point of elevation through the entire Route 66, was a story of contrasts: we were in high elevation, newly fallen snow caped the surrounding volcanic mountains, and with each inhale, our lungs ached with the cold.

Nestled in a forest of Ponderosa Pine trees and alligator junipers lies the Pioneer Museum and Coconino Center for the Arts, which was where I recorded the stories of three extraordinary medical professionals from the community, whose life experiences shaped their attitudes towards compassion, hunger, and our own inevitable deaths. It was a sobering, yet freeing moment for me to encounter these people at this particular juncture in the Journey, where we also conducted our first artist workshop (lead by P.J.) that incorporated all eleven members of the Steinbeck staff, the artists, and the film crew with Flagstaff residents, and came away with each other’s histories and artistic abilities even more deeply etched into our hearts.

The RV, mini-van and our companions in the Penguin truck crept past ancient cliffs the color of cinnamon and rust, where amidst the century plants, the Joshua trees and ocotillo, lay a dusting of bright yellow desert wildflowers.

From Kingman to Oatman (where we waded through a small sea of burros roaming wild on the streets) we sought and found, knowing that California was just over the last jagged crest of mountains.

It was hard to resist stopping at high above at Sitgraves Pass, where we finally got our first glimpse of California’s central valley unfurling before us, its irrigated orchards and fields, green with promise and read aloud from the novel, word for word. Would you believe that I could actually feel us all relax, one tremendous sigh, as we descended from the twisted mountains into that familiar light and air, greeted by the long-sloped shoulders of the autumn hills and great valley oaks?

What does home mean to you? I had never realized how intimate that palette of the central valley was to me, where the sunlight was indeed golden and the sky a washed out hazy blue. We hitched up off the 66 onto Highway 99, a visual inversion that made me smile, into Bakersfield. How fitting it was that due to our arrival in mid-October, with the stone fruit and grapes harvest finished, the migrants have moved on to the next town— some returning to the California Mexico border, some to other towns to wait until word spreads of more work.

We had made it to the end of the book, actually living out an astonishing exploration of the novel chapter by chapter, and in the process aligning real life and people to Steinbeck’s words. We were in the middle of it all, as the road opened before us and every single day things were forgotten, blown, and yearned for. Every day we fell in love with some strange new person in a different town.

Night, night, night until the following morning.

The anonymous crowd and its search for amusement

"Inside the air was a pestilence; it was heavy with disease and the emanations from many bodies. Anyone leaving this working mass, anyone coming into it...forced the people into still closer, still more indecent, still more immoral contact. A bishop embraced a stout grandmother, a tender girl touched limbs with a city sport, refined women's faces burned with shame and indignation—but there was no relief. Was all this an oriental prison? Was it in some hall devoted to the pleasures of the habitues of vice? Was it a place of punishment for the wicked? No gentle reader, it was only the result of public stupidity and apathy. It was in a Los Angeles streetcar on the 9th day of December, in the year of grace 1912.

— "A Section of Hades in Los Angeles," Los Angeles Record, December 11, 1912.

Los Angeles' general public has always been one of tremendous ethnic diversity, a resilient mixture of Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, African Americans, Midwesterners, Jews, Germans, Scots, Greeks, Italians, and "Okies." The beach was a natural recreational escape for Los Angeles' expanding immigrant class, and once the Santa Monica Air-Pacific Electric streetcar line went from downtown to the beach, it provided accessibility to pleasure seekers of myriad ethnicities, so long as they could afford the train fare. Early in the century, numerous amusement parks including Venice Pier, Ocean Park Pier and the Long Beach Pike rimmed the Pacific Ocean and were even connected to each other by train. With their carnival atmosphere and rowdy good humor, these parks allowed Angelenos and tourists to immerse themselves into mainstream modern American culture. by abandoning oneself to mixing with an anonymous crowd.

Historian Eric Avila argues that the disappearance of streetcars, which began in the 30s and continued well into the 50s, severely undermined the popularity of the amusement park, the urban ballpark, and other public cultural institutions whose inner-city location gradually lost favor. A new generation of more affluent motorists were more likely to engage in activities that were increasingly dictated by the availability of parking space.

But by the end of World War II, more and more of Los Angeles was dedicated to privatizing exclusive space away from the larger social identity of the city. Compared to the unruly crowds and the threat of an unhygienic beach, swimming pools presented a regimented, controlled landscape that orchestrated the movement and interactions of swimmers. Eventually, those who could afford to built private pools in their suburban backyards, further distancing themselves from the larger social and sexual identities of the city.

Ancient Chinese Wisdom: an interview with Victor Wong

Artist, actor, journalist, Protestant minister in training Victor Wong, 1976. Love the budweiser plus t-shirt (3rd International San Francisco Book Fair).I wish I knew more about Victor. I've only read profiles and a smattering of interviews here and there, and I've been lucky enough to briefly meet and interview Olive Thurman, his first wife. I'm curious about his artwork and early life growing up in Chinatown, etc.

Victor Wong was the eldest son of an eldest son in a Chinatown family with rich connections to Sun-Yat-Sen and Chiang-Kai-Shek. When Lawrence Ferlinghetti introduced him to Jack Kerouac, Wong lived in two worlds only an alley apart, Chinatown and North Beach. In the early 60s, after several rounds of binging and isolation, Jack imposed on Victor to allow him to talk to his father.

"For a few days of happiness, Kerouac's strategy had worked. He had company with him when the wind swept off the ocean and rattled the trees, but one by one, as the city pulled them back, the crowd dwindled, and Jack had followed rather than stay on alone. Within a few days of returning to San Francisco, Jack was into his old pattern of recruiting acquiantances to join him for a drink. One drink led to many more, and Jack might announce to a barful of strangers that he was a famous novelist. "I'm Jack Kerouac!" he would shout.

They found him in a flophouse and Lawrence took him up to his place. After that he came to me and said, "You know, I'm really in a bad place, and I need to get some wise person. Can I talk to your father?" And I'm saying to myself, "Shit here's this guy, he's drunk all the time and he's got these terrible clothes on, and he's unshaven. What will my father say?" I lived in a world that was so far away from him, that was so distinct, even though it's around the corner from the whole scene. So I talked to Lawrence and we figured it out. I remembered that I had a maroon cashmere sweater which had little holes in it, but you couldn't see them too well. Lawrence shaved Jack, or he somehow shaved himself. Then we put this shirt on him and sweater. My father was in this store on Jackson Street, a grocery store. But it was kind of dirty. Nobody ever went in there to buy stuff because it wasn't really a grocery store, it was my father's political office, like one of those ward offices in Chicago. In the back there's a fifteen-watt lamp up there with a shade so that only the person who sat in front of it had the light. But there was this couch there because people would come in to talk.

So we got Jack shaved, sprayed, and gargled, and he walks in there, but his face is still red. Obviously he's been drinking. So he sits there on this couch where all the politicians sit. My father says to me, in Chinese, "What is this?" I say, "This is a very noted poet. He's a very literary man. He's just as literate as you are in Chinese." He says, "Why do you bring him here?" This is all in Chinese. Meanwhile, Kerouac is sitting there, and he doesn't know what the hell to do about it. So I say, "Come on, talk to him. He's in trouble and he needs something from the Chinese that's wise."

My father turned around, turned his back to Jack and went back to writing his calligraphy. Went on for about ten minutes. Ten minutes in silence is a long time. I said, "Well, Id' better play it cool. If I say something it will prolong the damned thing." It would get too embarrassing and we would have to leave.

So I'm looking at Kerouac and he doesn't look at me. He's just looking at my father's back. Finally, my father turns around and says to Jack in his broken English, "What do you want?"

Kerouac says, "I'm not doing so well. I'm having troubles."

My father says, "What do you do?"

He says, "I write poetry."

So they banter back and forth, but finally my father said to him, "Obviously you like to drink."

He said, "Yes, of course."

And my father said, "You know, you should be like the Japanese monks, the Zen monks. You should go up in the mountains, drink all you want and write poetry." -an interview with Victor Wong, from Jack's Book: An Oral History of Jack Kerouac. St.Martin's Press, 1978. For an excellent article on Wong's eclectic life, go here.

Duke Kahanamoku: the Hawai'ian Olympic Hero in Los Angeles

The United States took a total of 41 gold medals including eight in the diving and swimming competitions, but the 1932 Games were fondly remembered as the final hurrah for an Olympic hero by the name of Duke Kahanamoku.

While Kahanamoku wasn't technically American since Hawai'i had yet to join the union, his prowess as a surfing and swimming champion earned him a spot on the U.S. team starting at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics,winning Hawaii’s first Olympic gold medal for 100-meter freestyle, and a silver medal for the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.

Kahanamoku competed again in 1920 at the Antwerp Olympics winning two more gold medals and the 1924 Paris Olympics winning a silver medal in 100-meter freestyle race behind gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller.

Kahanamoku and Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller, 1920.

LAAC (Los Angeles Athletic Club) Swim Team posing in front of a mirrored pool. Some of the identified members are: Josephine McKim, Georgia Coleman, Buster Crabbe, Duke Kahanamoku, Mickey Riley, etc. Shades of LA collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Kahanamoku's dark, sensuous face and Adonis-like physique had caught the eye of Hollywood producers, who invited him to move to Los Angeles in 1922, where he was made a member of the all-white Los Angeles Athletic Club, an act that was unprecedented for a person of color.

From 1922-1929 he worked for various movie studios, usually portraying a native chief or a Hawaiian king while popularizing Southern California as a mecca for surf and swim.

Wing Kwong Tse's skylighted studio atop City Lights Bookstore

Despite a lack of formal training and not beginning his career as an artist until his thirties, Wing Kwong Tse became a successful SF painting known for his photorealistic portraits and still-life watercolors. After the Chinese Revolution in 1911, the family fled Guangzhou for Hawaii, before enrolled at USC in 1922. During his third year at USC, Tse dropped out to pursue a career in acting, but was discouraged to discover that he was only offered roles as stereotypical Chinese.

In the early 1930s, Tse moved to San Francisco, with a studio in North Beach above City Lights Books. He became a well-known, respected fixture of the artistic community and knew writers such as William Saroyan and Allen Ginsberg, living and working in the Bay Area for nearly fifty years. When he died in 1993, famed columnist Herb Caen described him as "one of the last of the real old north beach crowd. When Wing had a skylighted studio, right out of "La Boheme,' atop poet Ferlinghetti's bookstore on Columbus—yes, that was San Francisco."

from Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 by Chang, Johnson and Karlstrom.

Fong-Fong Bakery Fountain, San Francisco Chinatown 1941

We started the Fong-Fong Bakery-Fountain in 1935. We had a beautiful, long counter, the latest equipment, stainless steel, nice-looking bakery cases full of fancy, decorated cakes and flaky French pastries, and it was the first place, you know, that had uniforms in Chinatown, regular soda fountain uniforms, all white. I told my partners my policy. "Now we're going to cater to the younger generation and turn this into a gathering place for all of the young American-born Chinese in San Francisco." And we did. On weekends, students from Berkeley and Stanford would come in droves. On Sunday morning, people waited in line to get in. And we really fractured those hawk-sawed old-timers with goodies Chinatown had never seen before— Napoleon pastries, wedding cakes, bon voyage baskets, nobody had ever seen a banana split made in Chinatown before, nobody ever saw a parfait decorated nicely. At the time, I had enrolled in the University of California's Davis Farm Dairy School, and as I became a little more adept at ice cream making I had an idea; Ever since we opened, tourists in Chinatown would keep coming into Fong-Fong's and after staring at the twenty-flavor ice cream listings they'd say, "Cheeze, don't yuh have any Chinese ice cream?" That's when I started to invent Lichee ice cream, Ginger ice cream, Chinese fruit ice cream, and finally we even invented Chinese Sundaes, which were unheard of before.

—Johnny Kan (who formerly worked at Foster's Cafeteria and Sam Hing Groceries before opening the wildly successful tourist restaurant, Johnny Kan's in the thirties.)

photo caption: The exterior of Fong Fong Bakery in Chinatown. Photograph by Peter Stackpole. San Francisco, California, USA, 1941.

A Celebration of Nanao Sakaki with Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Joanne Kyger, Gary Lawless, Malcolm Margolin and oh, Patricia Wakida as guest eMCee

Hi, Gary! Hi, Nanao! Hi, McRoskey Mattresses!

This actually happened! On May 10, 2013. Two of the original poets from the Six Gallery reading in North Beach read. Wow.

It's said that Nanao Sakaki made a practice of never sleeping in the same place twice. The Japanese poet worked many jobs, sometimes living off the generosity of neighbors while studying English and reading. He became interested in primitive art, and his visits to forests all over Japan inspired him to start writing poems. When he co-translated his book Bellyfulls into English in 1961, Sakaki became friends with Beat poet Gary Snyder, who sought him out after having been given the book in India. Sakaki was also founder and lead personality of the Tribe, a loose-knit countercultural group in Japan in the '60s and '70s that, among other things, built and inhabited the Banyan Ashram on tiny Suwanosejima, one of the Ryukyu Islands (and one of Japan's most active volcanoes).

He spent nearly 10 years in the U.S., mostly in San Francisco but also wandering by foot. A pivotal nexus between Buddhism and the Beat movement, the publication of Sakaki's first collection of poems will be celebrated with tributes and performances by major writers Snyder, Michael McClure, Joanne Kyger, and Gary Lawless, along with author and Heydey Books guru Malcolm Margolin and host Patricia Wakida. A Celebration of Nanao Sakaki starts at 7 p.m. on Friday May 10, at McRoskey Mattress Company, 1687 Market, S.F. Admission is $5-10; call (415) 338-2227 or visit sfsu.edu/~poetry/index.html.

I also made a special letterpress lino broadside to commemorate Nanao.

Stuck in the Shallow End: Swimming Pool and Segregation in L.A.

Sammy Lee, first Asian American gold medalist.

As a twelve-year-old Angeleno in 1932, Korean American athlete "Sammy" Lee dreamed of becoming a world-class competitive diver, but at the time, Latinos, Asians and African-Americans were only allowed to use the Brookside Park Plunge (Pasadena's public pool), on Wednesdays, on what was called “international day”: the day before the pool was scheduled to be drained and refilled with clean water. Because Lee needed a place to practice and could not regularly use the public pool, his diving coach dug a pit in his backyard and filled it with sand, which Lee used to practiced his dives in, despite bone-jarring impacts upon landing. In spite of the bigotry, in the summer of 1948, "Sammy" Lee became the first Asian American to win a gold medal in the Olympic Games held in London, and the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in Olympic platform diving.

Early city parks and playground ordinance in the early 20th century made no reference to race, but by the 1920s, everything had changed and rules proclaiming pools "For Whites Only" barred low-income, people of color from access. With few exceptions, Southern California’s public beaches were off limits. In those days, people of color had two choices: a 200 foot roped-off stretch of the Santa Monica beach designated "For Negros only" known as the "Inkwell", and Bruce's Beach in nearby Manhattan Beach. When Manhattan Beach was incorporated in 1912, a two block stretch was designated as an all-African American resort, owned and operated by Charles and Willa Bruce. Both of these segregated beaches provided refuge and relief for minorities who wanted visit the ocean and enjoy the good life promised in Southern California without harassment. But by 1920, even Bruce's Beach was also proclaimed off limits, marked with "No Trespassing: signs although it was city owned.

"Hayride at Bruce's Beach, c. 1920s" When Manhattan Beach (in Los Angeles) was incorporated in 1912, a two-block area on the ocean was set aside for African-Americans.

An end to racial segregation in municipal swimming pools was ordered in summer 1931 by Superior Court Judge Walter S. Gates after Ethel Prioleau, an African American widow of an Army major, sued the city, complaining that she was not allowed to use the swimming pool in nearby Exposition Park but had to travel 3.6 miles to the "negro swimming pool" at 1357 East 22nd street. Other city pools were opened to Negroes but closed to whites one day a week, although in most of South Central and East LA suffered from a complete lack of parks and pools. As the city grew, and as racial housing restrictions were finally overturned by the Supreme Court in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the racial and ethnic geography of Los Angeles changed, but so did the growing preference of privatized, and predictable recreation which required entrance fees. Changes in technology and the growth of white suburban neighborhoods brought an unprecedented boom of private swimming pools in the mid-1950s, which only further widened the race and class divisions in LA.

After the Los Angeles Playground Commission initiated a policy of discriminating against people of color in 1925, the local chapter of the NAACP went into action. The name of the case was "George Cushnie v. City of Los Angeles" but locally it was known as "The Bath House Battle." Although the original case determined that the city had provided facilities "separate but equal" enough to comply with the 14th amendment. That wasn't enough for civil rights activist Betty Hill, who was determined to win through persistence. She went to court 25 times over a period of several years and lobbied each city councilperson individually until 1931 when Judge Walter S. Gates decided that the Playground Commission could not continue its policy of discrimination. This became known as the infamous “swimming pool case.”

In addition to the history of swimming pools and racial covenants, I'm exploring other aspects of swimming pool culture as it emerged in the city. While Los Angeles isn't the birthplace of the swimming suit, Hollywood in particular has singlehandedly developed the lasting, popular vision of swimming attire and the lifestyle it lends- cosmopolitan, sexy, and relaxed- since only the most successful could lead a life of lassitude spent by the pool, working on one's tan. Suntans and sunbathing is another bizarre ritual (particularly to people of color) that might be examined, especially when reviewed with today's UV ray and the particular elements of Los Angeles' air.

The environmental impact of swimming pools is also of great interest. In 2004, the LA Times reported that 19,659 gallons of water evaporate from a typical uncovered pool each year, according to estimates from the Metropolitan Water District. I'd be curious to further research the average annual water used to fill LA's swimming pools, the gallons of chemicals used, and perhaps interview one pool service company on a daily routine as they go from home to home (or neighborhood pool to neighborhood pool) to clean, chlorinate, and care for the city's pools.

Finally, there are the stories connected to abandoned pools. With the recent foreclosure of homes on the rise, festering swimming pools, fetid and green, that harbor mosquitos and other pests has given rise to concerns about West Nile virus and other transmittable diseases, which I understand has led to helicopter surveillance of murky swimming pools. In suburban Los Angeles, dry pools are the playgrounds of skateboarders, another major culture that emerged out of Southern California, who use the concrete bowls to perfect their acrobatic vertical aerials. Sharing maps of abandoned pools to drain and skate in have been part of the secret lives of skaters for decades.

Got thrown a bunch of sugar

{painting by Christine Wu}

In the first months of my working as curator of history at the Japanese American National Museum, I was introduced to a blazingly smart, generous woman who was part of an informal network in Los Angeles of Asian and Asian American arts curators. This cordial group of individuals, from as far south as the Clark Center of Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, and as neighborly as the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, took turns hosting the group to their museum spaces for lunch, tours, and roundtable discussions about our upcoming projects and exhibits, new technologies, new scholarship, and other factors that were shaping the way that we worked.

This one particular curator was already in conversation with JANM since she had proposed a wonderfully compelling proposal to put together an international show of innovative origami, and for the first Asian art curator's gathering, she offered to give me a ride across town to the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Her name is Meher MacArthur, and I'm lucky enough to say that our friendship has endured.

Meher's origami show, "Folding Paper" was a smashing success, and in the meantime, she's picked up a great gig writing about Asian influence on Los Angeles art and artists, for KCET's artbound website, which is another revelation and astonishing resource.

Now here is where the sugar part comes in- last week, just in time for the Lunar New Year observances, Meher interviewed and featured one of her articles on Los Angeles artists whose muse were snakes- and whaddya know- she plucked little ol' me, with my obsession with legless, shedding carnivores, as a highlight.

Triple blush! It is such an honor.

Serpentine 2013: LA Artists Celebrate the Year of the Snake.

All hail the serpentine Year of the Snake!

Ironically, 2011 we were a two snake household, and now we're down to none.
2012 was actually quite splendid- I dubbed it "My year of benevolence" and felt that I was getting away with all kinds of luxuries and wild ganders, like donating salaries and honorariums because it simplified my life; taking a month off to live in Minnesota to write; floating up and down the coast of California to huddle over cups of volcanically strong coffee and fine, wrathful glasses of syrah, engaged in lazy conversations about ink, maps, and books. But I have another year to look forward to; perhaps the snake is just a tamer, more evolved version of the dragon.
Two block linoleum print on chipboard nengajo, with polymer text letterpress printing on the nether side. And for the first time in thirteen years, I got the bulk of the postcards printed, addressed, stamped and at the post office on December 31st.
May this auspicious beginning set the ambient tone for the whole year.

2013 Year of the Snake

I've decided to mix it up. The calendar, I mean.

Following wasabipress tradition, I have been meditating on the upcoming zodiac animal for the year 2013. As it happens, as faithful followers of this extremely feeble and poorly neglected blog know, I am quite fond of snakes. However, this year I did something wierd and experimental and not like other years before at all.

It happened thusly: While visiting Oakland back in the spring, I heard from my good friend Jimmy, who is an outstanding designer in his own right, that he had a whole crapton of amazing Fabriano cotton rag paper that he was GIVING away to someone who might make good use of it. So I nabbed it and drove those babies all the way back to LA.

Now this isn't your ordinary, flick of the wrist, inkjet your fourteenth draft of your poetry chapbook kind of paper. This is top of the line Italian, fer goodness sakes, which meant that each sheet is a golden slab of semolina-like, cream-to-the-top of the jug, fall-into-a-lush-embrace-from-three-stories-above kind of paper. I didn't want to fuck it up.

As it happens, I was miraculously offered my third artist residency in September, this time in Red Wing, Minnesota and lo and behold, the campus included a resident letterpress studio, replete with metal type, a guillotine, and two flatbed cylinder presses, housed in the old granary. Swoon.

So when I packed up my usual frocks and notebooks and various gone for a month accoutrements, I included my carving tools, some tracing and carbon papers, water-based inks, a brayer, and a heavy box of linoleum blocks to the heap. And the paper. Which were still in their original box and the parent sheets were 39.5 x 28 inches, 285 gsm. What to do?

In the end I hand-tore twenty three giant sheets four times each, for a total of ninety-four pages to print linoblocks- ganged up four at a time. THAT took only two days, but worked beautifully. (insert sound of weary applause)

I was even armed with this beautiful tool bag for my carving implements, sewn by my amazing husband, Sam.

While I was technically in Redwing to work on the biography, I reasoned that one can't write ALL the live long day, and thus, to keep me moving and balanced, I spent my mornings drawing, first in pencils then transferring the images onto the blocks using carbon paper, then finishing the image with good ol' Sharpie pens. Then, I carved like a demon.

I got to know the Challenge proof press quite well after a few days of cranking out prints.
What I have produced this year is a set of twelve two-color linoleum prints and a single page calendar,
which can be procured either as a full set...
...or as individual prints.
The full set even comes with these adorable chipboard stands that my astonishingly talented husband designed.
So if you're still searching for your 2013 time measurement device or are celebrating your snake zodiac year, or have a proclivity for block prints, cats, sparrows, or diving women....this is the time to strike.
Whaddya know? My etsy store, wasabipress is right here.

Misa Saijo: By Clementine Light of Dawn

In July 1932, on the occasion of the Los Angeles Olympic Games, the Kashu Mainichi ran an article welcoming the Japanese athletes, written by an unlikely writer who called herself an "obasan farmer living in southern California." The author was a remarkable Issei whose progressive, feminist perspective graced the pages of both the Kashu Mainichi and the Rafu Shimpo newspapers for nearly forty years. Asano "Misa" Saijo (1891-1966) was also an educator and a dedicated haiku poet who lived amongst the orange, avocado, and walnut groves of the San Gabriel Valley. A writer perceives life as more than an assemblage of dates and events; a tangle of everyday chores required of being a wife and mother, all on a rural chicken farm. Asano "Misa" Saijo roused herself from her bed at dawn to write, to make poetry of the life she was given.

Asano Miyata was born in 1891 in Tokushima, to a family that ran a successful business fermented and preparing foods made from soybeans, and she shared with her children memories of the giant wooden vats of shoyu being tended by men with long poles to stir the dark brew. She graduated from Tokushima Kojo before beginning her career as a schoolteacher in a small fishing village. It was a long ways from where she lived, requiring her to walk several miles to and from the village, early evidence of a sturdy endurance for traveling by foot, and in solitude along mountain trails, which also had a later effect on her Nisei children's attitudes towards nature. Remarkably, she then accepted an opportunity to teach schoolchildren of Japanese businessmen in far-off Hong Kong, and remained in this position for several years before returning to Japan.

As a result of the establishment of universal education in late Meiji- and Taisho-era Japan, most Japanese were almost entirely literate — far more so than the average white American of their period. The only career acceptable for Japanese women was in education, however, women were forbidden to enroll at Japanese national universities. So in many cases, those who wished to continue their own studies found places at Christian schools or with the help of Christian missionaries, which ultimately facilitated a familiarity with and embrace of Christianity. Asano Miyata was one of the intellectual women of her time whose studies led her to marry an overseas Japanese. Because of their extensive schooling, these women scholars often remained single into their early to mid-20s, which was considered too old for a respectable bride in Japan. Thus, if they wished to marry, their only remaining option was to agree to unite with Japanese immigrant men.

Satoru Saijo was born in 1878 in Kumamoto prefecture and attended a Christian missionary school as a child where he was taught basic English. Travel was in Satoru's blood, luring him first to San Francisco and further on to excursions throughout the US in a variety of occupations, ranging from houseboy to ship crew. By 1909, he was working as a domestic for the Albert Holden family, who acknowledged Satoru's potential by arranging for enrollment at Kenyon College, with all expenses paid. From Kenyon, Satoru went to Drew Theological seminary in New Jersey, intent on becoming a Christian minister. A small photograph from circa 1920 shows Satoru Saijo standing in front of the Santa Barbara Japanese Congregational Church, where he presided as minister. He was later transferred to Los Angeles and eventually became a junior pastor at Union Church.

As it happened, the senior pastor was a distant relative of a thoroughly modern woman by the name of Asano Miyata, and a marriage arrangement was made. In 1919, Asano arrived as a picture bride in Los Angeles. Satoru was soon placed as pastor of a church and congregation of Japanese farming families in rural Montebello in the San Gabriel Valley. The church had a Japanese school attached to it, a regular necessity for the Nisei children. Asano was immediately installed as its instructor and remained an esteemed pillar of the Japanese American community for years to come. Following the market crash in 1929, which mired the country in economic depression, Satoru gave up the ministry entirely and set about a new vocation as a farmer, despite his total lack of experience. It was during those dire financial and emotional years that Asano adopted the pen name of "Misa" Saijo and began publishing her essays, writing whenever she had a spare moment.

As her son Albert recounts, "I see her desk with neat squared off manuscript paper covered with her fluid hand— scattered pages filled with revisions & additions— her desk was Arts & Crafts style in oak with drawers & built in shelves facing sideways at each end—at her desk writing she had a power of concentration which was hard to break— she was writing about what was happening around her— from her own point of view— she was now over 10 years in America—She was in a country where she understood neither the culture nor the language—she spoke hardly a word of English—she made no effort to learn English— she was in a country whose white majority actively discriminated against her kind…"

What also mattered to Asano Saijo was her haiku. Before the war, local haiku societies were found throughout California. Through poetry, the Issei invented new meanings and expressions to describe their immigrant experiences, reflecting the imagery, feelings and sensibilities of an often bewildering culture so far from home and the familiar. "Tachibana Ginza," was one of numerous haiku journals published pre-war, and was run by a USC graduate, poet and farmer named Tsuneishi. It was said that when he drove groups of local haiku poets to larger meetings in Los Angeles, Tsuneishi had an odd habit of taking his right hand off the wheel to snap his fingers at regular intervals, as though he were marking time to a stanza of poetry, which drove Asano mad with worry. By the late 1930s, "Misa" Saijo was writing more than ever. One night, the Japanese schoolhouse burned down in the middle of the night, likely of arson as relations between the Japan and the United States rapidly deteriorated.

Immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Satoru and Asano took all of their Japanese books, magazines and papers related to their community affairs, threw them into the garbage pit in the back yard and set them on fire. While they were spared arrests by the FBI, soon enough, they were forced into the Pomona Assembly Center and later, Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Asano took advantage of the idle time that camp provided to indulge in her writing and as was the fad, to hunt dinosaur gullet stones. Ironically, incarceration brought poets from all parts of the West Coast into Heart Mountain; as a result haiku clubs at all ten concentration camps flourished as the Issei sought blindly to put their experiences and complex emotions into a form. Tragically, none of Asano's writings from this era survived the repeated moves that took place after camp. They finally returned to Los Angeles around 1950 and bought a house near USC. When the McCarren Act was passed in 1952, Asano made her first genuine effort to learn English, and both she and her husband succeeded in attaining U.S. citizenship.

After Satoru passed away, Asano, now in her late sixties, finally made the pilgrimage back home to Tokushima after a thirty-seven year absence, although she recognized almost nothing of the town she had left behind beyond the mountains and rivers. All three children had settled in Northern California following the war, and although she maintained residence in Los Angeles, she also made frequent visits to partake in excursions amongst the redwoods and cedars that covered the rugged northern coastline. Whatever it was that she channeled to build her own literary career, she passed on to her three children: Gompers, Albert, and Hisayo, all of who led fascinating literary and artistic lives.

In her final years, she finally moved to Mill Valley, bringing her life's work with her, and immediately began compiling a book of her essays, short stories, and haiku. Once the task of editing and revising was complete, Asano laid aside her pen and took to bed. She passed in 1966 in the home of her son Albert, at the age of seventy-five.

A limited edition of Asano Saijo's compiled work, Hinatabokko (Basking in the Sun), was published in 2002 by her family. Her son Gompers spent his own final years scouring the archives at UCLA piecing together his mother's essays from newspaper archives along with her own transcriptions and editions. Currently, Hinatabokko is only available in Japanese, and is seeking a translator who can bring Asano's Issei perspective of Los Angeles, of immigrant life and politics, of family, language, and learning to light.


My thanks to Greg Robinson, whose research and column, THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT in the Nichibei Times provided information on early Issei women's education.

Gompers Saijo: Earthly Manifestation

It is no great surprise that Eric Saijo's home is surrounded by a profusion of California native plants —ceanothus, manzanita, redbud—and the interior is richly punctuated with bronze bells and whimsical sculptures of turtles and owls. For years I've intended to find out more about Eric's father, Nisei artist Gompers Saijo, the eldest in an extraordinary family of artists and intellectuals who shared a profound reverence for the earth and were everything but conventional Americans. On the first day of April, the opportunity to do so appeared, and I stepped across the family's threshold.

Gompers Saijo ((1922-2003)was given his unusual moniker by his Issei father, an immigrant who frequently went to the Port of Oakland to listen to Jack London and other longshoremen preaching the power of union organizing and labor rights on a soap box. Thus, he consciously named his first son after Samuel Gompers, the man who united the working class as the first and longest-serving president of the American Federation of Labor.

Gompers knew he was destined to be an artist. His mother, Asano Saijo, in addition to being a renowned haiku poet and Japanese language teacher, was a skilled practitioner of traditional Japanese brush painting and had instilled a unique sense of composition, space, and beauty in her children. While the children were raised humbly on a rural chicken farm in the San Gabriel Valley, there were always the sweet, dusty smells of meadows and creeks and the seasonal perfume of orange blossoms, interspersed by the drunken antics of annual kenjinkai picnics and the delights of Oshogatsu. Gompers was only twenty years old and in his second year of art studies at Pasadena City College when the U.S. entered into World War II. With the passage of E.O. 9066, the Saijo family was forced into the Pomona fairgrounds and in the summer of 1942, to Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

At the assembly center, Gompers encountered painter Benji Okubo (brother to Mine Okubo) who he described as "this guy who swaggers in with a sort of angry glare in his eyes…and is dressed like some buccaneer character off of a hollywood (sic) set…whoever, the initial image of benji (sic) has me totally blown away." Gompers also recalled meeting artist Hideo Date in the barracks, where he and Benji were working on an 8' x 20' painting to be used as a theatrical backdrop.

"The whole imagery was composed of flowing oriental lines and shapes painted in soft tonalities of mystically suggestive coloration. Never before or since have I seen the likes of this… " Okubo and Date, who were active with the Art Students League in Pasadena, founded by Morgan Rusel and S. Macdonald Wright, soon established the Art Students League Heart Mountain, a rigorous workshop where they expounded on spirituality, symbolism, and intellectualism through a myriad range of European, Mayan, Persian and Chinese arts and motifs that were carefully scrutinized and appreciated.

Okubo led his Issei and Nisei students through life drawing classes, utilizing a roll of tan-colored butcher paper, while lecturing on visual rhythmic patterns and abstract painting techniques using "prismatic colors almost out of the tube". The workshop completely engrossed Gompers, who even slept in the art studio at times. He also found work in the camp poster shop, silkscreening and mimeograph printing announcements for activities such as the haiku and shodo clubs that his mother finally had the leisure time to indulge in.

In 1943, when the "Statement of United States Citizen of Japanese Ancestry" form was distributed, Gomper's younger brother Albert joined the Army, but Gompers didn't. Confronted with the "loyalty questionnaire", Gompers refused to complete it, and considered himself a conscientious objector, claiming the right to refuse military service on the grounds of freedom of his beliefs. According to his son, Eric, his status as a resister was a point of distinction; he wanted his children to know that "that he never wanted to be a follower; that he was always looking for the unique path to take." After Albert left for basic training, Mother and Father Saijo and daughter Hisayo went to Cleveland, leaving Gompers alone at Heart Mountain. After witnessing the slumping, devastating effect that news of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima had on the camp's remaining residents, Gompers was ready to move on with his life. He moved briefly to Brooklyn, where he worked a string of odd jobs, including hand-painting chinaware.

Before long, the family reunited in Los Angeles, where Gomper began working as a sign painter and Albert attended classes at USC. When Albert joined a theatrical club known as Nisei Experimental Group, which included young writers such as Hiroshi Kashiwagi and Mary Oyama Wittmer (a passionate supporter, but not a member of the troupe), Gompers also got involved. As it turns out, he was also interested in NEG supporter Leonor De Queiroz, a young woman of half Japanese, half Mexican descent, who had always wistfully said she always wanted to marry an artist. She got her wish, and in 1951, Leonor and Gompers were married at the Los Angeles City Hall. Soon after, the couple spent a year in Mexico, hanging out with an avant-garde expatriate scene. Leonor had two aunts living in Mexico City who helped them find an apartment and make connections with both traditional and fine artists such as the Japanese Mexican muralist and landscape artist Luis Nishizawa.

In 1963, Gompers, Leonor, and their two children, Rani and Eric, moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Albert had moved up first, and in the late 50s, he bought a house in Mill Valley tucked into a dense forest of bay laurels, oaks, and redwoods at the foot of Mt. Tamalpais. However, while he was in the Army, he had contracted tuberculosis, so Albert was sent away to recover from a new bout. On his invitation, Gompers and family moved into Albert's house and never moved out. After Albert was released, he managed to buy the house right next door, so the two brothers lived side-by-side on a narrow, windy road for the next fourteen years. Eric recalls,"We could walk out of the house and at the end of the road just start out on trails into the woods. I remember going on numerous hikes with Dad, Uncle Albert or just us kids. Starting from kindergarten, we walked to school down a canyon with a creek running through it. "

To support his family, Gompers adapted by becoming a jack of all trades. "He had a basement workshop where he made paper-mache sculptures or wood sculptures, " says Eric, "and spent a phenomenal amount of time on each piece." This menagerie, inspired by folk art and patterns, were sold through Gump's San Francisco. Additionally, he did freelance work for Now Designs kitchen products, remodeled homes and decks, and did spot illustration on contract. In the 60s and early 70s, Gomper's illustrative acumen hit its stride, and he began utilizing his bold sense of line to print highly coveted, psychedelic posters for the Haight Ashbury scene, which led to an unexpected partnership with one independent publisher.

Zen Benefit Poster for the Zen Mountain Center, featuring Gary Snyder: Poetry with Mahalilia Mandalagraphy at the Fillmore Theater, by Gompers Saijo, circa1960. "Gompers had this low slow voice; he always wore a kerchief wrapped around his forehead. He had this lovely color and dark hair- most people probably assumed he was Indian, " reminisced Malcolm Whyte, publisher of Troubador Press.

When Troubador moved into a space at 126 Folsom Street, Whyte hired Gompers to design and paint the press' lute logo in a supergraphics style popular in the 70s on the building's rollup door, and remembers watching Gompers using a chalked snapline to mark out the sunburst design with absolute precision.

"Gompers' first book with us was a big, oversized 12" x 12" occult coloring book that came out in 1971, marketed for the emerging hippie audience, people into astrology and all that stuff". "Noone would let you publish that with that name these days, but we sold 12-13,000 copies".

Over the next few years, Gompers produced six coloring books with Troubador on birds, wildflowers, wildlife and jungles with great success; the sealife coloring book alone sold 190,000 copies.

North American Birdlife Coloring Book by Gompers Saijo, Troubador Press, 1972. The coloring books demonstrated his gradual shift of interests into nature. In 1972, Albert published The Backpacker , a semi-spiritual how-to guide on traversing lightly while hiking in nature, with black and white illustrations by Gompers. As his connection to the flora and fauna of California deepened, Gompers began a series of spring and desert wildflowers, which were first published as posters by the California Native Plant Society in 1979 and 1981, selling more than 120,000 posters. An early member of the Marin Chapter of CNPS, Gompers also designed their logo featuring the Tiburon Mariposa Lily, and created the poster for the chapter’s first plant sale.

Both brothers moved to the remote fogbelt of California's Northern Lost Coast in the 70s, where Gompers rented a cabin to work on a series of landscapes in oils and pastels. There, he produced astoundingly beautiful drawings that reached for that essence of wild and open abandonment of the region's grass prairies and staggering cliffs. After a decade, Albert left California to move to Volcano, Hawai'i, and eventually Gompers also returned to the Bay Area, where his final works of art had a clear Asian influence. He died in Point Reyes Station in 2003.

He didn't keep a diary, but what remains are nearly a thousand sketchbooks, most of which are in Eric's basement in Oakland. These sketchbooks show a total love and desire to understand the western landscape, and what is equally amazing is the determination with which he approached the same scenes again and again with his pencil or pastels. Gompers didn't exhibit much at all, so the memories of this remarkable Nisei's contributions on earth are as ephemeral as the bloom of an indigenous shooting star. He once said, “To love flowers is to make some deep connections between the animal and plant kingdoms, the knowledge of complete inter-dependence, a symbiosis of all earthly manifestations that can only be sustained by love.”

My sincere and humble thanks to Eric Saijo for his patience and allowing me access to family archives and interviews.