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The Green Life: Throwback Thursday: Chiura Obata and his Sierra Legacy

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May 01, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Chiura Obata and his Sierra Legacy

ChiuraObatabyCedricWright3Part of an ongoing series exploring the Sierra Club's archives, because with such a long, rich history we don't throw back, we throw way back.

Chiura Obata is known for his striking Sierra landscapes and bald depictions of internment camps. Despite a tumultuous, life this master never stopped teaching others. Born in Sendai, Japan in 1885, Obata moved to California in 1903 and continued to paint using the sumi technique he had learned at home. His signature ink brush illustrations of Yosemite would become his legacy. 

Some of his earliest subject matter was the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco. In 1921 Obata established the East West Art Society in San Francisco which held exhibitions to promote cross-cultural discussion about art. 

A trip to Yosemite in 1927 would introduce him to the landscape that would become the focus of his future work. He became an art professor at UC Berkeley in 1939, where he would teach Gary Snyder, a man known more for his artistry with words than a brush.

After the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Obata and his family were "evacuated" to an internment camp in 1942. During this period Obata continued to teach others and produce his own works. Putting out a call for help from his Bay Area community, he raised funds for art classes, supplies and exhibitions for fellow prisoners. His haunting depictions of his imprisonment can be seen in Topaz Moon, a collection of his sketches, woodblocks and paintings from that time. 


After his release he joined the Sierra Club on their high trips and captured the “Great Nature” on his canvasses. 


Obata held painting demonstrations during these trips, passing on his unique perspective of the iconic sceneries.

ChiuraObatabyCedricWright2Check out some of his paintings today and consider bringing painting supplies on that next hike. 

-- images courtesy of the Sierra Club Archives. Taken by Cedric Wright in the 1950s. 

-- Special thanks to Ellen Byrne, Sierra Club Librarian.

Bianca Hernandez is the Acting Web Editor at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.



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