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Kamekichi Tokita papers, circa 1900-1985, bulk circa 1910-1948

Kamekichi Tokita papers, circa 1900-1985, bulk circa 1910-1948

Tokita, Kamekichi, 1897-1948


Collection Information

Size: 1.5 linear feet

Summary: The scattered personal papers of Seattle area painter Kamekichi Tokita (1897-1948) measure 1.3 linear feet and date from circa 1900 to 1985 with the bulk of the material dating from circa 1910 to 1948. The papers include biographical materials, including documents about the closing of the War Relocation Authority's Minidoka Camp in Idaho; correspondence; two diaries written in Japanese documenting Tokita's war time experiences and relocation to Minidoka, two earlier notebooks, also written in Japanese, and scattered notes; a few personal business records; printed materials; one scrapbook; sketches; and one family photograph album.

Biographical materials include a file on the Public Works of Art Project, a file on the War Relocation Authority and the closing of the Minidoka internment camp, an immigration document, and an essay on Tokita written by Shokichi and Elsie Tokita.

Correspondence is primarily professional in nature and concerns exhibitions at the Seattle Museum of Art (previously the Art Institute of Seattle) and other topics. Correspondents include Burt Brown Baker, Roy Boynton, Kenneth Callahan, Henry Gallery, the Seattle Art Museum, and others.

Tokita's writings consist of two diaries, two notebooks, and scattered general writings, most of which are in Japanese. The two diaries were kept during World War II and document the family's confinement at the Minidoka Relocation Camp in Idaho.

Scattered business records include a patent application, records from the Cadillac Hotel, and a claim filed through the Department of Justice. A few published books in English and Japanese are about art and religion. Also found are exhibition catalogs for shows in which Tokita participated and clippings. There is one mixed media scrapbook about Tokita's exhibitions.

Artwork consists of unsigned pencil and watercolor sketches by Tokita. There is also a family photo album containing snapshots and portraits of the Tokita family and friends.

Biographical/Historical Note

Kamekichi Tokita (1897-1948) was a painter and businessman who emigrated from Japan in 1919 and settled in Seattle, Washington. Born Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Received his college education in Japan and immigrated to Seattle in 1919. Operated a sign painting business, Noto Sign Co., with Kenjiro Nomura. Tokita became one of a small number of progressive artists in Seattle in the 1930's which included Morris Graves and Kenneth Callahan. His work was supported by the Seattle Art Museum and exhibited regularly in Seattle and California between 1929 and 1936. He was interned with his family at Minidoka, Idaho, during World War II.


The Kamekichi Tokita papers were donated by his son, Shokichi Tokita in 1990. They were collected as part of the Archives of American Art Northwest Asian American project in Seattle, Washington.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool.

A Finding Aid to the Kamekichi Tokita Papers, circa 1900-1985, bulk circa 1910-1948, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
Kamekichi Tokita (1897-1948) was a painter and businessman who emigrated from Japan in 1919 and settled in Seattle, Washington. Tokita was a member of the Seattle area progressive artists’ collective known as the “Group of Twelve” and widely exhibited his artwork throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Kamekichi Tokita was born in Shizouka City, Japan and immigrated to the United States at the age of twenty-two. He settled in the Japantown neighborhood of Seattle, Washington where he opened the Noto Sign Company with business partner Kenjiro Nomura. Nomura was also an artist and encouraged Tokita's interest in oil painting. They both used the sign shop as their studio after-hours. In 1936, the Noto Sign Company closed and Tokita took over management of the Cadillac Hotel, although he continued to paint commercial signs. Tokita married Haruko Suzuki in 1932 and together they had eight children.
As a child in Japan, Tokita studied calligraphy in China. Although he attended a few art school classes in in the U.S. and went on weekend painting trips with Nomura and other Seattle artists, Tokita is considered to be a largely self-trained artist. Support and recognition came from Dorothy V. Morrison of the Henry Gallery at the University of Washington who wrote to Tokita to inquire whether a “group of Japanese artists in the city” would be interested in exhibiting their work. Although the exhibition of Japanese artists did not happen, Tokita later loaned paintings to the gallery for inclusion in an exhibition sponsored by the American Federation of Arts. Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s Tokita exhibited widely in the Seattle area. In 1935, the
Seattle Daily Times
touted the work of Tokita and other painters in the “Group of Twelve” that also included Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, Walter F. Isaacs, and Ambrose and Viola Patterson, among others. In 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Kamekichi Tokita and his family (five children at the time), along with the 110,000 – 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-American citizens living on the West Coast, were ordered under President Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 to relocate to one of several confinement camps. For the first six months of their confinement, the family lived at a temporary Civilian Assembly Center in Puyallup, Washington. They were transferred to the Minidoka Relocation Camp in Hunt, Idaho where they remained until their release in 1945. The confinement camps were organized much like communes and independent cities (fenced and guarded) where the residents were self-reliant for most of their basic necessities, including schooling. While interned in Minidoka, Tokita worked as a sign painter and continued to privately paint, using whatever materials he could find, including beaver board. His work was featured in art shows at the camp. Many of his camp scenes are now lost or were given away.
At the end of World War II, Tokita and his family (now seven children) moved back to the Seattle-area. Unable to find housing, the Tokitas lived at a Japanese language school until Tokita was able to re-establish his business. During this period he painted very little. In 1946 Tokita and his wife purchased the New Lucky Hotel in the Chinatown area of Seattle. Shortly thereafter, Tokita fell ill and died in 1948. Many of his works are believed to have been destroyed or lost. Some of his work remains, however, and is among the permanent collections of the Seattle Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Portland Art Museum.
Note: Much of this biographical note was taken from “A Biographical Resume” written by Shokichi and Elsie Y. Tokita.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 8 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1934-1985 (Box 1; 4 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1920-1944 (Box 1; 6 folders)
Series 3: Writings and Notes, 1923-circa 1950 (Box 1; 5 folders)
Series 4: Personal Business Records, 1928-1950 (Box 1; 3 folders)
Series 5: Printed Material, circa 1910-1940 (Box 1, 3; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 6: Scrapbook, 1929-1933 (Box 1, 3; 0.1 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, circa 1910-1940s (Box 1, 3; 0.1 linear feet)
Series 8: Photograph Album, circa 1900-1930 (Box 2; 0.2 linear feet)
The Kamekichi Tokita papers were donated by his son, Shokichi Tokita in 1990. They were collected as part of the Archives of American Art Northwest Asian American project in Seattle, Washington.
Processing Information note
The collection was microfilmed onto reel 4883 shortly after receipt. In 2016-2017, the papers were fully processed with a finding aid prepared by Jayna Josefson with funding provided by the Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool.

Additional Forms Available

Portions of this collection are available on legacy microfilm reel 4883 at Archives of American Art offices, and through library loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the papers as described in this finding aid does not reflect the order of the collection on microfilm due to reprocessing and the microfilm may not reflect the entirety of the collection.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Kamekichi Tokita papers, circa 1900-1985, bulk circa 1910-1948. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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