with Robert Hanamura,
This transcript is in the public domain and may
be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as
follows: Oral history interview with Robert Hanamura, [circa
1977], Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Interview with Robert Hanamura
November 9, 1977 session
Conducted by Marsha Miro
November 9, 1977 and July 18, 1978
July 18, 1978 session
The following oral history transcript is the result of a
tape-recorded interview with Robert Hanamura on November 9, 1977 and
July 18, 1978. The interview was conducted by Marsha Miro for the
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Funding for the
transcription of this interview provided by the Smithsoinian
Institution's Women's Committee.
The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a
transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.
MARSHA MIRO: This is Marsha Miro on November 9th and I'm speaking
with Robert Hanamura. Bob, you were born in San Francisco in 1923
and your parents were Japanese immigrants; is that right?
ROBERT HANAMURA: Right.
MS. MIRO: And can you tell us a little about your early
childhood, what you remember about your parents, your mother and
father and anything -
MR. HANAMURA: Well, they were always fighting. I didn't have a
very good attitude about my parents so I spent most of my time solo
or with other kids. And we would go fishing, swimming, play in the
woods since we were in San Francisco, which I now find to be a very
neat place after a short stay. I'd like to get back there.
MS. MIRO: Do you remember anything about your early childhood,
about friends and the kinds of things you liked to do?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, somewhere along the line I became very, it
became very clear to me that I was different in terms of the general
populace because we were Japanese. And I really don't know when that
became clear but it was obvious and I think there was an immediate
or general reaction to want to be like the rest of the people, to be
like the rest of the WASPs, although I didn't know that's what was
MS. MIRO: What kind of business was your father in?
MR. HANAMURA: He had a restaurant.
MS. MIRO: A Japanese restaurant?
MR. HANAMURA: No.
MS. MIRO: No?
MR. HANAMURA: No. It was an American restaurant and we only had
American food. We only served, cooked American food. And then on
weekends and maybe at the end of the month we'd go to a Japanese
restaurant, which would be a treat.
MS. MIRO: Did you have much contact with family in Japan?
MR. HANAMURA: None.
MS. MIRO: None?
MR. HANAMURA: None.
MS. MIRO: Your family was all here? It was just your mother and
MR. HANAMURA: Right. And the community we lived in was like a
Japanese ghetto, which has now been torn down. There's a thing
called Japan Town there now. And most of my friends would be
Japanese. After hours they would be Japanese. During the day at
school I'd run around with the WASPs or whatever.
MS. MIRO: Do you think it was a process of trying to get accepted
by them, some of your activities?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. I guess about high school time when you got
to that age when you began to think about girls and realize that
[inaudible] and so you wondered what the process would be and kind
of began to think about that.
MS. MIRO: Were your parents, did they try and assimilate too?
MR. HANAMURA: My mother did. In fact, she spoke English and she
made a point of having American friends. She was very vivacious and
got along well and I think she kind of resented the fact that my
father was very quiet, reserved, and stayed at home.
MS. MIRO: Did you sense a lot of discrimination against you for
being Japanese as opposed to -
MR. HANAMURA: Well, it was kind of an undercurrent that wouldn't
be clear to others, I suppose. But the Japanese community would talk
about it among ourselves and we knew that it was there but we didn't
really realize what it was doing to us. What our situation really
was relative to the rest of the world was not really clear. We
probably didn't even think about it.
MS. MIRO: What was that situation, do you think?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, looking back on it now we can understand the
economic situation and the reasons for the evacuation and the stay
in camp that most of us went through, which for me I think was a
good experience in that I learned a lot and made it clear of the
kind of society that we were not familiar with and which I became a
part of and now I want to get out of.
MS. MIRO: Kind of went through a cycle?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: In school did you pursue art at all?
MR. HANAMURA: In high school. Well, through grade school and high
school and so on I for some reason could draw. I could draw
representationally apparently, and it was encouraged. But nothing
very, you know, not very deep. Just being able to represent
MS. MIRO: Was that in elementary school?
MR. HANAMURA: Elementary, junior high and high school.
MS. MIRO: Were there good art programs?
MR. HANAMURA: Not especially at that time, which it was in the
MS. MIRO: How was the art considered, just as something
MR. HANAMURA: I really don't know how they thought about it,
whoever "they" are. I was really more interested in sports and was a
reasonably good athlete, and the weather was reasonable so that
there was lots of time spent outside playing basketball, baseball,
you know, whatever. The art interest I don't think was really an
interest. I think it was just something that I probably could do
reasonably well and perhaps would do it because I knew that they
would kind of appreciate it.
MS. MIRO: There would be some approval for it.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: Did you take lots of classes or was it just a minor?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't think there was lots of classes given.
MS. MIRO: Even in high school?
MR. HANAMURA: No. I just vaguely remember a very dull drawing
class in which not much was said and we just turned in drawings of
still lifes or whatever. No criticism.
MS. MIRO: This was in high school probably?
MR. HANAMURA: Mm hmm, yeah.
MS. MIRO: Did you have any friends who were interested in art who
reinforced it for you?
MR. HANAMURA: Not especially.
MS. MIRO: Was it as a Japanese heritage in the arts or the
culture? Did you get any of that input into your interest?
MR. HANAMURA: Probably, in that we were familiar with some of the
history. In fact, most of us went to Japanese school after regular
classes just like going to Hebrew school. And I'm sure we learned a
lot there even if it was just through osmosis, because I really
didn't enjoy it and the first chance I got I got out of there.
MS. MIRO: Did they teach you things about the history, the
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, we had books that we learned to read and in
it would be any history or whatever condition that they probably
wanted to throw out at us. Some of the folklore and the songs I
guess we got out of that school. There was also a community of
Buddhist people that were involved with the Buddhist church that I
think probably really had a much better understanding of the
culture. My mother happened to embrace the Christian religion so I
got sent to a Methodist church, which didn't deal with any of the
Japanese heritage at all.
MS. MIRO: Did you know much about Buddhism?
MR. HANAMURA: No. No, nothing. Only that they were the other
people in the community. The community seemed to get kind of divided
into those that went to the Buddhist church and those that were
outside of it, primarily I think either [inaudible] or this
Methodist church. And we would have friendly interaction through
sports or socially but I think that kind of clique developed,
different kinds of Japanese Americans there. And I have a feeling
that the Buddhists got much more out of it.
MS. MIRO: They had more a feeling for their place in this world
MR. HANAMURA: Well, they probably knew more about their own
heritage and practiced much of it, you know, much of the rituals.
And even I remember going to watch them practice archery and things
of that nature, which falls into the Zen category, understanding
self. And I don't know any of those people now and I'd be curious to
see how they turned out.
MS. MIRO: What direction they really took.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: Did many people go back to Japan from San Francisco?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Just before the war there was a ship that
apparently many of the Japanese people in the community knew that
something was going to happen. And I just read something about even
FDR knowing something. This guy that broke the Japanese code
apparently knew that something like Pearl Harbor was going to
happen. So I don't recall now exactly when but just before the war
broke the last ship, a Swedish ship was in San Francisco to pick up
any Japanese that wanted to go back to Japan. And a large percentage
of many I think that were in the Buddhist camp did go there, and I
did run into them when I was in service up there, which was
MS. MIRO: Yeah, to see them again. Do you know why your parents
MR. HANAMURA: Probably to, you know, better themselves. To find
the promised land, I guess, and then go back with the wealth that
they would accumulate. In fact, I think they sent a lot of money
back, which I have a feeling that it's in the bank somewhere. Well,
I know the bank that it's in but I haven't kept up with it.
MS. MIRO: Are your parents still alive?
MR. HANAMURA: No.
MS. MIRO: After you finished high school you went to the
University of California at Berkeley. That was in 1940.
MR. HANAMURA: Right.
MS. MIRO: What made you pursue a career in architecture at that
point? What made you decide on architecture?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I took the Stanford Binet test and I was
really at that point, I suppose, not very sure what I wanted to do.
And I looked on the board, a board up there, and my folks told me
not to go into art because you won't make any money. So I saw on the
board well, and the Stanford Binet test also indicated that I had
certain kind of ability to look into dentistry, which I really
abhorred, art or architecture, something along those lines. So I
looked on the board and there was architecture. So on the day that I
registered I registered for architecture, not knowing anything about
MS. MIRO: You didn't realize that you were learning how to build
buildings or -
MR. HANAMURA: No. No.
MS. MIRO: Really?
MR. HANAMURA: No, I just was a naive 16 year old kid, you know.
MS. MIRO: You were 16 when you finished school?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, 16 or 17. I graduated I remember skipping
MS. MIRO: Were you brighter than most of the children?
MR. HANAMURA: Not especially, I don't think. I studied fairly
diligently in high school. Not real hard, but I suppose maybe better
than some of the kids. I guess I was above average; not especially,
MS. MIRO: Did you find that you were more accepted by the WASP
community or the outside community as you moved into the University
of California Berkeley or as you moved out of high school? Did you
find any change?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I lived in Berkeley during that first year
and actually joined a Japanese group to sustain ourselves. And I
think, knowing the situation, that we would really need to be
related to some community, which had to be the nature of the
situation there, be with Orientals and especially with Japanese. So
we really didn't mix with the Caucasians very well.
MS. MIRO: What happened in your architecture classes, do you
think there was any discrimination?
MR. HANAMURA: No. In school it was okay. I guess most of the
students in the school were pretty open. And there was a fair amount
of Japanese there. I think there was one Chinese fellow in the
school. It was a very small school as far as student body went. And
at least three or four of those Japanese students, Japanese American
students that were in my class or immediately above me are pretty
big names now.
MS. MIRO: Do you know?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, one of them is Obata of Obata, Hellmuth and
Kassabaum in St. Louis. They did the Aerospace Center in Washington
and the Dallas Airport and a number of other buildings. In fact, Gyo
Obata, the main designer, got me through physics. He's a very sharp
kid. And George Maximoto was back teaching at the University of
California. And a fellow named Fred Taguchi has a firm in Cleveland.
And Kimano Usen, I believe in Baltimore. And then the other guy is
another big name, Deo Sasaki, who did the Wayne Mall here, the one
next to the art building. He's based in Cambridge. Those were big
MS. MIRO: What do you think happened to you in this school that
motivated you all to become really -
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I don't know that the school motivated us. I
think it was a tough school. And I was only there a year. The others
I think were there at least two years. George ended up at North
Carolina working with Bucky Fuller, and Obata and Mano went to
Cranbrook so they knew Saarinen. And in fact, I think most of those
people did not go to camp. They just left and went to school, which
was an option. So I didn't really get much out of school and ended
up at Miami University in Ohio after spending a year here at Wayne.
MS. MIRO: Well, let's go back. Let's go to that after. I just
have a couple more questions to ask you now. You're not going to get
away so easily. Were you all from the same community in San
Francisco in the architecture school?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, we were in the same community in Berkeley. We
lived in Berkeley. I lived there and we were friends.
MS. MIRO: But do you think there was anything in your heritage
that might have driven you to excel or push the architecture?
MR. HANAMURA: I really don't know.
MS. MIRO: Okay, fine. Do you think that those people influenced
you, the other students who were your friends in the class?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, I think they were the kind of people that
would force you to think about art and architecture and think about
life. They would involve you in a certain amount of dialogue. I
guess there was a fair amount of impetus that that class I think
probably had, and the instructors were really quite committed and we
would spend a lot of time in the school. I guess, you know, like the
artists that hang around Wayne probably spend a lot of time talking
about their life. So a similar kind of situation I think existed
MS. MIRO: Do you think that your commitment to architecture
changed from when you entered not knowing what it was about?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Yeah. In fact, I guess the best experience I
had was with an instructor I had at Miami who came to Wayne, and I
don't know what happened to him, a fellow named Chaplain, who in his
lectures would talk about almost everything else besides art. In
fact, he made me aware of Bauhaus and Black Mountain and Bucky
Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright and so on. In fact, Frank Lloyd Wright
came to school one day, which was interesting because he was so damn
sarcastic and you could see what an egotist he was. But that, you
know, all those little things I think for students, I think who are
very impressionable, the student gets something out of it.
MS. MIRO: And that all made you feel like a career in
architecture was going to be something that was worthwhile or
something you wanted to pursue?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, it made me want to learn more about it and
become familiar with the people that were involved at the time. I
really don't know how this happens but I became aware of an avant
garde situation, and I don't know if I thought of it that way. But
in the late '40s I was familiar with the big names but I really
didn't know what they were doing. And became aware of people like
Bertolt Brecht and theater and the whole bit, and wanted to be
involved with those in the avant garde rather than just routine
MS. MIRO: That's something that's really stuck with you, hasn't
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. I really don't know why or how that
developed. I really don't know why I wanted to do it but that's the
only objective I can see.
MS. MIRO: What happened, you left Berkeley to go to the detention
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: That was in 1941, '42?
MR. HANAMURA: Forty two, around March.
MS. MIRO: And why were you put there and what was it like?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, they created Warren was the governor of
California at the time and I guess he and FDR somehow developed this
proclamation, whatever it was, which decreed that all people of
Japanese ancestry west of the Mississippi River had to either move
east of the Mississippi River or go to these camps. And so we just
and I guess we had maybe two or three months to do it in. All we
knew, something was going to come up. But the rumors were, you know,
probably pretty true. We knew that we would probably be moved out.
In fact, there was a curfew on us, I think almost as soon as Pearl
Harbor occurred, and we were restricted in how we could travel and
what we could do.
MS. MIRO: What happened to your father's restaurant, did he have
MR. HANAMURA: They just had to move out. I don't know that they
made any money out of it. In fact, that was a good time for non
Japanese to come in and pick up whatever they could at real minimum
MS. MIRO: So you were taken to a -
MR. HANAMURA: No, we just went. We had to line up at some
designated place at some designated hour and board these trains. And
we actually first went into the we went to various racetracks. I
think we went to the Tanforan Racetrack, which was at San Bruno just
south of San Francisco. We were there for, I don't know, maybe six
months, and then were transferred out to the more or less permanent
camp in Utah.
MS. MIRO: What was that called?
MR. HANAMURA: Topaz.
MS. MIRO: Topaz?
MR. HANAMURA: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]
MS. MIRO: And how long were you there?
MR. HANAMURA: I must have been there, well, at least a year. I
remember, I think, getting out in the fall of '43, I think, and then
enrolling at Wayne.
MS. MIRO: What was life like there in that camp?
MR. HANAMURA: It was very casual. The life was, well, it was
casual, boring, and like I suppose being like in an army camp, army
barracks in a way. Well, those were the kind of barracks that we
lived in. But we had, we all ate at a communal hall. There was a
little it was zoned into different parts, 10 different parts, I
guess. And each little community had their own heads or whatever,
and then they together had someone who acted like the mayor, let's
say. But much of it was run by I think mostly volunteers from
outside who came in to help organize the people inside, who really
did not know how to govern themselves. And I discovered that most of
these people were communists and that they were really interested in
trying to propagate their ideas and to encourage us to learn about
their way of political style. But they were very helpful.
MS. MIRO: You said that it was a good experience for you?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, it was good in that it made me understand and
realize the more, the realities of the American society and its
relationship to the closed community that I more or less grew up in,
and at that point made me want to even more, you know, get out and
really embrace the American culture, although at the same time I
don't know why but I knew that the cultural values of the American
society were not good.
MS. MIRO: Do you think it was in relation to what you knew from
the Japanese heritage or do you think it was just an intuitive
knowledge about -
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I think part of it came from studying
architecture and also having some inkling about the way in which
life in some parts of California were related, the community life
was related to nature and to this kind of romantic idea about the
landscape and nature and the sea and all of that in California.
Which, you know, I didn't realize it at the time but I think I
enjoyed going camping and doing all those things with nature rather
than working against it or developing any personal attitudes that
came out of the man made world.
MS. MIRO: Do you think that's something that's really influenced
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, yeah. I'm really kind of, I suppose like a
lot of people I'm torn between the two opposites, between those
things that you might call natural or come from organic sources and
then the other, which is man made, coming from our industrial
revolution. And I have a hard time with that because I like both
MS. MIRO: And it's not easy to put them together.
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I don't know if you want to put them together
but they're both there influencing you. Well, at this point I'm
really more aware of the western heritage in America. I've become
aware of the American Indians and really want to learn more about
them and their attitudes.
MS. MIRO: Do you think all this kind of fits into your philosophy
in architecture and design?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't think I've developed one in architecture
MS. MIRO: Do you want to?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, although I'm really not that concerned.
MS. MIRO: Okay, let's go on. I don't want to keep you on this. We
were at the camp.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: How did you leave and why?
MR. HANAMURA: The options that we had were either to stay in camp
forever or go to work somewhere or to go to school. And we could do
that provided we were accepted at a school and also at a school that
did not have any ties with the military, like any school that had
ROTC or whatever were forbidden. So I don't know how I chose Wayne
but I ended up going into a civil engineering school but taking,
really taking more art than civil engineering.
MS. MIRO: You don't know why you went into civil engineering?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, yeah, that was part of the curricula included
things that were required for architecture curricula. And Wayne
didn't have architecture but they had the engineering part.
MS. MIRO: So you decided to pick that up in Wayne?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: This was in 1943?
MR. HANAMURA: I think so, '43, '44 probably.
MS. MIRO: And so you took a lot of art classes. What was the art
department at Wayne like at that time, small?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, they were in these little buildings, in
houses, and I really don't know if Claxton was the head or not. But
I remember one of my first instructors was Alden Smith. And there
was a design instructor who was an architect named Picketts, I
think, who went on to become dean of the school of architecture at
Tulane and then from there I think he went to Washington University
in St. Louis. I think Picketts was probably a good design
instructor. And interesting enough, in that class was Joy Hackenson,
so she and I were both in the same class.
MS. MIRO: That's funny.
MR. HANAMURA: It really is.
MS. MIRO: I didn't know she had an art background.
MR. HANAMURA: Hmm?
MS. MIRO: I didn't know she had design in her background.
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I think she has a degree in art.
MS. MIRO: What was the instruction like? Was it conservative,
Bauhaus yet or -
MR. HANAMURA: Oh, I don't know. I also recall Marco Nobili there.
He had just arrived from Italy and he couldn't speak English very
well at that time. I kind of recall that distinctly. I remember him
trying very hard, which I appreciated, and I'm pretty sure he also
influenced me in my thinking about Frank Lloyd Wright because that
was one of his idols. And I recall he did very neat renderings,
which I tried to do. I think his class was pretty good. I don't know
much about the other classes. The design class I guess must have
been okay since I thought I got something out of that. I think I had
Auden for lettering and I don't know whether I had him for sculpture
or not. I can't remember much about those.
MS. MIRO: Did you feel at the time that you were preparing
yourself for a career in architecture, that this -
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: would be a stable thing?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: Yeah?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't know what "stable" means.
MS. MIRO: Stable. I mean, I guess when you think -
MR. HANAMURA: It was an objective.
MS. MIRO: Right. And you're thinking about the '40s, you're
thinking about how the country was looking at art at that point. It
was still fairly realistic and conservative.
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I didn't know that. Well, I went on to, I
transferred to Miami University. Can we get into that?
MS. MIRO: Yeah, we can, sure. It's the next step.
MR. HANAMURA: That was next up. And there I took art and had this
instructor who talked about I think he was probably a good
representative of the '40s in that he would discourage us to do
anything that was abstract and he thought it was just a bunch of
baloney and that the real stuff had to do with representation. So
but at the same time I got this other instructor there, same school,
who made me aware of the Bauhaus, Black Mountain and all of that,
and which really to me was very inspirational.
MS. MIRO: Did it fit in kind of with your philosophy of the
MR. HANAMURA: Not especially.
MS. MIRO: No? It was more the kind of machine?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, that only made me aware of the attitudes and
the ideas that those who were the zeitgeist at the time, you know,
felt, I suppose, and at the time were into. And I think I had felt
some kind of affinity to that.
MS. MIRO: Did you see yourself building Frank Lloyd Wright kind
of buildings or Bauhaus buildings?
MR. HANAMURA: No. Well, neither. I think probably at that point,
by the time I was a senior I'm pretty sure I knew that the dilemma
that was there, which I still have, of the two different kinds of
attitude, one coming from Frank Lloyd Wright and the other coming
out of the Bauhaus. And I still have the problem. It hasn't gone
MS. MIRO: No. Have you resolved it by using it in certain, by
applying different principles in different situations, do you think?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, somewhat. Like right now it's kind of
interesting that I just finished a showroom for Hagopians
[phonetic], who specialize in Oriental rugs. And I got some lady who
was at Cranbrook, Betsy Drayheim, who worked with a lady named
Kasuba, I think, in New York, who was into stretch fabric. The idea
of stretch fabric I think came to me as a perfect foil for Oriental
carpets, so I got her to design part of this showroom for me, which
is done being stretch fabric has, you know, curves, undulating
curves, but at the same time relatively crisp. But with that I
incorporated mirrors and hard edge partitions and very kind of
Messiaen design but it's tempered with the use of natural wood in
articulating certain edges. So that if it is crisp and clean and
machine like it's tempered with a certain amount of natural
MS. MIRO: That's very interesting. Do you feel the showroom is a
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, it turned out pretty well.
MS. MIRO: Integrating those?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Yeah.
MS. MIRO: That's great. You graduated from Miami of Ohio with a
MR. HANAMURA: A BA, BA in architecture.
MS. MIRO: BA in architecture. Did you have any architecture
training there, teachers that were specifically interesting beyond
the Bauhaus fellow?
MR. HANAMURA: No, he was the only one, although there was a
historian there who was probably a reasonable fellow. He died soon
after. I think his name was Dunland.
MS. MIRO: Do you see things in a historical context?
MR. HANAMURA: I try to. I think I've only begun to do that after
having had to teach.
MS. MIRO: People want to know the hows and the whys.
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I wanted to know in order to be able to put
things in some kind of sequence and some kind of order.
MS. MIRO: You finished Miami and you were prepared to be an
architect and what happened next? You went to the Army?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, yeah. While I was at Miami I got drafted and
went in the Army and then I came back again.
MS. MIRO: Can you tell us about the Army?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, the Army was like the Army. Well, it sent me
to Japan, which was probably a good thing, although I don't think I
took advantage of it. At that point I had just, I suppose I was in
my second year in architecture when I got drafted and hadn't run
across these people yet. So I knew about Frank Lloyd Wright and I
did go and look at his hotel. And generally I suppose maybe if only
by osmosis I probably gained a lot by being there.
MS. MIRO: What capacity were you there and why did the Army send
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I was one of these agents. I was in the CIC,
which was prior to the CIA. And actually the only reason I got in
was that I was stationed in Missoula, Montana as a clerk and I hated
it there. Right now I'm trying to go back there. But I hated it
there. I thought it was boring and I just wanted to get out of there
and so I kind of bugged my commanding officer into a change and so
he acquiesced and asked me if I wouldn't mind going to a CIC
training center. And I said, "Sure," without knowing what it was
about. And after I agreed then I found out what it was about. And it
was a very quick one. It didn't really deal too much with the it was
more oriented towards the office part, duties of the CIC
organization rather than the intrigue and the other part. So that's
how I got over there.
MS. MIRO: They sent you to Japan?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: To do what?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, my first assignment was to go and listen at a
labor rally. This was after the war. I got in right after the war.
It was 1946, fall of '46, one year after the war ended pretty much.
And in theory the CIC was developed from the OSS. The OSS were the
spies during the war. The CIC was probably the same personnel but
there to investigate or become aware of any subversive elements
subversive to the USA. And so I was sent on my first assignment to
listen for subversive talk or whatever. And when I went I realized
or after I listened I realized that I really didn't speak the
language very well or didn't understand it very well because as I
grew up the only communication I had with my parents dealt with the
day to day requirements of, you know, when do we eat or what time do
we go to the movies, and so I really didn't develop a vocabulary.
And so I flunked my first assignment. And they then put me in charge
of the communication system, which dealt with a network of these
agents out in the field or out in the city. We were in Tokyo. And I
was responsible for maintaining communication with the field through
a broadcasting system.
MS. MIRO: So you spoke Japanese then?
MR. HANAMURA: I spoke it as well as I could, enough to get by.
With the agents I spoke English. But in associating with the people
in Tokyo I spoke Japanese.
MS. MIRO: What do you think you said it was good for you. In what
way, being there?
MR. HANAMURA: I began to become aware of the aesthetic qualities
that they had developed. I took a lot of pictures. In fact, I
managed to get myself a camera for 15 cartons of cigarettes and
began to take pictures. I already had a pretty good design sense. So
I took a whole bunch of pictures and they were not bad. And the
pictures dealt with aesthetic qualities that I saw that were, that I
saw in terms of aesthetics and design.
MS. MIRO: Traditional structures?
MR. HANAMURA: Oh, yeah. Not necessarily architecture but gardens,
people, landscape, Fujiyama, and some of the traditional temples.
MS. MIRO: Did you feel like you were part of Japan?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. When I got there I somehow felt that I had
grown up there. Although I was there when before I was a year old I
think my folks went back there, but I don't remember anything about
MS. MIRO: Would you go back again? Would you like to go back?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, I would like to go back.
MS. MIRO: Why did you eventually leave the Army or what happened,
why did you leave Japan?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't know the particular Army requirements but I
only stayed for nine months and was ready for, I was ready for
discharge. And they try to keep you in there by giving you a officer
status, but I just wanted to get back. So after nine months I got
shipped back and I went back to school.
MS. MIRO: To Miami of Ohio?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: And finished up there?
MR. HANAMURA: Right.
MS. MIRO: So we're back in Ohio.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: You graduate and you have options. What kinds of
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I was hitchhiking through Detroit, mainly to
look up an old friend of mine who was an architect.
MS. MIRO: One of the fellows at Cranbrook?
MR. HANAMURA: No. He was from, he graduated from Illinois but
he's presently working for Yamasaki. I really didn't know too much
about Cranbrook. In fact, I didn't know that these other friends of
mine were at Cranbrook. And I was looking for a job which entailed
actual manual work rather than in an office.
MS. MIRO: Why?
MR. HANAMURA: Because I really wanted to know how a building was
put together and be able to understand some of the workings of the
structure. So I looked this fellow up and he referred me to a guy
named Alex Gow, who at that time had a small firm that constructed
houses primarily for Saarinen, Yamasaki and this guy named Gerard.
And I got a job working on one of Gerard's houses, which was at
Grosse Pointe. It was a house for one of the vice presidents of the
National Bank of Detroit. So I was working there as a carpenter and
they needed someone or the architect Gerard needed someone to bring
his drawings up to date for this particular building. So he asked me
if I would work for him on the site and develop these drawings. And
then he asked me if I would go and work in his office, which was in
Grosse Pointe and I was the only other employee except for the
MS. MIRO: Was he a fairly well known architect at that time in
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, he was pretty well known. That's when I
became aware of Cranbrook. And his friends were Saarinen and Yama
and people like Joyce Nelson and Charles Eames and Noguchi and
MS. MIRO: Saul Steinberg?
MR. HANAMURA: Saul Steinberg, yeah.
MS. MIRO: Were they in this area at that time?
MR. HANAMURA: No, but Gerard had this thing going which got me
into galleries actually. He had this space in Grosse Pointe behind
Best. Best? Behind one of those big stores. And the second floor was
the drafting area and the first floor was a small shop somewhat like
Adler Shnay only on a very minute scale, mostly fabrics and things
of that order, plus a space that he kind of utilized as a gallery.
So I recall him bringing in a show of Steinberg's drawings. That's
the only specific show I remember, although I do know that he had
some drawings by Picasso there. And he painted himself. He worked
and painted somewhat like Wally Mitchell, whom I met at that point.
And they seemed to be working with the Artist Market, which was on
Madison Avenue then. So I became familiar with the Artist Market. I
started to go to Cranbrook and met a lot of people there and Peggy
de Salle's gallery. So that became my group of people that I
communicated with, people at Cranbrook, Peggy de Salle and people
that showed there.
MS. MIRO: Who was she showing, Wally?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't know if he was. I vaguely recall this one
artist from California who was influenced by Picasso who died maybe
10 years ago. His name escapes me. But he was a very good draftsman.
I can't recall his name offhand.
MS. MIRO: Did it seem like an exciting time, like there was much
going on in Detroit that would make you want to stay here?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, yeah. I knew Saarinen's wife. I didn't know
Eero himself but I knew his wife, went to some of their parties.
Knew people that came to Cranbrook and then went on, like Jack
Larson, Toshiko Takaezo.
MS. MIRO: When you say you knew them it was just a social kind of
thing or did you have discussions about art?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, mostly social.
MS. MIRO: What kind of people were they that Saarinen was
gathering around him to your mind?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, Mitchell's first wife was there, Wally
Mitchell's first wife, whose name escapes me. And Warren Platner,
Dinkalo. Well, Elliot, was it Elliot Roosevelt who was married to
the people, one of the persons who Elliot. His name was Elliot, who
started the Knoll franchise here. They and Roy Yama was starting.
Obata was here at the time. He came and worked for Yamasaki and then
he split and went to St. Louis and started I guess Yama sent Obata
down to St. Louis to work on the St. Louis Airport and then Obata
formed his own company with a couple of the other people in the
MS. MIRO: In Cambridge?
MR. HANAMURA: Hmm?
MS. MIRO: He formed it in Cambridge or here?
MR. HANAMURA: No, in St. Louis. Obata has a firm in St. Louis of
Obata, Hellmuth and Kassabaum.
MS. MIRO: Well, do you think that all these people were here,
things were going on. There was a real impetus in design. What do
you think was causing it, just Saarinen's presence?
MR. HANAMURA: I think Cranbrook helped a lot. I remember when I
was in school I knew about the design show that Gerard put together
at the Institute, which must have been around '49. And I still have
that catalog. And I didn't see the show because I was in school.
Obata at that time was working for Skidmore in Chicago, so I would
go and visit him on Thanksgiving vacations, for example. So I became
aware of Skidmore and that kind of work. And Lees was in Chicago
then. And as a student I would kind of run around taking pictures of
MS. MIRO: What do you think was happening in Detroit? Is there
any particular thing that might have caused this outburst of
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I think it was Cranbrook.
MS. MIRO: Just Saarinen's not just but Saarinen's presence?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, the school's presence and the fact that
people I think the school at that time was a very good architecture
school and I think they probably had a very well, Maya Gotel was
there and I'm sure that people in ceramics were of top caliber. And
then the person in fabrics, I can't remember her name. Her husband
was an architect. And I can't remember her name. She did now I
recall that she did a lot of designs for Skidmore, commercial
weavings that could be used in a commercial situation.
[tape stops, re starts]
MS. MIRO: This is July 18th and I'm talking with Bob Hanamura.
We're taking up where we left off. Bob, I would like to know if we
can start talking today about why you decided to start an art
gallery or how the gallery got started, what it was all about in the
beginning and the connections to the community that it made.
MR. HANAMURA: Okay, the original intention of the gallery really
was to have something going for my mother, who was here and had
nothing to do and was an artist, a watercolorist. So that I thought
it would be a good thing to have her keep busy and begin to relate
to some of the rest of the community here.
MS. MIRO: When was this that you started the gallery and where
were you working at that time?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, okay, when I say the gallery it was a small
design studio and a shop that sold contemporary articles like
craftware and furniture. And I was working part time for various
architects. At that point it was Alexander Gerard, who presently is
the fabric designer for Herman Miller and is now in Santa Fe. In
fact, it was his operation. He had a small gallery connected with
his operation that made me think about having something that would
fulfill some desire on my part to relate to art and have my mother
become part of that operation.
MS. MIRO: Was this 1962 about we're talking?
MR. HANAMURA: No, we're talking now about 1951.
MS. MIRO: Fifty one.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Actually the business, so called business was
mainly to present contemporary trends in design and art I think
became somewhat of a fill in at that point. Only I realized a little
later that all of this so called good design, which was the name
that the Museum of Modern Art had for some of the shows that was
going on once a year, realized that the good design couldn't happen
without the artists coming up first with the concept and the ideas
for visual order and experimentation.
MS. MIRO: So you were working for architects at this point and
your mother had come to stay with you from San Francisco?
MR. HANAMURA: Right.
MS. MIRO: And this is how the whole thing got started?
MR. HANAMURA: Mm hmm. [Affirmative.]
MS. MIRO: She ran the shop as a kind of contemporary crafts and
design trends store and then you had your own consulting kind of
business upstairs. The two of you worked together on it. That's it.
What architects were you working for at that point and what kind of
architectural designs were you doing?
MR. HANAMURA: At that stage I think I was working for a fellow
named Joe Sear, whose name now is Joe St. Sear since he does a lot
of work with the Catholic Church. And I also worked for a Dearborn
outfit which isn't in existence anymore, something like Architects
Collaborative in Dearborn.
[END TAPE 1 SIDE A]
MS. MIRO: This is side 2. I'm talking with Bob Hanamura. I'm
sorry, it's July 18th. Bob, you were talking about the design
business you had with your mother. Can you tell us how successful
the shop was and what kinds of things you carried that were not
readily available in this area before in terms of design, what your
desires were with this kind of shop?
MR. HANAMURA: This was early 1950, probably '51, perhaps '52. And
when I was in college the museum had presented, the Detroit
Institute of Art had presented an exhibition having to do with
contemporary furnishings. And as I recall, Alexander Gerard was the
person that put the exhibition together. Yamasaki helped him. And
people like Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen and George Nelson were
involved with that exhibition, which I did not see but I read about
it when I was in school. And subsequently coming up to Detroit I
worked for Gerard and became aware of the so called contemporary
movement in the design area. Not so much art, in fine art that I
knew about at that stage but in the design area, especially in
architecture and furnishings. So I was interested in presenting some
of these things which were not readily available in Detroit at that
time, which were things like the Eames chair, laminated wood things
by Prestini from Chicago. And then that led into contemporary
craftwares such as Toshiko Takaezo and other Cranbrook alumnus by
that time. And also began to become friendly with the Cranbrook
people and presenting some of the things that they were doing.
MS. MIRO: What was the name of your store?
MR. HANAMURA: The name of the store was Chikurin, which means
MS. MIRO: Is there any reason you selected that?
MR. HANAMURA: No. My mother chose that.
MS. MIRO: Oh, she liked the way it sounded?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: So how long did this store, this shop last and was it
MR. HANAMURA: The shop ran until 1955 and I don't know that we
were successful in terms of money, but a lot of other little shops
began after we did and some of them are now successful. But I think
I was really mainly interested in getting the information out and
after a while I got bored with the whole thing.
MS. MIRO: Do you think that a lot of people came through your
store so they had some feeling for what contemporary design was
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: Did that happen?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, and also I think it was at that stage that I
made friends, became acquainted with a lot of people in the city who
were interested in so called avant garde things and which were not
readily available to them and they would come by and talk to me in
MS. MIRO: Where was the shop?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, the shop was in two locations. It started out
right off of Grand River near Shaffer and then we moved out to
Birmingham on Woodward Avenue and one block north of Maple.
MS. MIRO: And were you doing consulting work with your
architecture and your design all along?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, I started to do interior design, which seemed
to fit in with the operation of the shop.
MS. MIRO: What happened when the shop closed?
MR. HANAMURA: I went to work full time for a couple of architects
and then around 1960 got tired of that and decided to open up a
MS. MIRO: And that was called?
MR. HANAMURA: That was just called Hanamura's.
MS. MIRO: And where was it located?
MR. HANAMURA: It started at Finkel near Schoolcraft and then
around 1962 or thereabouts moved down to Harmony Park across from
the Artist Market.
MS. MIRO: That was just a convenient location for you? Was it any
kind of an art area at that time?
MR. HANAMURA: Morris Brolls was down there and I think one other
person in the area. It seemed to have the possibilities of a small
community or a group of people to relate and communicate with one
another within a small, rather pleasant park like area.
MS. MIRO: And why did you decide to start a gallery?
MR. HANAMURA: I think -
MS. MIRO: Rather than a design shop or something like that?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, the gallery was in conjunction with the
design shop so that there was that relationship. And I think my
interest really came from my probably being frustrated as a designer
or maybe let's say that I thought my calling was to be some kind of
an artist, craftsman, which I never went through with in school. And
I think I tried to support those people at that stage.
MS. MIRO: What was the state of crafts at that time in this
community, in this country?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, at that time as far as I can evaluate it it
seems that ceramics was the main area that people were either
involved in or familiar with, and most of the ideas and concepts
about form et cetera seemed to be related primarily to the
Scandinavian countries with a slight influx from the Japanese folk
art scene. And then there was a undertow of kind of highly
sophisticated, slick things like jewelry that seemed to develop from
industrial design and architecture and probably from the Bauhaus.
MS. MIRO: What kinds of things did you carry in the crafts and
who were the artists?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, in crafts we were trying to encourage the
local craftsmen so that we primarily showed local talent and on
occasion would get someone that I had known from the '50s like
Toshiko Takaezo or even Countler, who is now in Seattle doing pop
kind of ceramics. I would get Bob Stocksdale from Berkeley; Gertrude
Natchler, who just died, from the L.A. area; people from arts and
crafts and from Wayne. I can't remember all the names.
MS. MIRO: Any names you can remember?
MR. HANAMURA: Pitney and a lot of artists. We tried to pair off
craftsmen with either a painter or sculptor.
MS. MIRO: Why?
MR. HANAMURA: I thought that the idea of craft at that stage was
a little restricting and that craftsmen as I saw it were also
artists. And also the idea of so called fine art being able to
coexist with something that one may have considered craft, the
ability for the two to be shown at the same time. And also in the
context, I think, of the fact that those things could be shown or
coexist within an environment. Therefore the gallery was designed in
such a way that it would be rather clean and fresh and crisp and
have essentially a so called international design look.
MS. MIRO: What artists did you carry, represent?
MR. HANAMURA: The person at that stage that was most well known
was Mary Jones. We've had people like Oliverio. Even Arris
Koutrillos just before he graduated from Cranbrook had a show in my
gallery. Hammondy, Doug Purcell, Wally Meade. These are people from
arts and crafts who no longer are doing art. The later people like
Egner and so on came after the gallery closed.
MS. MIRO: Now, what was the art like that they were doing? Was it
something you would consider avant garde art? Is that what you were
MR. HANAMURA: Okay, at that stage, which we're now talking about
the early '60s, I was familiar with Greenberg and that whole school
and their ideas about American art. So I had become kind of a
champion of Jackson Pollock and the whole abstract expressionist
school. So essentially the art that we showed came either out of
abstract expressionism or the people that were just beginning to get
into that kind of feeling, that kind of attitude. I showed people
from Ann Arbor too, like Al Mullen, Mignon Chang, Bill Lewis. A lot
of people from the late '50s and early '60s.
MS. MIRO: Did you have shows once a month and then you changed
and there were openings?
MR. HANAMURA: Right.
MS. MIRO: And things like that? Was that a relatively new
phenomenon in this area? Were there other galleries here that you
modeled yourself after or was it your own idea?
MR. HANAMURA: No, there wasn't any other galleries that I modeled
myself after. When I really started I think Donald Morris had a
gallery with a partner out around Northland somewhere. And I think,
well, Derelic was around and the other lady.
MS. MIRO: Anna Warby?
MR. HANAMURA: Anna Warby. But they tended not to deal with what I
thought were more contemporary issues. And then towards the mid '60s
the Hudson Gallery opened up and I can't recall the fellow's name
but he -
MS. MIRO: Was it Landry who was there then? No.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: Was it Landry?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. He'd come in from New York. And so I think
this was probably the first instance of New York shows being
presented here. And then following that the Castle Gallery opened
MS. MIRO: What kind of impact did the Hudson Gallery have on your
gallery and people's attitudes in the community towards contemporary
art that you remember?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, the thing was that it was all very good.
Especially I felt good about it because Hudson's was just down the
street. And we didn't coordinate our openings or anything but we did
exchange ideas and talk to each other. And also then the artists
would make it part of their routine to come to the Artists Market or
to visit my gallery or go down to Hudson's.
MS. MIRO: So it was kind of like a little community starting up?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, it seemed very encouraging at that stage.
MS. MIRO: Were there collectors developing that you knew about or
was that still -
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, at that point too the Friends of Modern Art
began. I don't recall now exactly what year they began, somewhere in
the mid '60s; '64 maybe, somewhere in there. And the gallery owners
were actually invited to participate with them and go to their
meetings, dinners, whatever, so that we all got to know each other
[inaudible] and then I don't recall Derelic being there. But we
began to know some of the people that the Founders Society, people
that were involved with the Founders Society and the Friends of
MS. MIRO: Any particular patrons that you remember?
MR. HANAMURA: I can't recall any ones specifically by name now.
We had a lot of architects too that through my contacts with the
architecture community I was able to encourage some of them, and
there really weren't that many, but to get Leo Redstone, people from
Smith Henchman and even O'Dell [inaudible] get some of the
architects out and on occasion also try to let them borrow things
that might work on the particular job that they may have going on.
MS. MIRO: Were you successful with the gallery, do you think, in
terms of the dollars kinds of consideration?
MR. HANAMURA: No, I don't know of any gallery that really makes
money except perhaps I know Donald Morris is doing well financially.
But actually I didn't look at it on those terms, so that my concern
was different. It really, we really were trying to expose the
community to the art community. The intent was to have the general
public become familiar with the community of artists and craftsmen,
especially those living in Detroit.
MS. MIRO: How strong do you think that community was?
MR. HANAMURA: The Common Ground started too somewhere along
during that period. The gallery was there first but then the Common
Ground came into being somewhere along there and the city planner I
guess, city planner -
MS. MIRO: Blessing?
MR. HANAMURA: Blessing, I think, was kind of responsible for that
to gel and come together there with the judge in Birmingham now
whose name I can't recall. But they got together this building out
on the east side, the east [inaudible] area and that was very
encouraging, I think, for the artists because that became a place
where the artists anyway could get together and develop ideas, talk
to one another, see what everyone else was doing. And the community,
I think, really had its beginning there.
MS. MIRO: Did you have any, were you doing any architectural
design or interior design at this time too?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, intermittently. Every now and then I'll do a
small job or something. But I would also be working part time
because I didn't really have the capital to begin the gallery as
such and it was really a drain on the bank account, which was rather
MS. MIRO: Did you have any financial backers at all or did you do
everything on your own?
MR. HANAMURA: No, I think I borrowed $500 from the bank or
something like that.
MS. MIRO: So it was really a very personal commitment on your
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: You didn't have support, intellectual support except
the art community supported you?
MR. HANAMURA: That's right.
MS. MIRO: Did the artists come and sit in the gallery and talk?
Was it kind of a -
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I think the openings did that. I wanted to
get into having forums and things but it just didn't get to that
MS. MIRO: What was happening over at Wayne State at that point?
Was there anything you were involved in there?
MR. HANAMURA: No. Wayne State I don't think well, maybe I
shouldn't say that. Bob Wilbert was there and he had started a
series of shows at the AAA Gallery, which was on Grand River, and
essentially was part of a framing shop. And Bob I think was the
first one really to let the artists know that there was someplace
where they could show, the contemporary artists, and that other
people became aware of the quality of the art being shown there. And
I really don't know what that had to do with Wayne except that he
was there. I really didn't know him much at that stage. It's only
after I began teaching there that I got to know him more. Although
there were people like Gans Pom that I would show who taught there
briefly and then went on to Michigan State. But I don't know that
there was that strong a group of people at Wayne there in the early
'60s as there was in the late '60s.
MS. MIRO: How about arts and crafts at that time?
MR. HANAMURA: No, arts and crafts seemed to have their arts and
craft look or attitude, which I wasn't interested in.
MS. MIRO: Were you making any craft objects yourself? Had you
started glassblowing at all?
MR. HANAMURA: No. I started that somewhere around '72, '73.
MS. MIRO: Did you want to get into that professionally or was it
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I had always wanted to, you know, be some
kind of craftsman and that looked like an area that was just
starting. In fact, actually I got into it because Bob Susstock
roomed with me for a few months and he had just started into
glassblowing and I got intrigued with the whole thing and followed
his development. And he then, well, he went as far as he could with
it, I think, and then he turned to other media.
MS. MIRO: We're in the mid to the late '60s now and was there a
real sense of community developing? Were the art schools turning out
more artists who were able to stay in this area and work and sell
their work or was it still limited to a few faculty people from
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I think what happened was that people, you
know, in general became more aware of contemporary art to begin
with, and then for some, well, I don't know what the real reasons
are but Wayne seemed to develop especially in the painting area and
printmaking. I suppose Arris Koutrillos and Egner must have had some
bearing on the situation. They both came in at the same time. And I
had also started to teach there. And I don't know if I'm being, you
know, prejudiced but I did learn a lot from those two people and
began to observe the quality of the art that was coming out of Wayne
State. That plus the fact that the galleries were beginning to pick
up more contemporary works and even the museum, like somebody like
Wagstaff coming in, I think all kind of gelled, I think, at that
MS. MIRO: You started to teach at Wayne after you closed the
gallery or -
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Well, during the last year Auden asked me to
teach a class and I guess Olga Constantine was going on sabbatical
and I came in to take her place for one year.
MS. MIRO: Let's talk then about the end of the gallery, why you
decided to close it.
MR. HANAMURA: Running out of money.
MS. MIRO: It was purely financial?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, also after a while you realize that in terms
of support, financial support, that there are only so many clients
or people that buy art or the kind of art that you're interested in,
which I thought was the best art. So after you visit these people
and see these things on their walls you realize that either they're
going to have to get a larger place or that they're going to have to
start a gallery of their own. And also if the buyer, if the client
really isn't interested in promoting or helping a particular artist
I think they would have to stop at some point.
MS. MIRO: Did you feel you were supporting some artists?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, not especially. I'd give them shows and, you
know, help them out here and there and do things for them, which
sometimes will cost money. But I wasn't really supporting any
MS. MIRO: Did you sell much through the gallery, do you remember?
Is there one particular artist that seemed to be more saleable?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, we would have a show that we would expect to
sell from, like Mary Jones or Harry Boris, who is in Chicago, or
Wallace Mead. But also at the same time it was much easier to sell
crafts than the so called fine arts, so we would kind of depend on
the craft end to hold up the gallery actually.
MS. MIRO: Any particular craftsmen that sold better than others
and what kind of things did they do that made them saleable?
MR. HANAMURA: I think actually sales depend a little bit on the,
on politics and also on the reputation, so that we would kind of on
occasion try to get the big names and we would know that the big
names would sell. I suppose we could get almost any big name but we
would try to select those that we believed in and those also that
generally were familiar with the community or had gone to Cranbrook
at one stage.
MS. MIRO: You say "we." Was there more than one person involved
with the gallery?
MR. HANAMURA: No, but it kind of becomes a group effort in that I
would begin to talk to other artists and craftsmen or to people that
worked in my gallery who generally were students at either Arts and
Craft or Wayne and I would gather information that way.
MS. MIRO: So it was really you felt in some ways a community
effort too besides your own?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, although it was essentially my decision.
MS. MIRO: Right. What kind of pottery were most of the artists
working on at that point, was it functional?
MR. HANAMURA: Essentially they were functional. Although as I
recall, you know, even within the conventional format, like Dick
Devore would, you would know that his things weren't that
MS. MIRO: Did you sell Dick Devore's pottery?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, before he came to Cranbrook. He was in Flint
at that point. Actually, as I think about it, most of the artists
and craftsmen really were the university instructors at that point
and those were the people that I was closest to. I think it began
that way, getting their stuff in the gallery and then even seeing
some of their students' work.
MS. MIRO: So they were Wayne, Michigan, Cranbrook professors
MR. HANAMURA: And Flint, and one or two people from Arts and
MS. MIRO: When you started teaching at Wayne was that kind of a
prelude to closing the gallery? Did you have a feeling that you were
going to have to?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. I don't know how I thought about it at that
stage but I think a year after I closed the gallery or I had started
teaching about a year before I closed the gallery.
MS. MIRO: So you kind of felt like it was going to be difficult
for you to continue. Did you feel that other galleries were taking
up where you had kind of left off so you weren't leaving -
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, Stevens came in and actually we worked out a
little deal with him to take over the space and he used it was the
Stevens Gallery then.
MS. MIRO: Did he take some of your artists too?
MR. HANAMURA: Not many that I recall.
MS. MIRO: Just different taste?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, the taste was a little different.
MS. MIRO: He was bringing in some national figures too?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't know that.
MS. MIRO: No? But you had national people also.
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I don't know that they well, like we might be
able to get together group shows so that we might show Moholi or
somebody like that, only within the context of a group thing.
Several reasons, like I couldn't afford to do that and also I don't,
I didn't think at that stage that the people would be able to
MS. MIRO: What kind of traffic did you get through the gallery?
MR. HANAMURA: Most of the traffic were students and maybe other
gallery people. Lester Olin would, you know, drop by sometime. And
architects. I don't know what the percentage would be but I would
imagine that the general public might have accounted for 50 percent
of the traffic and then perhaps the other 50 were artists, people
related within the arts.
MS. MIRO: How then does the next link would be the communication
with the public. Were your shows covered by the newspapers? Did you
feel they got fair kind of treatment or -
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, I think the newspapers were encouraging. Joy
Hackson at the News and -
MS. MIRO: Morley, was it Morley Driver?
MR. HANAMURA: Morley Driver at the Free Press. They were both
supportive. I think they really both made an effort to cover the
shows even if they sometimes didn't. I think both of them really
were supporters. You know, Joy still is. Supporters of the Detroit
arts scene. So that they would do as much as they could to help any
event or any galleries like that.
MS. MIRO: Were there any particular shows that you were
especially proud of that you thought were very significant? I know
that you kind of have a overview now looking back. Sometimes one
show stands out as special in your mind, two shows, ten shows.
MR. HANAMURA: I think probably the best artist that I was able to
present was Mary Jones. And Harry Bohrs from Chicago was, I think, a
happy thing that occurred. He's from Chicago and the reason I got
him to show was due to Morris Barzoni, who was responsible for me
getting involved in the gallery business to begin with. I think I
showed a lot of young people too that were just beginning and their
things at that stage I saw as being rather experimental. People like
Arris, even Joe Oliverio. The opportunity to show people that were
just fresh out of school and trying to find themselves was something
that I kind of enjoyed being able to do.
MS. MIRO: I guess is there anything else you would want to say
about the gallery years, the time spent?
MR. HANAMURA: Not especially.
MS. MIRO: No? Okay. What did you find Wayne like once you started
teaching at Wayne? You were still part of the art community. Was it
a different atmosphere for you? Were the things that were stressed
different? How did you find the students? What was the art community
at Wayne like, if there was one?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, the Wayne community of students I think or I
appreciate now as being very much involved with acquiring a certain
amount of information and wanting to know as much as they could. A
lot of them or most of them, I think, were working or working part
time and so they were really going to school to gather, to get
something out of it. And I found them in general to be quite
challenging. At the same time there were also these political
problems and different points of view about what art is or what good
art should be and so on, and I think that's good.
MS. MIRO: Can you identify some of those opposing points of view?
You don't have the identify the particular people who had them.
MR. HANAMURA: Well, you know, I guess the American idea of a
vanguard will be one as opposed to and that vanguard I'm talking
about would be involved with taking history, the history of western
painting or western art and trying to extend it in whatever
direction you thought it should go, which is different from let's
say someone or point of view in which one would be working towards
understanding and expressing one's own ideas about life and art
through whatever they were doing without a concern of that kind. And
then another point of view probably goes back to imitation, the
representation of something. And I think all those views existed at
Wayne. Well, I'm sure it existed in most schools but I think at
Wayne the vanguard area is stronger than many other places.
MS. MIRO: Did you teach from an avant guard viewpoint or didn't
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, I guess I did.
MS. MIRO: Who else was teaching there at that time that you were
MR. HANAMURA: Well, Arris and John and Parrish. Let's see. I
think those were the people that I would generally speak with after
hours. As a matter of fact, I had a studio right next to John and we
would discuss things quite a bit.
MS. MIRO: Where was your studio?
MR. HANAMURA: At Convention Hall.
MS. MIRO: What was it like at Convention Hall at that time? That
was a new development, wasn't it?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, that was very exciting. This was late '60s
and Faust, Gordy Newton, Sestock, they were all there at that point.
And Michael Lukes. And they, at that stage the idea or now I see
that, you know, there's something called Detroit Art or I think I
see something called Detroit Art. At that stage there was nothing
like that and it seemed to me like the beginning of a kind of way of
looking at the world that one now calls I think kind of a Detroit
MS. MIRO: What would you call that viewpoint?
MR. HANAMURA: It's one that comes out of a way of working,
process art essentially. In fact, I vaguely recall a show that came
here to the Institute that I think Wagstaff had something to do with
it. I don't know what the name of the show was but there were people
like Eva Hess in the show, which the Detroit these people, Gordy and
Michael and so on, could relate to very easily. And I think there
was something about that show. I wish I could remember what the name
of the show was.
MS. MIRO: When was it, do you remember? About '70?
MR. HANAMURA: Around 1970. We could all kind of relate to it and
see similar attitudes. And also, you know, it's kind of a tough
attitude, tough and rough, and I suppose kind of a macho thing.
MS. MIRO: Why do you think there was a macho thing involved in
MR. HANAMURA: Well, just by observing the attitudes of the
painters, essentially. Well, maybe Gordy especially but I can kind
of sense that feeling.
MS. MIRO: How did it adapt into a Detroit style? What would you
characterize Detroit style as?
MR. HANAMURA: Well -
MS. MIRO: If there is such a thing. I mean -
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, I don't know that there's a Detroit style but
I think there is a sense of raw energy that one can feel from the
works of people like Lukes, Gordy, Egner, all of it really coming
out of an outgrowth of the use of materials or the way of putting
things together which doesn't necessarily remain flat, physically
flat, and tending towards breaching the gap, I suppose, between
sculpture and painting. And the use of colors, the color range. You
know, when they first I don't recall now. Someone made this remark
about Detroit art and I said, "Yeah, it's like the Ash Can School
but more like the back alley ash can." The usage generally of
material that have been already used or something that you pick up
in a junkyard, or Michael Lukes' rabbits. One senses the struggle,
the urban actually it's urban. It's an urban struggle that the thing
has gone through and been transformed into this so called rabbit and
one can feel the oppression and the difficult time that Michael had
gone through in order to get to that stage, and I really admire him
MS. MIRO: What was he like as a person at that point?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't know that he changed too much. I guess he's
mellowed since those days. But very, he was very strong, surly, and
positive. But also felt that he was bucking the odds and was very
difficult to socialize with because he would always have a chip on
MS. MIRO: What was Gordy like?
MR. HANAMURA: They were similar, quite similar.
MS. MIRO: Bob Cesta?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, well, I don't know if Bob was really trying
to be like them or not. I think he tried to join the other he went
out to Providence, went up to Rhode Island School of Design and I
really don't know what happened out there but he came back and
became more of an outcast, outcast in terms of society.
MS. MIRO: Not in terms of the artists but in terms of -
MR. HANAMURA: No.
MS. MIRO: Society's terms?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: How about John Egger? You became friendly with him at
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. John, I met him when he first came. He was
and still is full of energy, quite well versed, very sharp,
perceptive, and always eager to talk about art. In fact, I think I
got most of my bearings in my way of looking at things from John
just by talking to him.
MS. MIRO: What kinds of things specifically do you attribute to
his energy in terms of what kinds of ideas, just your notions of the
avant garde and what art should be do you think came from him?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, he kind of reinforced the ideas that I had
gotten from Greenberg and from reading Michael Freed and those
people. And I guess it was also dealing primarily with two
dimensional art, not so much with sculpture but with painting.
MS. MIRO: Was he kind of taking the same attitudes in his
classroom too at that time?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't really know what went on in his classroom,
but looking at his work I can see his close relationship to Stella.
And we had talked about that too a lot, and I can understand his
affinity to the ideas of Stella.
MS. MIRO: Even in the late '60s they were there?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Well, the things that he came here with
probably were the things that he had done at Yale. They were
triangular pieces which referred back to Larry Poons at that point,
who had set up a system of these blips. And John was working that
way when he first came to Wayne and maybe even at that stage
probably still hadn't arrived yet.
MS. MIRO: Do you think John was influenced by Stella?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: What do you think his impact on the rest of the school
was when he first came? Was he a young upstart in some ways or was
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Well, I don't know that he was outspoken but
he was, he would be able to articulate ideas and positions that the
general art community felt but could not articulate. So he, I think,
really turned out to be kind of a spokesman for the artists, those
artists I'm speaking about, and he was doing that within this
academic situation. And I recall going to some meetings or I don't
know that they were meetings but public things, and I can't recall
exactly what they were. But he would come up with questions and
remarks that everyone would be in favor. They would clap and, you
know, you'd know that John had hit the thing on the nail. He was
very perceptive. I think he's, it seems like he's in the right place
at the right or the right person at the right place at the right
MS. MIRO: What were your classes like at that point? You were
teaching design, modern design, Bauhaus?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, no. They were two dimension design classes.
They were quite intriguing. I really didn't know too much about it,
you see, when I began, and so it was a learning process for me. Or
eventually I could, you know, I knew certain things that I thought
were good and then when one had to teach the thing you realized that
you had to put that into language. And I read a little bit of
[inaudible] Strachan and realized that I really have to develop
these verbal skills and began to be able to communicate as clearly
as I could using terminology that other historians and critics used.
And I referred to even people like Kleinheim and Keppish and Mahoney
and Greenberg and so on. And just by having to talk and discuss
these things what [inaudible] was talking about all the time became
much more clear for me. And some of my classes were very good and we
had a good time generally. Quite a few good students, like Nancy
MS. MIRO: Brett?
MR. HANAMURA: Brett. And Valerie Taylor. And I'm sure there's a
whole bunch there.
MS. MIRO: You can't remember any others that stood out?
MR. HANAMURA: Bruce Shaw was in the class. He's in glass now. He
had a show at O.K. Harris about a year ago. He's teaching at Ohio
State. Well, let's see. The lady that just graduated from Yale, Pat
Halpert. And a fellow that used to work at Hillbury's.
MS. MIRO: Gil Latham?
MR. HANAMURA: No, I didn't know him.
MS. MIRO: Oh, at the architect's?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Webster. Paul Webster.
MS. MIRO: Did you feel like with Convention Hall and with Wayne
there was a kind of real community that had finally developed?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Well, at that point somewhere in the mid or I
guess it must have been early '70 the Willis started. Well, it was,
I think it was the late '60s. Now, I'm not sure. I think it, well,
I'm not sure now but I remember going to the first few meetings and
realizing that some kind of a formal situation was beginning to take
MS. MIRO: Who do you think was really instrumental in the Willis
MR. HANAMURA: Well, Greg, Greg Murphy and John. And Arris was in
there. I think those were the prime that I can recall. I'm sure
there were others but those stick in my mind.
MS. MIRO: Did you think that that was going to be a catalyst for
the community, the Willis, at that time, the whole idea of an artist
MR. HANAMURA: I don't know that I thought of it as a catalyst but
I thought of it as a good thing that would help to bring a certain
group of artists, their friends and hopefully the general public
MS. MIRO: How was it having artists with studios beyond their own
home? Wasn't that kind of a new thing in the community at that time
at Convention Hall, the artists having lofts and then a gallery
starting? There was an energy that was new to the community or do
you think it was an outgrowth of what had started with your gallery
and the generation before?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, I think it goes back. I don't really know,
you know, the history so much. I do remember going to the, going to
Arts and Crafts when they were down on Irskine somewhere.
MS. MIRO: Irskine and Caplan? No?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't know the name of the street now. And there
were artists living in lofts and things back then too, so it wasn't
anything new. I think essentially there were just more of them, more
artists. You know, I don't recall now. De Kooning was somebody who
it was said that when he walks down Soho now, you know, there's a
whole bunch of artists. Well, when he was walking down 10th Street
in those days it would be very rare they would run into an artist.
So there's more artists around.
MS. MIRO: Do you think there's any reason besides more art
schools? Do you think society is more tolerant or demands more art?
MR. HANAMURA: No, I don't know that society demands more art but
I think the people that are going to art school or decide to become
artists, partially I think they do it because they do want to
fulfill that part of their life which I think they find missing from
the general established lifestyles, let's say, or generally
established modes of making a living.
MS. MIRO: How do you feel about the image of the artist as the
noble savage living penniless in a loft and sacrificing themselves
for the art? Do you think that there's truth to that kind of notion?
MR. HANAMURA: I think the artists like to believe that it's true,
but I don't know about that. I think that's kind of a romantic idea
that we've gotten from knowing about van Gogh and so on. I don't
think Matisse, you know, ever suffered that way, or even Seurat,
although Seurat never sold anything when he was alive.
MS. MIRO: What about the artists in this community, how do you
think they see those notions of what it is to be an artist?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, I think they I don't know that they have a
very clear picture of the relationship between their community,
which there is one now, and the rest of the society. I think it's
very difficult for both kinds of societies to understand the kind of
value systems that are operating, so the artists may be operating
under one and the rest of the world on another system. I think
generally the whole world is really going in the wrong direction,
but especially Japan, and I think it's all America's fault. This
affluent society that America has become I think makes it very
difficult for one to really understand or try to understand what
kind of relationship one is supposed to be having with one's friends
and with one's community and with the rest of the country and with
the rest of the world.
MS. MIRO: Do you feel more comfortable with the artists'
viewpoint, the artists' values?
MR. HANAMURA: Not particularly. And I suppose I admire their
individuality. But I also have a strange sensation or feeling about
the idea of an avant garde, which I have championed all along, have
a feeling that it's some kind of a man made idea which may be an
isolated thing that may not be of much worth within the context of a
MS. MIRO: Do you think that that applies to your whole viewpoint
on architecture and design, too, that art refers to nature rather
than just art itself?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, yeah, now you're talking about -
MS. MIRO: Something else.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Well, I guess, you know, just it's a
philosophical problem and I don't know where one finds out these
MS. MIRO: Don't you think that if you're talking about people
like Gordy and Michael and those people that we've been talking
about, that their art do you think they were making their art to be
avant garde artists or do you think they were making their art
because it was an individual expression? You separated the two.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, I have separated the two. I guess that's not
quite right, yeah. I think that it's an individual expression of
theirs which comes out of the environment that they're in and also
comes from the, all of the things that they've taken in through
their antennae and regurgitating it comes out, true. Although, see,
that's a lot of, you know, interchanging of ideas.
[END TAPE 1 SIDE B]
MS. MIRO: This is reel 3. I'm talking with Bob Hanamura on July
18th. We are continuing our discussion about the role of Detroit
artists and art in this community relative to ideas about what has
happened here. Bob, how long did you teach at Wayne? Was it always
part time also?
MR. HANAMURA: I taught part time for five years, probably about
1968 to '73.
MS. MIRO: And you taught design the whole time?
MR. HANAMURA: Yes.
MS. MIRO: So Olga Constantine came back but you still continued
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. I taught part time.
MS. MIRO: Did you do any architectural consulting?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, I would do a few jobs on the side.
MS. MIRO: Anything that you would want to comment on?
MR. HANAMURA: Nothing especially, although I did help Jim Duffy
do his little gallery downstairs there. You've been out there?
MS. MIRO: Uh huh. [Affirmative.] What was Mr. Duffy like to work
MR. HANAMURA: I thought he was relatively easy to work with. He
had come from a background, I think, where he would expect certain
quality of work and once one understood that then you knew what to
do. He seemed to be pretty perceptive and has pretty high standards.
MS. MIRO: So then it was a good commission for you. You enjoyed
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, because I was able to get some other artists
involved with it.
MS. MIRO: Who?
MR. HANAMURA: George [inaudible] made some seating things for
him. They're really kind of sculptural or they're sculptural things
one could use. And Gordon Orear did some ashtrays. Also, Heinstad
was supposed to do something but I don't think she did. And then
Sestat did the door.
MS. MIRO: Was that kind of your initiative that brought those
people there or were they just suggestions you gave?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, they were suggestions.
MS. MIRO: Was that the first time Sestat had done any kind of
furniture like that? He did the bedroom set later, I think.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Yeah, I encouraged him to do that.
MS. MIRO: The bedroom set too?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: Was that part of your whole idea of the merging of
craft and art again?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Yeah, I think that if the artist really had,
you know, so much insight into those kind of qualities that if they
wanted to they could make functional objects or those things that
work with architectural interiors and I like to encourage that.
MS. MIRO: Were there any interesting visiting artists to Wayne
while you were there, any particular people you -
MR. HANAMURA: No, that didn't start until after I left.
MS. MIRO: Was the faculty fairly easy to get along with or were
they kind of divided at that time in terms of attitudes towards art?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, they had their little personal ideas and
attitudes that I think made it, you know, difficult for a very close
relationship between a good bunch, but one can get along with a
MS. MIRO: What group did you see yourself as part of, the Egner?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. Well, John and Tom Parrish came in I think a
few years later. We got to be pretty close. I see John or Tom
Parrish now quite often.
MS. MIRO: How come you stopped teaching at Wayne?
MR. HANAMURA: The University of Michigan offered me a full time
job so I couldn't resist and I took it.
MS. MIRO: How did you happen to get a full time job there, did
they know your work or your teaching?
MR. HANAMURA: They knew both. And the person that actually
recommended me was the person that is teaching interior design
there, who I had known in the '50s.
MS. MIRO: Who is that?
MR. HANAMURA: A fellow named Bill Carter. He had worked at Ford &
Earl. So he recommended me when the position came up, apparently.
MS. MIRO: Who was the dean at Michigan then?
MR. HANAMURA: Joyce Bayliss. He's a former Cranbrook person and
he had also known me before.
MS. MIRO: And so your position at Michigan was teaching interior
MR. HANAMURA: I taught interior design and two dimensional
MS. MIRO: What was the faculty like at Michigan?
MR. HANAMURA: I can compare it to Wayne, I suppose. They were, I
can just say that they seemed to be completely opposites. The
Michigan staff is a very conservative and relatively older group of
people, whereas at Wayne I don't know what the percentage is but
there seemed to be more young ideas going on at Wayne. And I think
too that the kind of students at the schools makes a difference. The
students at Michigan seemed to, you know, they're bright and sharp
and so on but they seem just to want to get by there and not
challenge anything. They're not into a big quest of any kind. They
just want to get by and get along and get done with it in four years
and, you know, maybe get married and so on.
MS. MIRO: What kind of art did they make relative to conservative
art, do you think?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, and not much insight.
MS. MIRO: Without the questioning it's not easy.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah.
MS. MIRO: So do you think that even though they had a stronger
intellectual backup in terms of the university and requirements to
get in that it didn't really help their artistic abilities?
MR. HANAMURA: You mean the school didn't help them?
MS. MIRO: Right.
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah, well, I think it's a vicious circle. You get
this rather complacent group of students and then the faculty the
same way, and therefore they just kind of feed on each other and it
becomes very nondescript.
MS. MIRO: Do you think that they were trained to be good artists
or good teachers then maybe? What kind of training do you think the
students emerged with from the University of Michigan?
MR. HANAMURA: I don't know that they're trained for anything,
actually. I think it's really an typical ivory tower situation and
they're not aware of really what else is going on. Not totally, but
generally speaking 90 percent of the arts school is content with
doing their own little thing without questioning its relationship to
the rest of the world or to society or whatever.
MS. MIRO: And how does that compare to what you felt at Wayne?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, at Wayne there's a lot of energy of seeking
and questioning and really as an instructor I felt that I had to
really dig into things and be able to respond to the students if not
with answers, which you rarely had, but with a certain amount of
insight so that you can direct the students and help them find
themselves actually. And at Michigan there wasn't that kind of
challenge. They were more interested in their grades and making sure
that they satisfied all the requirements and made it to the football
game in time and things like that.
MS. MIRO: You taught there from 1972 to?
MR. HANAMURA: Nineteen seventy three through '78.
MS. MIRO: This was your last year there?
MR. HANAMURA: Right.
MS. MIRO: How come you're leaving?
MR. HANAMURA: I got fired.
MS. MIRO: Do you think it was because of your attitudes and your
energy and your kind of zeal that showed up in contrast to the
complacency that you're describing?
MR. HANAMURA: Well, partly, I think, but this was also some kind
of political thing that I never really got to evaluate to clarify
the real reason.
MS. MIRO: Are you glad to be leaving?
MR. HANAMURA: Yeah. It's a good chance to get away.
[tape stops, re starts]
MS. MIRO: So, Bob, you're now through at the University of
Michigan and as I can see around your apartment here at the
Knickerbocker, seven years in the kind of wonderful clutter that it
is, you're packing up. What are your plans?
MR. HANAMURA: If I ever get packed up I expect to be moving to
San Francisco and collecting unemployment.
MS. MIRO: Do you have any regrets about leaving Detroit or you
feel it's time, that you've given your all to the city and you want
to move on, or what?
MR. HANAMURA: The reason I'm really here was that I was
hitchhiking through after I left college and got a job and I said to
myself at that time that, "Well, after this job I'll move on," and
that was 30 years ago. So I'm really happy to be leaving, although
the part that I kind of regret leaving are all of the friends that
I've made here and the fact that there are certain things that I had
hoped to get established and going that I would like to be part of.
But I think this is a good time and the opportunity to make the move
that I thought I would make back in the '50s.
MS. MIRO: What kind of things did you want to stay around to see
flourish or get going more?
MR. HANAMURA: I'd like to see what really will happen to downtown
Detroit and whether the renaissance really will make that difference
for Detroit. I'm curious in terms of urban planning and
architecture. Then I'm curious about all of the artist friends that
I have, wondering how and what will happen to their goals, if
they'll be able to do what they think they want to do and whether
all of these galleries will flourish or what.
MS. MIRO: Well, you can come back and visit.
MR. HANAMURA: Yes, and I suppose that probably will happen every
MS. MIRO: Every decade? We'll send you - Stanley will come from
Laramie with his tepee.
[END OF INTERVIEW.]