June 17, 2011

Henry Art Gallery screens — and appears in — PBS show ‘History Detectives

News and Information

“Drawing for Greater East Asia Prosperity Sphere leaflet,” by Frances Blakemore, circa 1945. Ink on illustration board, 12 by 16 inches. From the Frances and Thomas Blakemore Collection.

Henry Art Gallery

“Drawing for Greater East Asia Prosperity Sphere leaflet,” by Frances Blakemore, circa 1945. Ink on illustration board, 12 by 16 inches. From the Frances and Thomas Blakemore Collection.

The story of a University of Washington alumna, her lifelong love of Japan and the powerful World War II-era propaganda leaflets she created for the U.S. Office of War Information will be a segment of the PBS television series History Detectives to air Friday, June 24.

The segment is called “The World War II Leaflet.” It was filmed at the Henry Art Gallery, which holds some of those wartime leaflets — intended to convince the Japanese to end their war effort — in its permanent collections.

The University community is invited to watch the episode of History Detectives from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Henry Art Gallery Auditorium.

The artist in question is Frances Blakemore (1906-1997), who graduated from the UW (after 10 years of study) with a degree in painting, sculpture and design in 1935 and traveled to Japan to teach art and English. Fascinated by Japanese life, she chronicled her experiences in art and writing. She left Japan as war was coming in 1940 and spent the rest of the war years in Honolulu.

Frances Blakemore, circa 1965.

Blakemore Foundation

Frances Blakemore, circa 1965.

University of Washington Press in 2008 published a biography of Blakemore by art historian Michiyo Morioka titled An American Artist In Tokyo. “Her experience with Japan encompassed the entire period from pre-World War II militarism to postwar modernization,” Morioka wrote.

“Arriving in Tokyo in 1935 to teach art and English, she became fascinated with Japanese life and chronicled her experiences both in art and writing. She spent most of the war years in Honolulu, where she designed propaganda leaflets that were dropped by the millions on the Japanese islands. In 1954, she married American attorney Thomas Blakemore and achieved prominence as an artist and gallery owner in Tokyo.”

In 1990 the Blakemores established the Blakemore Foundation, with the mission “to encourage Americans to develop greater fluency in Asian  languages and to increase understanding of Asian art in the United States.” In 1996, they donated more than 300 objects to the Henry, including Japanese prints, textiles, stencils and ceramics as well as some of the propaganda leaflets. Morioka had assisted the museum in cataloging the Blakemore donations. Among the donations are 26 Blakemore prints, which are viewable through the Henrys online collection search.

History Detectives, its publicity notes state, “is devoted to exploring the complexities of historical mysteries, searching out the facts, myths and conundrums that connect local folklore, family legends and interesting objects.” Its hosts, the notes state, have expertise ranging from “architecture, popular culture and sociology to archaeology, collectibles and genealogy.”

Blakemores story intersected with that of  History Detectives when a fan of the show was going through her brothers belongings and came across a leaflet with Japanese writing and striking images of war. A note taped to the box said, “This box contains an original propaganda leaflet dropped on Japan. I know the woman who did most of the artwork and printing for the U.S. propaganda leaflets.”

That led History Detectives producers to the Henry in December of 2010, where Wes Cowan, the shows main host, interviewed Morioka about Blakemore and the leaflets. Rachael Faust, Henry assistant curator of collections and academic programs, helped them get access to the museums collections.

Faust said, “We work with a lot of scholars who come in with a similar path or intention. The process History Detectives takes is not unlike any researcher stumbling upon something that sparks their interest, then contacting the museum or library.”

She said its the first such connection with a television show, however.