UAA | University Art Analysis – The lasting legacy of the Kimura family

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

Nearly every student at UAA has been impacted by the Kimura family.

The Kimura Gallery is located on the second floor of the Fine Arts Building. The gallery was named in part for Isamu “Sam” Kimura, a photographer and professor of art at UAA who died of cancer shortly after its dedication. Joan Kimura, a commercial artist and wife of Sam Kimura, shares the dedication with him.

The gallery is a resource for art students and Anchorage residents to research and experience contemporary art. Students may have the privilege of working an internship within the gallery. The bachelor of fine arts program also exhibits final thesis art in the Kimura Gallery.

“The program has helped me to consider my work as an artist as more than just a purveyor of pretty things, but as a person who can talk to people visually and influence change,” Kiara Kaitchuck, former fine arts student who displayed her thesis in the Kimura Gallery, said.

The reach of the Kimura family does not end with the Kimura Gallery, however. Yusabaro “Bill” Kimura, Sam Kimura’s brother, created the multipurpose fountain-statue located near the central entrance to UAA.

“Balancing Arcs” was commissioned for $25,000 under the Alaska Art in Public Places Program. The stainless-steel, geometric sculpture was originally designed to be a fountain in the university cafeteria, but was moved to another location without the functionality of a fountain after a toddler fell in the basin. However, the fountain functionality has recently been restored when the hazardous basin was replaced by a concrete base.

The official spelling of the statue’s name is disputed among official documentation, but the prevailing spelling is “Balancing Arcs.” The Smithsonian Institution Research System art inventory includes various other titles and spellings of “Balancing Arcs” given by UAA students and staff alike, including “Balanced Arch,” “Little Guy Doing Squats” and “That Fountain Thing.” More recently, “Balancing Arcs” has been given the name “Happy Man.”

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“Balancing Arcs” is notable beyond its varying nomenclature for being used in promotional photography for the university. The fountain is iconic enough that it was the victim of a “yarn bomb” in 2012. A yarn bomb is the act of knitting coverings for public objects as a form of harmless graffiti, usually in an attempt to make a statement or bring attention to the object.

“We picked that [statue] because it is formally very strong, it has got the little paired arch of the legs and the upraised arch of the arms and the head,” Keren Lowell, describing her yarn bombing in an interview with Alaska Public Media, said.

Yusuke “Harry” Kimura, father to Sam and Bill Kimura, left Nagasaki Japan at 13 years old to travel the world and study cooking. Harry Kimura became a cook for the U.S. Navy ship the USS Albany in his early 20s. Harry wrote home to Japan in hopes of marrying a particular woman, but the family sent Katsuyo Yamasaki in her sister’s stead because her sister had already married. The couple married in Seattle’s Buddhist temple and moved to Anchorage soon after. The Kimura family grew with the addition of five children and together, they ran the family businesses H&K Hand Laundry and the Chop Suey House restaurant.

From top, left to right: Sam Kimura, William Kimura, Louise Kimura, George Kimura. Photo courtesy of the Kimura family from the Legends & Legacies Project.

Their lives were not free of hardship or poverty prior, but when World War II started, the Kimura family lost everything. Harry Kimura was the first to be placed in an internment camp because he was not a natural-born citizen. Yoshito “George” Kimura, another of Harry Kimura’s sons, was in basic military training while his father was imprisoned by that same military. Their belongings were confiscated by the government, and eventually, the entire Kimura family was forcefully relocated.

The Kimuras still were strong members of the Anchorage community in the face of internment. They continued running their businesses until they were forcibly removed. The Kimuras ran an advertisement in the Anchorage Daily Times pleading to stay within their community.

The advertisement placed by the Kimura family in the Anchorage Daily Times on Dec. 8, 1941.

“We are all 100% Americans,” the advertisement said. “We all rise and once more pledge allegiance to Our Flag and to the Country for which it stands.”

As they were being escorted to internment, the Kimuras told the Anchorage Daily Times to thank “people of Anchorage for their long and faithful patronage and for their kindness and sympathy in these trying times.”

Internment was abolished, and the Kimuras returned to Anchorage penniless and weary. The Kimuras pushed through their oppression to give back to the community with service, art and education. H&K Hand Laundry was renamed Snow White Laundry and Cleaners and it became the largest full-service laundromat in Anchorage at the time, according to alaskahistory.org.

The Kimura family delivered laundry from Snow White Laundry & Cleaners. Photo Courtesy of the Kimura family from the Legends & Legacies project.

Katsuyo Kimura was given a medal from the Emperor of Japan for her kindness as an unpaid goodwill ambassador to Asian visitors to Alaska. Sam Kimura studied in New York to become a photographer and art professor in Anchorage. William Kimura taught art wherever he found people with a desire to learn. Audiences ranged from local high schools to the air force base.

Today, the Kimura family is buried together in Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery. They can be remembered for their efforts to restore balance to Anchorage in the face of tragedy, giving back to a community that feared them.

Have you seen art at UAA you want to know more about? Contact Robert Gant at [email protected]