Monday, June 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

Tsutakawa’s “Harmony” monument at the Western Washington Fairground

Permanently located on the premises of Puyallup's Western Washington Fairgrounds stands a monument that commemorates the WWII-era internment of Japanese Americans. Created by the great fountain maker George Tsutakawa, the monument entitled “Harmony” was dedicated in 1983.

At first the Western Washington Fairgrounds – abode of Krusty Pups, elephant ears and deep fried butter (this year's rage) – seems like an unusual place for a public sculpture that commemorates such a somber episode as the wholesale imprisonment of a segment of the citizenry.

The monument is there, however, because the Japanese Americans were there. When the region's families of Japanese descent were rounded up in the spring of 1942 they were taken en masse to the Puyallup fairgrounds and housed in barracks. Whole families were often given just a few hours to gather up their most valuable possession before they were taken away to Puyallup. Family pets were not allowed to come. Businesses and farms were permanently lost.

The Western Washington Fair Ground – dubbed “Camp Harmony” – was surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers in which soldiers armed with machine guns were stationed. 7,890 people were kept at Camp Harmony from April to September of 1942. This big square of real estate now known for its rides, lights, games, livestock, concessions and exhibits was a muddy prison camp where whole families were housed in cloth-partitioned rooms. Eventually the Japanese families were sent off to more permanent internment in places like Idaho and California. In total, 120,000 people were kept in such camps for the duration of the war.

By the 1970s the Japanese American Citizen League (JACL) began to bring public attention to the internment of Japanese Americans – an injustice that might slipped into obscurity were it not for the activities of such organizations. In 1978 the Seattle and Puyallup chapters of the JACL held a “Day of Remembrance” ceremony at the Puyallup fairgrounds.

It was decided to commission a permanent monument on the fairgrounds in order to serve as a marker of the internment. The renowned Tsutakawa (1910-1997) painter, sculptor and fountain maker who taught for many, many years at University of Washington was asked to design and create the monument.

Born in Seattle, Tsutakawa was sent back to Japan in childhood to attend school. Conflicts with his father, however, resulted in Tsutakawa's return to Seattle where he worked in the family mercantile business and attended UW where he was trained as an artist.

At the outbreak of war, Tsutakawa was drafted into the United States Army where he served as a language instructor and in intelligence. Many of his family members ended up in the internment camps. It was during a visit to the camp at Lake Tule in California that Tsutakawa met Ayame Iwasa who would become his wife. Other relatives of Tsutakawa were in Japan during the war. Some were killed by the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

After the war, Tsutakawa returned to his art career. He taught Japanese language at UW and eventually became a member of the art faculty. He was also affiliated with the artists of the Northwest School via a friendship with the likes of Mark Tobey who before the war had encouraged Tsutakawa to explore his Japanese roots in his art. He became most known for his wonderful fountains that are now located all over the world. One is on the grounds of the national cathedral. There is also one outside Chase Bank branch along Gravelly Lake Drive in Lakewood.

When the “Harmony” monument was commissioned in 1981, there were voices of opposition. The local chapter of the American Legion, for example, proposed a Pearl Harbor monument instead. This proposal for a counter monument seems like a particularly mean spirited (if not outright bigoted) move to justify or excuse the internment of Japanese Americans. Others wanted to locate the monument outside the fairground in the parking lot across the street.

In the end the “Harmony” monument was built and sited on the fairground proper. It was dedicated August 21, 1983 at a ceremony attended by then governor John Spellman. A bronze plaque located near the sculpture bears Spellman's statement. (Visit for full text of Spellman's statement.)

“Harmony” is a column made of dark bronze. Figures of men, women and children are cut in silhouette into the sides of the column. The negative, open spaces form interesting, patterns that shift as one examines the column from various angles. Situated beneath three umbrella-like maple trees just a little west of the fountain inside the main gate, the dark column is easy to miss. It seems unremarkable by comparison to all of the color and activity going on elsewhere. Close examination of the sculpture, however, yields fruitful results.

“I wanted to depict people of all races and creeds living in harmony,” Tsutakawa told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at the time. “Then these sad things won't be happening over and over again,” he said.

The site seems mainly attractive to smokers and weary fair goers who find its out-of-the-way location a convenient place to sit and light up. Even the bronze plaque offers a place to sit.

Tsutakawa was aided by his son Gerard in the making of “Harmony.” Gerard Tsutakawa has gone on to become an artist in his own right. He has many public works of art to his credit, most notably the giant, semi-abstract baseball mitt outside Seattle's Safeco field.

Governor John Spellman's Dedication statement: (for the web version of story)

“In the spring of 1942, over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were uprooted from their West Coast homes and placed in detention camps by the United States government. None was ever charged with treason, espionage, sabotage, or disloyalty to the United States. The average period of incarceration was three years.”

“This monument is dedicated to the memory of the 7,890 men, women, and children who were imprisoned on these grounds from April to September 1942. May it forever stand as a reminder that the protections provided by our constitution are only as effective as the will of our citizens and our government to uphold them.”

-August 21, 1983
John Spellman