4.15.15 UPDATE: JAPANESE AMERICAN OBJECTS IN LOTS 1232-1255, made in WW2 concentration camps, will be removed from the Rago auction on Friday, a company spokesman said in Lambertville, NJ, tonight. George Takei will act as an intermediary between the Rago auction house and Japanese American community institutions. The auction house agreed to a respectful sale of the artifacts after the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation sent a notice of intent to file a lawsuit against the consignor.
Survivors and descendants of wartime Japanese-American relocation and incarceration are calling for the cancellation of a April 17 online auction of personal objects, crafts, and prisoner artwork created by Americans of Japanese descent while incarcerated by the U.S. government during the Second World War.
Rago, an online auction house based in Lambertville, New Jersey, wants to auction hundreds of artworks and crafts that Japanese American detainees gave to art historian Allen Hendershott Eaton during his research for Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps, a book published in 1952. After Eaton, a humanitarian, champion of American folk art and opponent of the mass incarceration, died in 1962, his estate fell into private hands.
The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation asked the consignors to consider a private, negotiated sale with community-supported non-profit institutions. After the consignor refused this suggestion, the HWMF secured pledges from board members and friends to make a substantial cash offer—one that exceeded the estimated auction value. However, this offer was refused, for inexplicable reasons.
Japanese Americans have started an online Facebook page: Japanese American History: Not for Sale to call for a cancellation of the online auction. They are asking for Rago to allow them reasonable period of time to arrange a respectful and mutually acceptable sale of the collection to an institution.
April 13, 2015
Dear David Rago, Suzanne Perrault and Miriam Tucker:
We have learned that Rago Arts and Auction will put up for sale 450 prisoner craft objects, personal items, artworks and heritage artifacts from the Japanese American concentration camps of WW II in Lots 1232-1255 on April 17. These items were given -- not sold -- to the original collector, Allen H. Eaton, under the assumption that they would be shown in an exhibition to tell the story of the mass, illegal incarceration.
“They offered to give me things to the point of embarrassment, but not to sell them,” Eaton wrote in his 1952 book, “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese In Our War Relocation Camps.” Eaton was opposed to the mass incarceration and devoted himself to gathering examples of the creations that emerged from the camps, planning for a future exhibition and photographic display. He received official support toward what was meant to be a public project, not the creation of a private collection. Selling these treasures of Japanese American heritage would contravene Eaton’s original intent.
The auctioning of our cultural property -- handmade and donated by men, women and children whom their own government held against their will -- is wrong. There is no time before the auction to properly examine issues including provenance, ethics, and the propriety of disposing of our cultural patrimony by selling it off to the highest bidder.
We request that you pull these lots from the auction and delay the sale until a proper examination can be undertaken.
Auctioning these cultural products of the forced removal and incarceration is akin to auctioning Holocaust property, slave shackles, and Native American spiritual artifacts. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Locke, California, “right of first refusal,” enacted against California’s alien land laws, sought to rectify similar abuses.
Placing this historical heritage on the auction block sullies the reputations of both Eaton’s descendants and Rago Arts. The pending sale of these donated objects has caused anguish and outrage in our community, which is being expressed in letters, petitions, news coverage and a Facebook page, "Japanese American History: NOT for Sale”: www.facebook.com/japaneseamericanhistorynotforsale.
Our community’s goal is to educate and correct, not to vilify or cast blame. We urge you to pause the rush to auction, in the spirit of making this right for everyone.
Ad Hoc Committee to Oppose the Sale of Japanese American Historical Artifacts