The Farm

Media - 1964.1.36 - SAAM-1964.1.36_1 - 69390
Copied Kenjiro Nomura, The Farm, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.36

Artwork Details

Title
The Farm
Date
1934
Location
Not on view
Dimensions
38 1446 18 in. (97.2117.1 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
Classifications
Highlights
Keywords
  • Landscape — farm
  • Architecture — farm — silo
  • Landscape — weather — cloud
  • Architecture — detail — fence
  • Landscape — road
  • Architecture — farm — barn
Object Number
1964.1.36

Artwork Description

A farm scene with green trees would seem to be a positive view of the American scene, but Kenjiro Nomura's painting suggests a hidden threat. Clouds gather and darkness fills the barn and sheds while the foreground road is in shadow. Not a figure or animal is to be seen.

In the Seattle area where Nomura lived, many of his fellow Japanese Americans made their living as fruit and vegetable farmers. Since 1921 they had been subject to anti-alien laws that prevented foreign-born Japanese Americans and other aliens from owning or leasing land. Those born in America who could own farmland still suffered from prejudice. During the Great Depression many Japanese American farmers barely managed to survive, living only on what they grew themselves. It is no wonder that Nomura’s view of a farm during this period is disquieting.

As other Americans emerged from the Great Depression during World War II, Nomura and other Japanese Americans were victimized again by being removed from their homes, businesses, and farms to be interned in camps. Like his PWAP painting, Nomura's images made in internment camps feature dark skies and deep colors that evoke the shadow of injustice.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Gallery Label
Nomura was an established painter and Seattle businessman when he painted this scene in rural Washington State. Red barns rest among green fields, conjuring an image of home that was comfortable and familiar to American audiences of the 1930s. But Nomura gave his painting an eerie edge that hints at a darker story. Windows and doors lead into darkness. No livestock or farmhands enliven the scene.

Perhaps Nomura wanted to paint a dream that remained unrealized. For decades, first-generation Japanese immigrants, the Issei, had struggled to live independently, leaving their menial jobs on the West Coast to work farms in the eastern counties of Washington and Oregon. Their children, the Nisei, continued to assimilate, and the Wapato Nippons baseball team won the minor league pennant in 1934, the year this painting was made. But restrictive legislation in western states prohibited most Asians from owning land. During World War II, powerful figures in the Northwest persuaded the government to relocate Japanese American farmers in the interest of "national security." Nomura and his family were transported to the largest camp, Minidoka, in Idaho, where they passed the war years. He created a portfolio of images of camp life that remained hidden in his son's garage for forty-five years, before they were shown. Nomura turned to abstract art after the war, but his career never fully recovered from the years lost at Minidoka.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Related Books

1934_500.jpg
1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.