Chiura Obata (1885–1975), born in Okayama-ken, Japan, was one of the earliest Japanese artists to live and work in the United States. He moved to San Francisco in 1903, supporting himself as an illustrator for Japanese language newspapers and magazines, while painting in the moro-tai style of contemporary Japanese art. In 1927, he visited Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada, where he made approximately 100 drawings in pencil, watercolor, and sumi ink. He recalled his visit to Yosemite as "the greatest harvest for my whole life and future in painting." The following year, he returned to Japan for a visit and brought thirty-five of the drawings to be translated into color woodcuts. Between 1928 and 1930, while Obata was in Tokyo, he transformed these California landscape watercolors and sketches into a limited-edition portfolio titled World Landscape Series.
In 2000, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired twenty-six of the full set of thirty-five prints from the artist's family. When the prints went on display February 22, 2008 in Washington, D.C., it was the first time the artist's prints had been publicly exhibited on the East Coast. Obata's Yosemite features twenty-seven prints and watercolors and a series of twenty progressive proofs. Joann Moser, senior curator, is the exhibition curator.
The exhibition traveled to the Wichita Falls Museum of Art in Wichita Falls, Texas in 2008 and Federal Hall National Memorial in New York, New York in 2009.
Obata's Yosemite is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibition's tour is supported in part by the C.F. Foundation, Atlanta, and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Endowment Fund.