“Lake Mary, Inyo National Forest” (1930) Chiura Obata

Chiura Obata’s California landscapes

In 1903, Chiura Obata, then 17, left Japan for San Francisco to pursue a career as a painter. He met acclaim but also racial animus, as Japanese immigrants were denied entry to restaurants, barred from owning land, and forced behind barbed wire after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Obata’s disappointment with the human world could help explain where he found his passion: in California’s natural world. After a trip to Yosemite in 1927, Obata called the experience the “greatest harvest” of his career, resulting in more than 100 new works that helped establish him as a major figure of 20th-century American art.

In Obata’s telling, the vistas of the high Sierra offered more than mere beauty: they were nourishment for the soul. During a lecture in 1965, he adopted the voice of a wind-whipped giant sequoia in one of his paintings: “Hear me, you poor man. I’ve stood here more than three thousand and seven hundred years in rain, snow, storm, and even mountain fire, still keeping my thankful attitude strongly with nature. Do not cry, do not spend your time and energy worrying. You have children following. Keep up your unity; come with me.” Smithsonian magazine | Brainpickings

Below, a few Obata favorites, and more here.

“Evening Glow at Yosemite Falls” (1930)

“Evening Glow at Mono Lake, from Mono Mills” (1930)

“Death’s Grave Pass and Tenaya Peak” (1930)

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