In a victory for Japanese Americans fighting the sale and commodification of World War II Japanese American concentration camp art and artifacts, eBay today withdrew the sale of 20 Manzanar drawings hours before they were to be sold. The provenance was unclear, a family member came forth to claim them, and the sale was opposed by a national coalition of 59 organizations and 29 individuals who voiced their concern in a letter sent to eBay the day before the auction’s end. The request was amplified in a change.org petition.
The drawings were made in 1942 by an artist known only as Matsumura, according to the listing. Lori Matsumura, the granddaughter of Giichi Matsumura, who tragically lost his life in 1945 when he stopped to sketch on a mountain hike and got caught in a snowstorm, said that both her grandfather and father were artists. She learned of the listing the day before the auction’s end, when contacted by National Park Service archaeologist Jeff Burton. Lori determined that the works were made and signed by her father, after comparing his signatures on high school reports with those on the drawings online. But without seeing the drawings in person, she could not confirm this, and the auction clock was ticking down. The sale was to conclude on Tuesday, April 6, at 6:46 p.m. PST.
Just hours before the auction was to end, a coalition of community members including Mia Russell, David Inoue, Shirley Higuchi, Nancy Ukai, Bif Brigman, Bruce Embrey, Barbara Takei, and Lori Matsumura (representing, respectively, the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium, Japanese American Citizens League, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, 50 Objects, Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee, Manzanar Committee, Tule Lake Committee, and the Matsumura family), met with two representatives from eBay’s Regulatory Policy Group. The meeting was arranged through an introduction to eBay officials by the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, D.C., which had been in prior discussion with eBay about the sale of Holocaust items.
As a result of the meeting, the listing was removed under eBay’s Artifacts Policy, which regulates the sale of artifacts obtained from government or protected land. eBay also is reaching out to the seller to attempt to facilitate the return of the drawings to the artist’s family, which at the time of this statement is unresolved. Members of the Consortium will continue to work with eBay to apply the Artifacts policy to other WWII Japanese American concentration camp artifacts that are listed for sale.
On the sixth anniversary of the Rago auction (which was stopped by online community mobilization, the legal actions of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, and the Japanese American National Museum permanently acquiring the collections), today’s victory came swiftly thanks to the coalition-building and community organizing work done in the past. Special thanks to Nancy Ukai, Bif Brigman, Bruce Embrey, Barbara Takei, Kimiko Marr, and Satsuki Ina for their organizing efforts, the Japanese American National Museum for their leadership in the public awareness campaign, and the broader community for their resounding support.