In the 1920s, Tokyo High School student Hide Oshiro was moved by a haiku in which 17th-century poet Matsuo Basho described coming across the subtle beauty of a wildflower during a walk in the mountains.
“I wanted to make this kind of haiku once in my life,” 101-year-old Oshiro told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
“Nothing else; just one haiku.”
Hide Oshiro, the 101-year-old poet laureate of Newburghwho has written one haiku every morning of his life since then, in November donated his life’s work, totaling several volumes of poetry and about 750 other pieces of art, to Goddard College in Plainfield,Vermont. On Wednesday, the college held an opening reception for the exhibit, at which Oshiro regaled attendees with stories of his life and his wishes for young artists and writers.
The works he donated represent different phases of his artistic development, covering his entire career. They include paintings, drawings, calligraphy work, prints, handmade books, poems, haiku, stories, sketches and scrolls.
In presenting the work to the college on Nov. 3, “He said that the product is only important in how it uncovers for the viewer the process,” Goddard President Barbara Vacarr told Kyodo News, Japan’s largest news agency. “Most artists focus on the product of their work. What (Oshiro) talked about was the process, or development, of the work.”
Born in 1910 in what was then the U.S. territory of Hawaii to Japanese parents who had come to work in the pineapple plantations, Oshiro was sent to Japan at the age of 3 to live with his grandparents and receive a Japanese education. Oshiro learned etching, woodcuts, gold carving, sculpture and brushwork in high school and at SophiaUniversity.
Having spent his formative years in a country of diverse religions, he was exposed to Japanese Shinto, Chinese Confucianism, Indian Buddhism and Western Christianity. His knowledge of such varied religions and philosophies profoundly influenced the convergence of East and West found in his creative process.
He returned toHawaiiin the 1930s, where he taught Japanese at a school on Oahu.
He still clearly recalls the Sunday morning in December 1941 when a group of students came running to him saying, “JapanattackedHawaii!”
At first, he told Kyodo News, he did not believe it and told the children, “No, it’s only war games,” but soon realized that the bombs falling and fires erupting on the school fields were real.
“I couldn’t think about anything, only darkness and doom,” he said, adding that the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor,” with all of its Hollywood“imagination,” did not come close to the horror of the actual event.
Along with other Americans of Japanese descent at that time, Oshiro spent three months in an internment camp. Despite that, he joined theU.S.army and worked for six years as an army translator. He then left to pursue art at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere inParis. Eventually he settled inNew York City, inspired by the vitality of the bustling metropolis. He studied at theBrooklynMuseumArtSchooland set up his own studio inGreenwich Village.
InNew York, Oshiro met his French wife, Catherine Bullier; they married in 1969 and settled inNewburgh, he said, because of its vital arts community. While Oshiro never formally exhibited his art, his wife collected his work all along the way.
In the sixty years of work represented by the 45 pieces now on display at Goddard, one can witness the vast reaches of the mind of this artist, writer and philosopher.
When asked to comment about his work, Oshiro was quoted in the Kyodo News as replying, “Our minds can conceive any form, from a galaxy to an atom, from the blue sky to a minnow.” In his work we are able to share with him his vision of the magnificence of this universe.
“It really strikes me how much of the process was preserved,” Goddard Library Assistant Dustin Byerly told Kyodo News. “I think we owe that to his wife — her handwriting is on everything.”
Oshiro’s lifelong dream has been that his work be housed in an educational institution so that future generations of students could learn from it. Carol Curri of Newburgh, an artist and Goddard College graduate, organized the donation to her alma mater.
Oshiro’s work is far from finished. He continues to write a haiku every morning and to inspire other poets, such as the members of the Hudson River Poets, who meet monthly at the Newburgh Free Library, a few blocks from his Grand Streetapartment.
The cheerful artist hopes that his donation will encourage students to explore the totality of life and fully express their experience through art.
“It’s not art, it’s just an expression of yourself,” he told the news agency. “The mind is fantastic; it doesn’t want to be oppressed. Let it be free.”