After graduating from Berkeley in 1937 with a Master’s degree in both Art and Anthropology, Miné Okubo took a freighter across the Atlantic and traveled alone through Europe. She studied art, visited the great museums, and, at 26 years old, continued developing her unique style and worldview.
Miné won the prestigious Bertha Taussig Traveling Art Fellowship in 1937, which made her trip possible. She rode a used bicycle all over Paris, taking in the sights and sounds and experiencing the art of the Louvre. She studied under legendary avant-garde painter Fernand Léger, honing her technical skills and learning about art perspectives on movements such as social realism, the influence of which is apparent in her later work.
As she bicycled through different European towns and cities, she often packed art supplies and lunch and rode to places of interest, pausing to internalize what she saw. Using this time for reflection, she then created her own images based on the meanings or truths she found in places, people, and things. She traveled in over a dozen different European countries while on her fellowship, refining her art and taking time for introspection and self-development.
In September 1939, war was on the horizon in Europe. Friends urged Miné to go home to Riverside, but she continued working until she received a telegram that her mother was sick. Along with refugees hurrying to leave Europe before bombs began to fall, Miné caught one of the last passenger ships back to the United States from Bordeaux, France. She made it home in time to see her mother alive, and began her work as an artist with the Works Progress Administration, where she worked on public art projects and painted alongside Diego Rivera at Treasure Island in the Bay Area. On December 7th, 1941, Japan launched a surprise bomb attack on Pearl Harbor. Many shocked Americans no longer trusted anybody of Japanese heritage, even those formerly known as good friends and neighbors. War changed everything, and Miné’s future as an artist was in doubt.
Next #MinéMonday: Internment
Post contributed by volunteer Danielle Sanchez, with appreciation to Hal Fischer, Mary Curtin, and the members of Miné’s family.