WWII Children’s Art Discovered in Museum Basement!

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Deep within the treasures of the Richmond Museum of History in California laid a once forgotten collection of artworks from the children of a WWII-era Day Care Center.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle article, "The Art of War" the carefully preserved children’s art was discovered by retired UC Berkeley Professor Joe Fischer, who following a rumour of its existence, found the works in a back cabinet in the basement of the museum.

There are many things I find interesting about this story.

First is the rarity of such a large collection (4,000 pieces) of children’s artwork, so meticulously stored. Most children’s art especially that old has, be lost, damaged or destroyed.

There is also the subject matter of the children’s art. These children were brought together under very stressful times. Since most of the men in their lives were off fighting in the war, their mothers were left to work in the factories and shipyards at home.

At the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond a Day Care Center was formed, where the children spent up to 12 hours a day, while their mother’s worked. It is not surprising that the images that many of these wartime children chose to create were of the horrifying aspects of war rather than the happy images children typically create.

Another very interesting aspect to this story is the reason the collection was saved in the first place. Here is a quote from the article:

"Art teacher Monica Haley led the program when it opened in 1943 and made art a priority for the thousands of 2- to 12-year-olds who spent a large piece of their childhoods there. At least two hours every day were set aside for art, and the children had access to high-quality easels, smocks, poster paint and 18-by-24-inch paper in a calm atmosphere.

"Monica’s philosophy was to give the kids materials and an orderly environment and leave them alone," said Fischer, who has published several books on folk art. "She was way ahead of her time."

Haley was reportedly horrified one day when she asked one of the children how his mother enjoyed his painting, and he replied that she had wrapped the garbage in it. After that, the teachers were instructed to save nearly everything."

I find this quite ironic that it would take some one’s total disregard for their own child’s art, to spark someone else’s need to preserve it. Thank you Monica for your insight!

Another remarkable part of this story is the interviews of the adults who created some of the paintings as children. Hearing their stories and connecting the adult with the child’s art was truly amazing.

Betty Kano was one child in the art program who went on to become a noted abstract artist. If you look at the pictures posted in the article you can see that even at 5 years old she had talent. Though more than the natural talent she possessed, it was the lesson she learned at the Day Care of the value of painting that led her to become a great artist.

The artworks of these wartime children will be on exhibit at the Oakland Museum of Children’s Art from April 14th to June 3rd, 2007.

To see some of the fantastic collection of wartime children’s artwork read Carolyn Jones of the San Francisco Chronicle’s article titled THE ART OF WAR MUSEUM STORAGE DISCOVERY: Carefully preserved paintings by children who spent long hours in WWII-era Richmond shipyard day care show young minds at work in time of conflict.

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