Hideichi Oshiro is finally seeing a long-held dream come true: the donation of his life’s work to an educational institution so that future generations can enjoy and learn from it. Oshiro is more patient than most of us: He’s 101. The Newburgh, N.Y.-based artist is giving away some 750 pieces of art made over more than six decades — paintings, calligraphies, handmade books, prints, poems, haiku, scrolls and more. And that institution? Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt.
Oshiro’s magnanimous gift came out of the blue, totally unexpected, late last fall, according to college president Barbara Vacarr. The connection is Carol Currie, a Goddard alum and fellow painter who earned her master’s there in 1997.
Oshiro was 90 years old when she first met him in Newburgh, says Currie via email. He was “mostly unaware of modern technology,” and so she began to scan his books, reworking and rebinding them. She also handled publicity and submissions for Oshiro, whose wife, Catherine, became a “dear friend,” Currie says. She and Oshiro put together an exhibit, for which “we even collaborated on a painting.”
Last year, when Hide turned 100 and Catherine had a stroke, Currie says she felt some urgency to find a place for Oshiro’s work. To her, Goddard seemed perfect. “As an alum, I understood experientially how students are encouraged and supported in inner growth and individual journey as well as meeting academic requirements,” she says. “Hide’s lifetime of work is exactly that. It is a reflection of his inner journey.”
Vacarr, who has been Goddard’s president for a year and a half, echoes those sentiments. Oshiro’s collection is, “at the deepest level, a reflection of the learning process that happens at Goddard,” she says. It’s akin to what Oshiro calls “the metabolism of the experience.”
Given his name and visual aesthetic, one might assume Oshiro is at least culturally Japanese, and that is true. But it’s not the full story. Born in Hawaii in 1910, Oshiro was sent to school in Japan at age 3. He learned, among other things, the arts of etching, ukiyoe woodcuts, carving and brushwork. At 25, Oshiro returned to Hawaii to renew his American citizenship and take a teaching job on Oahu. There, he witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor and was interned by the Americans for three months.
Despite that ignominy, after his release Oshiro joined the U.S. Army. Sent to Minnesota for basic training, he gave Japanese language courses to his fellow GIs. And in the evenings, he took classes at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. When the war was over, Oshiro was sent, somewhat ironically, back to Japan. While stationed in Tokyo, he again studied traditional arts with master artists. Upon his discharge in 1950, Oshiro went to study in Paris, France. But it was only when he moved to New York City that he met the French woman who would become his wife. He and Catherine married in 1969.
All these experiences steeped Oshiro in a multiplicity of artistic styles, schools of thought and spiritual paths. Accordingly, East and West seem to converge in his artwork — though he has been a lifelong student of the demandingly simple, and thoroughly Asian, haiku. According to Currie, Oshiro “is the most committed artist, philosopher and student of human consciousness that you will ever meet. He has devoted his life to expressing, in any way possible, what he believes is important for us to understand about humanity and our connectedness to all that is.”
Perhaps that’s why his retrospective exhibit at Goddard’s Pratt Library Art Gallery is called “Art and Breath.” For Oshiro, they seem to be one and the same. A reception this Wednesday will introduce the Vermont public to his work. “Most of the collection are these magnificent handmade books and haiku,” says Vacarr. “We will also be digitizing them in a database for anyone who wants to access them.
Oshiro’s donation to Goddard led the artist to another unexpected gift: a long-lost relative. A nephew in Okinawa saw an article about him in the Kyodo News and came to the States to visit the uncle he hadn’t seen in 65 years — a trip that Currie helped to arrange.
Apparently good things do come to those who wait.
“Art and Breath: The Life Work of Hideichi Oshiro,” Goddard College, Plainfield. Reception Wednesday, February 8, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Pratt Library Art Gallery. goddard.edu/hide_oshiro