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Seattle Artists Sell Artwork For Japan Relief

Hansi Lo Wang

Akiko Masker is a Seattle artist. She was desperate to reach her family in Japan after she first heard about the earthquake and tsunami earlier this month.

Masker: "So I just keep calling my mom, and finally my phone connected with my mom's mobile phone. And my mom said, Akiko! And I said, Mom? Are you alive? And my mom said, Yeah, we are fine. We evacuated mountainside. We are fine."

Masker is one of more than one hundred artists who are donating their work to an art sale in Seattle this weekend to benefit Japan's relief efforts. KUOW's Hansi Lo Wang has more.


At the KOBO at Higo art gallery in Seattle's International District, volunteers are unwrapping newly arrived donations.

Masker: "That's so beautiful work! I want to buy. I want to get it."

Ichikawa: "All the volunteers want to buy first!"

The donations include framed paintings, ceramic pots and handmade figurines. They were sent to the gallery from artists in Seattle and as far away as the East Coast.

Ichikawa: "I really need to make action to do something."

Etsuko Ichikawa is one of the artists organizing the art sale.

Ichikawa: "We all went through the similar emotional path, I believe, after talking to many of the friends here — not necessarily Japanese only but Japanese artists and friends and families. They felt the same way. They just couldn't stay and do nothing."

Ichikawa moved to Seattle in 1993 from Tokyo. After the earthquake, she immediately thought of her family back in Japan.

Ichikawa: "And I was afraid to talk to any Japanese friends here, getting any bad news. So I just hesitate to call each other for a while. I was so scared."

Fortunately, her family's OK. Akiko Masker remembers how hard it was to reach her family on the telephone.

Masker: "[Imitates telephone sounds] And like, sounds like, you know, she is still talking with somebody, but no ringing sound."

Two days after the earthquake, she finally contacted them in Kushiro. That's on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, far from the tsunami's worst damage. But her uncle, who was much closer to ground zero, is still missing.

Masker: "We still cannot contact with him. And my mom still, still panic, and she want to know my uncle's alive."

Chiong–Bisbee: "My name is Binko Chiong–Bisbee, and my mom was Japanese–American. We have family, some relatives in Wakayama, and my husband — so sorry."

Binko pauses to catch her breath, as Etsuko Ichikawa reaches over to pat her back.

Chiong–Bisbee: "Sorry about that."

Binko and her husband John Bisbee own the gallery that's hosting this weekend's art sale. She says this neighborhood is deeply connected to Seattle's Japanese immigrants.

Chiong–Bisbee: "And back, you know, in the 40s, before World War II, there were over 8,000 Japanese–Americans that lived here, had businesses here — bookshops, sweet shops, restaurants, hotels."

Before it was a gallery, KOBO at Higo was a five–and–dime store in Seattle's old Japantown. Binko and her husband have made an effort to preserve some of the memories of J–town in their gallery.

Chiong–Bisbee: "The spirit of Japan is also here in Seattle."

Binko Chiong–Bisbee says proceeds from the art sale will go to the Japanese Red Cross.

For KUOW News, I'm Hansi Lo Wang.

Note: The Artists for Japan art sale opens Saturday, March 26, 2011, at KOBO at Higo, located at 604 South Jackson Street in Seattle.

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