The newest edition of Kit Hinrichs’ and my “Obsessions” book series is on the arts and crafts made by Japanese Americans held in U.S. concentration camps during World War II. All That Remains is a sequel to my 2005 book titled The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942–1946. While working on that book, I spent many hours reflecting on why people banished by their own country to barrack encampments fenced in by barbed wire and guarded by soldiers with rifles pointed at them would take up art with such a fervor that it became an obsession to them. They scrounged for scraps of paper, bits of lumber, empty bottles and cans, and cardboard packaging to use for their art projects and scoured the desert terrain for stones, driftwood and shrubs to carve into new forms. Art served a need far beyond the aesthetic. Although two-thirds of the 120,000 ethnic Japanese forced into camps were American citizens, the older immigrant generation especially, who were in their 50s and 60s, embraced the creation of art as a lifeline. Given less than 10 days notice to turn themselves in and told they could only bring what they could carry. the adults knew their businesses, homes and all their possessions would probably be gone when they were freed to return to the West Coast. In fact, that turned out to be true.
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Anyone who doubts that we live in a global economy needs to look at packaging and products from the far-flung reaches of the planet. These lovely labels for sauces and marmalades were made for Italbu Charcuterie in Burundi, a little landlocked country in Southeast Africa, bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Italbu Charcuterie is a deli shop offering organic products made from original Italian recipes.The design firm Ya Ye lists studios both in Zagreb, Croatia, and Bujumbura, Burundi. Ya Ye’s design has a contemporary universal quality that could have just as easily been produced in New York, London or Sydney. Cultural design differences were more distinctly identifiable before air travel and multinational retailers. A World War II vet once told me that if a soldier was parachuted onto foreign terrain, he would know where he landed by the typography and architecture, even before hearing the spoken language. With the Internet today, the whole world is exposed to the same visual references and design styles can’t be pinpointed to a particular culture or part of the world.
People have forgotten – or hadn’t considered it in the first place – that Band-Aid® is a trademarked brand registered by pharmaceutical and medical device giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J). For most of us, Band-Aid generically describes any kind of adhesive bandage with a gauze pad in the center. The term has even become part of our colloquial language –e.g., who hasn’t called a temporary fix a “band-aid solution.” Actually, Band-Aid was invented in 1920 by Earle Dickson for his wife, Josephine, who was a bit accident-prone around the house. Dickson, a New Jersey cotton buyer for J&J, noted that his wife often used tape to hold cotton balls over her nicks and burns, but the tape usually fell off as soon as she returned to her task. Dickson devised an easier method; he placed squares of surgical gauze at intervals on a strip of tape and used a length of crinoline to keep the tape from sticking to itself so it could be stored rolled up. All Josephine had to do was unroll the tape, cut off as much as she needed and dress her own wound. Dickson mentioned his little invention to colleagues at J&J and his boss thought it was so ingenious that Dickson’s idea was put into production. At first, Band-Aid Adhesive Bandages had to be made by hand and were an awkward 2 ½ inches wide by 18 inches long. In 1924, J@J moved Band-Aid into mass machine production and resized the product to ¾ inch wide and 3 inches long, with a thin red thread to pull off the paper wrapper. Targeted to young families, J&J promoted Band-Aid by donating the product to Boy Scout troops across the U.S. Sales took off. By World War II, Band-Aids were standard issue in soldiers’ mess kits. Band-Aid products became so ubiquitous, the brand was not only the market leader for this category of adhesive bandages, it became synonymous with all products in this category, much to the chagrin of Band-Aid’s competitors.
Numbers rarely have emotional power; they usually don’t move us viscerally. So,especially people born after World War II find it hard to comprehend the enormous loss of lives on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Seventy years ago this month, 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed during the infamous landing on Normandy beach, which marked the turning point of the war in Europe. British artists Andy Moss and Jamie Wardley put this loss into perspective by creating a tribute that they called “The Fallen.” For International Peace Day last September, the two launched a project that took two years in the planning. With the help of some 200 volunteers, the artists etched silhouettes of the 9,000 soldiers who died that day on the sands of Normandy Beach. The commemorative project took more than five hours to complete, and was washed away all too soon by the incoming tide. But this is a sight that is hard to forget. “All around us there are relics of the Second World War,” Wardley explained, “but the one thing that is missing are the people who actually died. We’ve very quietly made a big statement.”
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This one-of-a-kind flag assemblage, from Kit Hinrichs’ vast Stars & Stripes collection, was designed by the quartermaster of a U.S. military post office during World War II. A closer look reveals that it is not just a flag made out of a bunch of used stamps and cancellation marks; it is clever information graphics. The blue canton is made from dozens of five-cent stamps, and the stars are cut from cancellation marks mailed from the state capital of each of the 48 states that were in the Union in 1943 (see detail after the jump). The unknown artist didn’t stop there. He placed the stars chronologically according to when each state entered the Union. The red stripes are composed of two-cent stamps (yes, they once existed!), and the white stripes are pieced together from envelopes mailed from the states that were part of the Original Thirteen Colonies that declared their independence from Great Britain on July 4th, 1776, and founded a new nation of united states. Something to think about while waiting for the fireworks to start. Happy Fourth of July!
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