Snoqualmie City Hall displays work of Japanese-American artist

Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum loans art by Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani.

Ten pieces from renowned Japanese-American artist Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani are now on display at Snoqualmie City Hall as part of a partnership with a Seattle-based museum.

Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum, located within the Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, has loaned the city part of its Mirikitani collection until early July. Wing Luke was the first institute to show a body of Mirikitani’s work.

The exhibit is the first art gallery at city hall since the COVID-19 pandemic struck three years ago, said Steve Pennington, a member of the Snoqualmie Arts Commission.

This gallery will serve as a kick-off event for the return of art to city hall, he said. City hall will feature a string of local artists throughout the remainder of the summer and fall.

Having spent only a few years living in Seattle, Mirikitani’s work is an expectation to that, Pennington said — although it does have a throughline with Snoqualmie History.

Known for both adorable renderings of a cat caressing fish and harrowing accounts of the United States’ greatest tragedies, Mirikitani work can almost be divided into two separate categories.

“He had this ability to artistically render both the darker side of humanity but at the same time capture cute little kittens,” Pennington said. “He had an amazing artistic eye.”

Born in Sacramento in 1920, Mirikitani moved to his mother’s hometown of Hiroshima, where he grew up, at age four.

Mirikitani was in his early 20s and had recently moved to Seattle when Executive Order 9066 was signed, forcing all U.S. residents of Japanese descent into internment camps.

Japanese-Americans in the Snoqualmie Valley were also forced into internment camps in May 1942. The Valley had a large Japanese community prior to World War II, with many laborers working at the Snoqualmie Falls Mill Company.

Two of Mirikitani’s works on display at city hall feature renderings of Tule Lake, the Northern California internment camp he was forced into after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Mirikitani would later end up homeless on the streets of New York City, working odd jobs and continuing to make art, Pennington said.

“[He was] doing artwork with pencils and ballpoint pens and colored pencils, just kind of whatever he found in the garbage,” Pennington said. “It’s a sad story, but also an inspiring story.”

Mirikitani was sleeping in Washington Square Park in Manhattan, only a few miles from the World Trade Center, during the Sept. 11 attacks — a scene depicted in another of his works.

Toward the end of his life, and not yet famous, the 80-year-old Mirikitani met a well known documentary filmmaker, Linda Hattendorf, who saw him drawing routinely on the street corner. Her award-winning film “The Cats of Mirikitani” details the artist’s life.

The film turned Mirikitani, who died in 2012 at age 92, into a minor celebrity. Because of the film’s reach, Wing Luke organized an exhibition to organize his work in 2006.

Check it out

Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani’s artwork will be on display at city hall (38624 SE River Street) until July 7. The exhibit is viewable Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The exhibit is also open before City Council meetings on Mondays.