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Late Japanese Artist's Legacy Reflects Hope Over Dark Times

Vincent Horiuchi
The Japanese Inscription on Horiuchi's Mural that reads 'People of the world, watch my future'.

The pandemic has put uncertainty at the forefront of many people's lives. It's forced many to believe and hope for better days, even if there's no end in sight.In the town of Superior, Wyoming, near Rock Springs, there's a mural that reflects this resilient spirit. It's painted on a large, flat rock face along the Wyoming railroad line. And bears giant images of reclining nymphs, topped by Japanese characters that read, "People of the world, watch my future." That inscription proved true for the late northwest artist, Paul Horiuchi, who created this mural.

Naina Rao spoke with Horiuchi's son, Vincent, about how his father was able to believe in hope despite the hardships and challenges he faced.

Naina Rao: Paul Horiuchi was 14-years-old when he immigrated to the U.S. from Japan in late 1920. His family already settled in Wyoming earlier. and Horiuchi followed suit.

Vincent Horiuchi: His older brother was already working on a railroad.

NR: That's Paul's son, Vincent Horiuchi, speaking. Also better known as Vinny.

VH: Unfortunately, his father died two years later, from stomach cancer. But he and his brother made a good career at the railroad. My dad was smart. And spoke no English at the time, but he did learn Spanish very quickly.

NR: His Spanish got him a promotion at work. And soon, he and his brother started making a lot of money.

Credit Vincent Horiuchi
A copy of Paul Horiuchi's passport when he first arrived in the U.S.

VH: Eventually, he was looking for a wife. And he had relatives in Seattle, who sort of arranged a marriage, but it was mainly for his brother, Tom. But when my dad saw her [in person], he came out here [Wyoming?] and met her, and he really hit it off. So he went back and said, 'Sorry, I'm marrying this woman.' And he did.

NR: Paul Horiuchi and his wife, Bernadette Suda, soon made Superior, Wyoming, their long-term home, where Paul created the "world watch my future" mural using a railroad spike while he was working for Union Pacific. And they loved it there until World War II broke out.

VH: So, my dad lost his job. He had 24 hours to pack his stuff up, and move his family out of that nice house that they had lived in. And so, for the next few years, they just roamed around. They did not have to go to the camps because…

NR: He's referring to the Japanese internment camps here.

VH: Japanese at that time, anyone who was not on the coast wasn't moved to the camps. So, my mom said that they were, they weren't even as well off as the people in the camps 'cause they had nothing to eat, no place to stay, no money.

NR: Paul took up random, odd jobs, like picking sugar beets, to get by. By 1944, the family ended up in Spokane, Washington, where Paul got a job at an auto body and fender repair shop. And he quickly became really good at his work. Especially with matching colors of paint on automobiles.

VH: That was the only way to keep up his painting.

NR: So he spent more time working on his art, winning his first prize at the well-respected Washington Fair. The next year, a watercolor piece of his won an honorable mention in the Seattle Art Museum's annual northwest exhibition.

Credit Vincent Horiuchi
A copy of Paul Horiuchi's passport when he first arrived in the U.S.

VH: Then after that, he had his first one-man show and it sold out. He was stunned. He couldn't believe that he could do this, that he actually had the talent to do this. And from then on, that's all he did.

NR: How did you come across your father's mural in Wyoming, if you were residing in Seattle?

VH: Well, we would take family trips. My mom, my dad, and I would visit his brother and his family in Wyoming. We did that a couple of times. And I remember as I was growing up, he told me about the mural before. So, one time on one of our trips out there, we went to it in Superior. And, yeah, it's still there. He knew exactly where it was. And so, we climbed up to it. And he even found one of his spikes that he had used to carve the image. So, he kind of cleaned it all up, while he was there. And that was it. You know, we hardly had any pictures at the time. He didn't make a big deal about it. He just liked that it was still there.

NR: So you read the words, 'People of the world, watch my future'?

VH: Yes, it's carved on there. On either side was reclining nudes. And this is carved, right in the center.

NR: Right, did you ask him what he meant by that?

VH: No... you know, it was kind of something that he knew. He knew that he was destined to be an artist. He didn't know how good of an artist he was going to be. But that's all he cared about.

NR: What was your impression when you read those words? In your father's mural? Like, what did you think?

Credit Vincent Horiuchi
A copy of Paul Horiuchi's passport when he first arrived in the U.S.

VH: Well, I don't know if I thought anything at the time. You know, I just thought 'Hey that's dad', you know. He's a humble guy. So, it was a little surprising, but... he was just so dedicated to his art that you knew something was gonna happen. And it did. With my mom's encouragement, that's what his life became. Otherwise, he would've just gone back to body and fender work. But my mom told 'No, just keep painting, keep painting.' So that's what he did. And then when people started buying, then, you know, it really sank in for everybody. Maybe my mom had the confidence, but the rest of us... we had no idea that he would develop into this talented person 'cause he was just dad to us.

NR: It's just interesting that he wrote 'people of the world: watch my future' and it's actually happening. It's like he predicted that the people of the world is watching, 'cause I'm here now watching his future.

VH: He was not as confident, I think. He just knew that he was born to do this.

NR: Vinny Horiuchi, thank you so much for talking to me. I really appreciate it.

VH: Thank you.

More information about Paul Horiuchi and his life can be found here.

Naina Rao comes to Wyoming Public Radio from Jakarta, Indonesia. She has worked at NPR for Story Lab and the nationally syndicated show, "1A". Naina graduated from Michigan State University in 2018 with a B.A. in Journalism. Naina enjoys swimming, listening to podcasts and watching Bollywood movies.
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