After I posted my article about the Manzanar War Relocation Center’s entrance sign, I received this email:
I ran across your Dec 24 entry regarding the Manzanar relocation sign. My father, who was interned there, painted the sign. He passed away four years ago but was a graphic artist who did a lot calligraphic work (even before being relocated). Ansel Adams took several pictures of him (see this link).
He had many books containing various fonts. I donated many of them to the Cerritos Library when he passed away. However, I don’t think that the font he used for the Manzanar sign was in them since he wasn’t able to take much with him to the relocation center.
FYI: Another person who worked in the Manzanar sign shop was Jack Hirose (see this link).
So this information, frankly, changes a lot about what I had originally hypothesized. For one, unless Mr. Matsumoto was told to use a specific lettering style, it was probably his choice to use the blackletter face. And if so, it’s more likely that it was an effort towards beautification, rather than propaganda. Many of those who were forced to live at Manzanar had created gardens, murals, and other creative works to improve the look and feel of what was otherwise a barren and austere place. I suppose then that the “Alpine Resort” feel could have been closer to what the artist was going for, not for propaganda, but in a “making-the-best-of-it” sort of way.
Thanks very much to Mark Matsumoto for sharing his father’s story.