“I have had a really rich life,” muses Tacoma artist Fumiko Kimura, “growing up in United States, partly with family in Japan. I wanted to leave it to my kids. It has been a unique life passage.”
At 90, Fumiko Kimura continues her artist journey of seeing, questioning, exploring, and creating. Her recently published book, Persimmon and Frog: My Life and Art, A Kibei-Nisei Story of Self-Discovery, is a fascinating catalog of her artwork, but it’s also a surprisingly intimate look at her life, full of hard-won insights on her journey, sketches, photographs, and memorabilia. The artwork spans from her early watercolors created at the University (then College) of Puget Sound through her collage, sumi, and mixed media artwork. The memoir spans her early childhood from her birth in Rexburg, Idaho, through her childhood in Japan and her return to Tacoma, where she has lived ever since. Local fans of her artwork will welcome this beautifully produced collection of her work, while historians will find much to explore in Tacoma history, Kibei experience in Japan and the United States, and Pacific Northwest and Asian American art history.
“I want to notice a lot of things,” Kimura enthuses in a June 2020 phone interview. “I want to experience [them] in words, I want to learn, I want to say that in painting, I want to see in colors, because I love colors. Everything I see, I want to paint. I just let it happen” In Persimmon and Frog she has used her own words and her artwork not just to record, but to process her life.
Kimura and her Seattle collaborator, David Berger, have organized the book into three sections: “Life,” “Art,” and “Life Again,” with a short collection of haikus by Berger near the end of the book. Art is the center and heart of the book, literally and figuratively. Their collaboration was a fruitful one for Kimura. She chose him as collaborator, she says, because he was “very comfortable to work with. No question about it, I trusted him.” He was her student, and she liked his artwork as well as his process. “I liked his details,” she says.
Kimura laughs as she recalls her nervousness when Berger took her diary home as part of the process, searching for pieces to include in the book. The resulting entries included in the book are intimate documents of Kimura’s emotional soul-searching as well as her artistic process. Readers will find nuggets of insight on her life and the ways she has learned through trial and experimentation, reading, listening to different instructors, and teaching.
One of the most important lessons she takes throughout her life is from her parents, learned by growing and harvesting rice in Japan. “Even though growing rice was hard, and I disliked the work, I have never regretted the discipline,” she writes. “You start something and you don’t quit. It’s the idea of completion.”
Now she has completed and documented her latest creation, a gift for fans of her artwork, and for her family. “I look back,” Kimura says, “[and] it was therapeutic for me. I’m glad I did it, because I wanted my kids to know who I was.”