Beloved Seattle artist and former teacher Frank S. Fujii passed away on October 3 at his Mercer Island home at the age of 86.
Fujii, a Nisei, was born on January 14, 1930 in Seattle’s Central District. He was the youngest of nine siblings. He attended Maryknoll School and Garfield High School, before enrolling at the University of Washington, where he earned a master of fine arts.
During World War II, he was incarcerated at Tule Lake Camp. He met his wife Michiko Inouye at the University of Washington. They married in June, 1952. She passed away in 1989.
Fujii was a popular former teacher at Franklin and Cleveland High Schools. He later worked in the graphic arts department at Seattle Central Community College for 17 years before retiring in 1989. He also served as affirmative action officer at the College.
Over the years, Fujii was a perennial donor to the Wing Luke Museum’s annual art auction. His art pieces always attracted spirited bidding and sold for a price far above their stated value. An exhibition of his works was featured at the Wing Luke Museum in 1992.
The Museum features a special gallery named in Fujii’s honor—the Frank Fujii Youth Space—on the second floor.
His works typically mixed traditional Japanese images such as brush strokes, kimono and fish with a playful graphic element, revealing Fujii’s strong interest in exploring graphic design.
Fujii was a role model and mentor to countless emerging local artists and designers. Michelle Kumata, Exhibit Director at the Wing Luke Museum, said she met Frank when she was a young artist. “I remember and appreciate him telling me that my art was special,” she said. “It really boosted my confidence and meant so much, especially coming from an established Japanese American artist. He was a cool dude, talented artist, and generous soul.”
Mayumi Tsutakawa, longtime arts administrator, said Fujii was her art teacher at Franklin High School. She recalled that Fujii, who also coached the school’s basketball team, played Bebop jazz music in the classroom and had many athletes in his class.
“I was not a very good art student,” Tsutakawa said. “When we studied contour drawing, where you draw your right hand, using your left hand, and vice versa, I was dismayed at the blobs left by the fountain pen we were supposed to use. Frank told me, ‘Those are good blobs, shows character.’ So he showed me that it was good to be different, and not to try for someone else’s idea of perfection.”
Over the years, Fujii donated his talents to many Asian American organizations, including the Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, which used a logo he designed to promote the effort to earn reparations for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. The circular logo incorporated an image of barbed wire and a graphic representation of the first, second and third generations. The redress effort, spearheaded by Japanese American activists in Seattle, culminated in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed into law by President Reagan.
“He was known for doing the banners at a lot of political and community non-profit events,” Ann Fujii-Lindwall, his daughter, recalled. “Some people even saved them as keepsakes. It was pretty amazing to stand there and watch him draw these straight lines and brushstrokes. His mother was also a good calligrapher. That’s probably where he got a lot of his artistic talent.”
Fujii is survived by his sister Kinko Nomura, Seattle; two daughters, Ann Fujii-Lindwall (husband Alan Lindwall), Seattle; Susan Yamamoto (husband Gary Yamamoto); and granddaughter Michiko Yamamoto.