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Before World War II, one-third of the population of the White River Valley was Japanese. While few returned there to the valley after their forced relocation to internment camps, the Japanese population of Western Washington is today significant, and the “NIHON/WA” exhibit at the White River Valley Museum is, in its way, a homecoming, honoring the past and providing a showcase for contemporary local artists of Japanese heritage. The title alludes to home of origin (“Nihon” means Japan or Japanese) and current home.

Artist and guest curator Kenneth (Greg) Watson conceived the idea for the exhibition after conversations with local sculptor Gerard Tsutakawa about the area’s Japanese-American culture, and the remarkable assembly of nationally recognized local artists. They encouraged 18 of these artists to loan one or more works for this relatively small but artistically rich exhibition that includes creations in metal, clay, glass, oil and paper.

Tsutakawa’s graceful bronze sculpture, “Uzumaki Series 2009,” with its elegant line, circles around open space. Its quiet beauty offers quite a contrast to his more familiar 9-foot baseball mitt outside Safeco Field.

Carl Kishida, who often works with found materials, used wire coat hangers to create “Sprout, His Dog,” where again positive shape and negative space work here to create an alert dog whose ears are cocked almost as if he’s waiting for a treat.

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Patti Warashina and Akio Takamori are familiar names to local fans of ceramic art, as well as collectors and curators across the country. Warashina’s “Silent Breeze” is a nude woman, elongated and elegant. Her exquisite face is topped by swirls of hair that reach toward the heavens. Look carefully: She has more treasures, for the careful observer.

Takamori’s two stoneware Japanese women might well be sturdy villagers in the Japan he knew before he came to the U.S. in the 1970s.

Not surprisingly, given the quality and artistic importance of Japanese paper, the exhibit includes many forms of paper art. Greg Kono is represented by paper and bamboo kites, including one that represents Daruma (Bodhidarma), the Buddhist monk who brought Zen Buddhism to China. Aki Sogabe’s amazingly delicate cut-paper images echo the traditional images of woodblock prints — cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji — but locals will recognize one of the images as Rainier.

The most amusing piece is Ken Taya’s “Nihon Town.” Within this busy, cartoonlike print on canvas are American and Japanese pop-culture images.

Roger Shimomura’s lithograph “American Guardian” is an apt reminder of Japanese-American history. Overwhelming the depiction of a stark internment-camp yard is a helmeted, solid black silhouette of a soldier keeping guard over the inmates below.

A Zen temple garden inspired Paul Horiuchi’s oil painting, “Stone Garden is Snow,” in which he achieves three dimensions. Frank Okada’s wall-sized color field painting is remarkable for its texture as well as the inviting warmth of its yellow color.

These works and others are vivid reminders of our region’s rich cultural diversity as well as its vibrant art scene.

Nancy Worssam:

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