The Puyallup Valley Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and Arts Downtown plan a dedication ceremony Sunday for a sculpture in remembrance of a World War II incarceration camp that imprisoned thousands in Pierce County.
The sculpture — titled “Camp Harmony,” which was the nickname of the facility formally known as the Puyallup Assembly Center — was created by Washington-based artist John Zylstra. The Washington State Fairgrounds is now at that site.
The center was the only incarceration facility for people of Japanese descent in Washington state formed after then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order in February 1942 authorizing the rounding up and displacement of Japanese Americans. The center held more than 7,600 people, said Eileen Yamada Lamphere, president of the Puyallup Valley Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.
“Everybody has been touched by what happened in 1942 whether they recognize it or not,” Lamphere said. “Maybe through this exhibit, they’ll learn.”
The sculpture is a flat panel made out of steel. At the very top is a roof similar to traditional Japanese architecture, Zylstra said. The roof is followed by a moon, shoji screen and a maple tree with a single leaf. Near the bottom of the tree is barbed wire.
“That juxtaposition of the other images, as opposed to the barbed wire, was meant to put the piece in historical context to a particular time, a particular place and a particular kind of public or private reaction to all sorts of things,” Zylstra said.
The dedication ceremony is at noon Sunday in Pioneer Park.
In addition to Zylstra and Becky Condra, president of Arts Downtown, Mayor Julie Door and Kent Hojem, Washington State Fair CEO, will speak at the ceremony. Cho Shimizu, a survivor of the incarceration facility, and keynote speaker Lori Matsukawa will also be at the event.
Lamphere said attendees can expect to see performances from Seattle Matsuri Taiko and Tacoma Fuji Taiko. An exhibit from the Pacific Bonsai Museum and photos from the incarceration facility will also be available for public viewing.
Condra said Zylstra’s sculpture has been in Puyallup since 2019 as part of Arts Downtown’s rotating gallery. The group decided to purchase the piece in February because it had a connection to the city, she said.
“It is the newest piece that we have purchased and donated to Puyallup,” Condra said. “We usually don’t have a big public dedication program, but we decided that this was so important and had such strong ties to the history of our community.”
Lamphere said her chapter and the state fair are in the process of planning a permanent exhibit at the fair to showcase the history of the incarceration facility and pay tribute to those who were imprisoned.