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News & Press: Exhibit Development

The Topaz Museum Inaugural Art Exhibition

Thursday, January 15, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Scotti Hill
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I have always maintained an abnormal connotation with the term ‘topaz.’ For me, the word failed to evoke the familiar associations of a beautiful gemstone, but instead reminded me of a dark historical chapter in Utah’s history. The story of Topaz was rarely mentioned during my formal education in the state of Utah, and despite the moral imperative of recounting the experiences of the thousands who suffered, the narrative has been far too often relegated to the fringes of the American past.

After decades of racial prejudice, followed by the bombing of Pearl Harbor that initiated America into the Second World War, the United States government ordered all persons of Japanese ancestry living along the West Coast to leave their homes to ten confinement centers scattered throughout the country. Often located in sparse and desolate regions, Utah was home to the Topaz War Relocation Authority Center. At its peak, the camp had a population of 8,300, making it Utah’s fifth largest city.  In 1984, a federal commission ruled that the camps were a product of “racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and failure of political leadership.”

As an art historian, I’ve been working as an adjunct instructor and freelance curator since 2011. When the opportunity to curate the Topaz Museum’s inaugural art exhibition came about, I jumped at the chance to be involved in the project.

The parameters for the show were simple: mine the museum’s permanent collection of artworks and create an exhibition showcasing the art made during internment. The art show is intended to spark interest in the Topaz Museum in anticipation of the large-scale permanent exhibition of historical artifacts that will open in the fall of 2015.  

The curatorial process was thrilling and informative. I started by thoroughly analyzing the museum’s collection. My goal is always to use the art as my guide, a vehicle by which to discern a larger theme for the exhibition.

Relatively early the process, I made the decision to limit the scope included art to ‘works on paper.’ This classification is by no means exclusionary: as it allows for the incorporation of multiple mediums such as watercolor, ink wash painting, woodblock printing, gouache and color casein. The selected works on paper display the unparalleled creativity of artists, whose talents could not be stifled, even in the most difficult of circumstances. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to educate our audience about various artistic processes. Even in the art historical realm, many of us are unfamiliar with the technical details involved in gouache, for example. Moreover, it became our mission to expand viewers’ awareness of various tenants of the artistic landscape at Topaz: the artists themselves and the techniques, subjects and styles associated with their work.

The Topaz Museum’s inaugural art exhibition, When Words Weren’t Enough: Works on Paper from Topaz, 1942-1945 opens January 13, 2015 and runs until September 30, 2015. The Topaz Museum is located 55 West Main, Delta, Utah and is open Monday-Saturday from 1:00-5:00 pm. Visit the museum online at or call (435) 864-2514 for more information.

Scotti Hill is art historian specializing in modern and contemporary art. In addition to working as a freelance curator, she is an art critic for 15 Bytes: Utah’s Art Magazine and has been teaching at Westminster College and the University of Utah since 2011.

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