Honkawa Children’s Drawings Rediscovery



In early July of 1995, All Souls Church invited two visiting Hibakusha (living A-bomb survivors) guests of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee to address the Sunday service. Since 1981, the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee of the National Capital Area had been organizing the community remembrance of the atomic bombings and hosting delegations of Hibakusha. All Souls has a long history of Peace activism in the DC community and had hosted Hibakusha before. The Hibakusha guests were in town to protest the opening of the Enola Gay exhibit at the Air and Space Museum.

On that Sunday, Pastor Daniel Aldrich was on vacation and the two Hibakusha were invited to speak in place of the regular sermon. There was a large congregation and all were moved by the emotional testimony about those terrible days. Following the service, a potluck lunch had been arranged on an outdoor patio.

One of the long-time parishioners, Janet Keenan, approached the special guests and asked, “I have some old drawings done by Japanese children that have been sitting in my closet for many years; would the Hibakusha be interested in seeing them?” She said she didn’t know anything about the history and couldn’t remember why they were in her closet. The Hibakusha expressed an interest and, while we enjoyed lunch, she drove to her home on River Road to retrieve the drawings, a substantial distance from the church,

When Jan returned an hour later, she carefully unwrapped a package. The drawings, which were actually both drawings and paintings, had been pasted on old construction paper and were bound loosely in a makeshift portfolio. It was obvious that the drawings were very old and extremely fragile. Jan and I discussed about how to display the drawings without damaging them, and we decided that Jan would steady the portfolio on a table while I stood on a chair and very carefully turned the pages from above. When the Hibakusha from Hiroshima, Ms. Tamika Nishimoto, saw the title page, she became very excited. She explained to us that these were the legendary Honkawa Elementary School drawings and that Honkawa School was near ‘ground zero’, and almost totally destroyed by the atomic bomb. She said that when the Sunday school children in a Washington, DC church (All Souls) heard about Honkawa School, they sent school supplies and art materials to Hiroshima. In return, the Honkawa children sent drawings to the All Souls. She said that these drawings and paintings were very famous. She proceeded to stand on a chair, and took photos of the drawings.

Despite their age and fragility (the construction paper literally crumbled under my touch), the drawings and paintings themselves were amazingly well preserved and the colors were stunning. It was evident that this was a labor of love and we were all touched. Jan and I decided to stop after showing about a dozen of the drawings. The Hibakusha were very moved and the woman from Hiroshima, Ms. Nishimoto, was in tears. It was clear to all of us that this was an important discovery, but we didn’t realize then how important.

Two weeks after the Hibakusha returned home, Nihon Hidankyo, the main Hibakusha organization in Japan, sent us a copy of the Hiroshima Shimbun newspaper, with an ‘above the fold’ front page story and photos of the drawings.

Shortly following the rediscovery of the Honkawa children’s drawings, A Mr. Kurikawa contacted the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee to announce his intention to travel to Washington to view the drawings. Mr. Kurikawa had been chosen by his fellow students in the fall of 1947 to accompany the drawings to Tokyo for shipment to All Souls Church. We immediately got back to Mr. Kurikawa and asked him to hold off on his trip until we could make arrangements with All Souls to view the drawings. Mr. Kurikawa announced that he had already purchased his plane tickets and would arrive within a week.

The Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee immediately met with Reverend Aldrich, the Pastor of All Souls, hoping to arrange a meeting with Mr. Kurikawa. Reverend Aldrich insisted that the drawings were too fragile to show and that Mr. Kurikawa wouldn’t be permitted to see them. Saying, “He shouldn’t have come,” Reverend Aldrich refused to meet with Mr. Kurikawa. Not certain about the next step, Louise Franklin-Ramirez, Chair of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee of the National Capital Area decided to confide in her long-time friend and All Souls parishioner, Washington, DC Councilwoman Hilda Mason. (Louise herself had a long history with All Souls & in the 1950s sent her children there for Sunday school.)

We visited Hilda’s office where, unknown to us, Janet Keenan was Hilda Mason’s office manager. Upon hearing that Reverend Aldrich had refused to receive Mr. Kurikawa, Hilda declared his decision to be inappropriate and unacceptable and decided to take dramatic action. On the spot, Hilda, Jan and Louise drafted a press release announcing that Mr. Kurikawa would meet with Reverend Aldrich to view the drawings. The press release was distributed widely, especially to the Japanese press. Reverend Aldrich wasn’t informed.

Mr. Kurikawa arrived on schedule, and on the appointed hour arrived at All Souls accompanied by a dozen reporters, including several TV camera crews, and Hilda, Jan and Louise. Reverend Aldrich had no option except to welcome Mr. Kurikawa. In Japan, the coverage of the historic meeting was reported nationwide.

Over the ensuing years, the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee worked closely with All Souls to ensure that the drawings were shown privately to visiting Hibakusha. I have personally viewed the drawings several dozen times, and they never fail to fill my heart with joy. I often wonder what might have happened had the Hibakusha not visited All Souls church, had Jan Keenan not been there and volunteered to drive all the way home and back with the drawings, and had Ms. Nishimoto not understood their significance. Unfortunately, Jan Keenan died a short time later. She lived alone, and to my knowledge no one except her was aware that she possessed the drawings. Had the drawings not been discovered that hot August afternoon in 1995, they almost certainly have been lost forever.

At the time, no one in attendance knew the story of the children’s drawings, but one of the older parishioners came forward later and told us her version of the events. The drawings were also briefly mentioned in a booklet on the history of All Souls. The story we were told in the fall of 1995 was this:

A member of All Souls was part of the relief effort in Hiroshima following the atomic bombing and witnessed the Honkawa students being taught in the open with the teacher using a stick to write in the dirt. Knowing that Reverend Davies was opposed to nuclear weapons, he sent a message suggesting that All Souls might send school supplies. Reverend Davies passed the message on to the Sunday school students, who proceeded to collect school supplies for Honkawa. An initial pallet of school supplies from the Sunday school students was sent, followed later by several other larger shipments of school and athletic supplies from the entire church. In late 1947, two portfolios of drawings and paintings were sent from the Honkawa School to All Souls. In the late 40s or early 50s, the State Department requested that All Souls donate the drawings for a national US/Japan Friendship tour. The church gave the government one portfolio, which was never returned. The remaining portfolio ended up in Janet Keenan’s closet.

We are continuing to research our archives for more details of the discovery. Shingi Yamasaki from Akahata newspaper, who wrote one of the original stories about the discovery of the Drawings, is also searching for his original story. Yuki Sato, who was the interpreter for the Hibakusha, is sending photos of the occasion. Shizumi Mazale, one of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee Volunteers is working on a documentary video of the children’s’ drawings and has spent considerable time in Japan researching. She has located several of authors of the drawings and indicates that they are eager to work with our committee.

The Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee is delighted to hear that All Souls has completed restoration of the drawings, and have been renewing their relationship with Honkawa School. We value our relationship with All Souls and hope to continue our long-standing collaboration. When a decision is reached to exhibit the drawings in Washington, DC or Hiroshima, Japan, the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee stands committed to pitch in with our organizational support.

— John Steinbach, Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Committee of the National Capital Area

Additional Resources:

http://eclectic.la.coocan.jp/hk/index.html (Has great photos of the drawings)
http://www.honkawa-film.com (Website about the documentary film: “PICTURES FROM A HIROSHIMA SCHOOLYARD: SEEDS OF HOPE”)

All Souls announcement of restoration completion
Hiroshima Children’s Drawings restored, by Robert Trautman

The preservation of the historic “Hiroshima Children’s Drawings” has been completed, and they now rest safely in an acclimatized vault in Silver Spring. Their move from the safe in All Souls Church to the Silver Spring vault is the culmination of the restoration of the 48 watercolor paintings and crayon drawings to as nearly as possible the state when they were created by the children of Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima nearly 60 years ago.

The story of the pictures goes back to two sermons, delivered in 1946 and 1947, by Dr. A. Powell Davies, minister at All Souls Church from 1944 to 1957. He had seen a photograph of a US Navy
ceremony honoring the atomic bomb task force that featured a mushroom-cloud-shaped cake. He expressed extreme concern at the trivializing of the awful event. Following the sermons, members
of the All Souls Religious Education Department collected and shipped more than a half-ton of school supplies to help meet the needs of students of the Honkawa School in Hiroshima. In appreciation, the students from Honkawa drew pictures and sent them to the All Souls children.

The restoration of the artwork was completed by the professional conservator, Rachel Ray Cleveland, who has worked for the National Gallery and for private collectors. Robert Freeman, chair of the Davies Memorial Committee, which funded the restoration process, explained that Cleveland detached the works from their temporary backings and removed mold. The restoration took the better part of a year. While at All Souls, the pictures were kept in the church vault, brought out only occasionally for viewing by visitors from Japan and others.

In the final step of the restoration and conservation process, the 48 watercolor paintings and crayon drawings were shipped to the Silver Spring warehouse. They will shortly be certified as restored.

The overall process of preserving for posterity the work from the Honkawa school children was undertaken by the All Souls Hiroshima Drawings Committee, with the Rev. Louise Green, the church’s minister for social justice, as liaison.

Last summer, Bryan Reichhardt, a documentary filmmaker, and Shizumi Mancale, a Japanese artist, interviewed Hiroshima survivors at the Honkawa school, including some of the artists of the original drawings. They will also film the certification of the restored drawings, with the idea of turning the story – the mushroom-cloud cake, the Davies sermons, the shipment of school supplies to Honkawa, and the sending of the artwork to All Souls – into a full documentary. The film may also reference the peace curriculum being developed by Gabrielle Farrell, religious educator, and Jenice View, which will include the story of the drawings.

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