As you are aware of by now, CR2S is nothing if not a constant cheerleader of things Japanese. Couldn’t be prouder if I weren’t one myself. A bad example: I’m ecstatic Tom Brady doesn’t have a cc of Jappo blood coursing through his oxygen. And if there is such a thing as reverse prejudice, I have a bad case of it. Which explains why I’m glad Lindsey Vonn dumped Tiger Woods, despite his alleged 1/32nd Asian persuasion.
Which also means displeasure and disappointment is forever present with this biased observer. For instance, I cringed when Rep. Mike Honda declared Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should apologize for Japan’s wartime use of “comfort women.” Closer to home, maybe I shouldn’t join the celebration our community is enjoying over the cancellation of the proposed Allen H. Eaton auction and the collection winding up in our lap.
Why? It’s probably not very apparent, maybe even a creation of an errant Imagination, but I’m talking about an apparent rift between JANM and HMWF. That would be Los Angeles-based Japanese American National Museum versus a much lesser known counterpart, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation of Powell, Wyo. Let’s try to unravel this alleged Goliath-versus-David dispute.
You’re aware by now that Li’l Tokio will be home for the hotly disputed Eaton collection; artifacts and photographs gathered by the Oregon legislator from visits to WWII evacuation centers (primarily Heart Mountain). The majority were gifts from internees, a few purchased.
Paul Harvey, a popular radio commentator of years gone by, had a signature on-air motto, “And now, the rest of the story.” After which he would reveal little-known facts behind a news story. In like manner, CR2S has compiled some details that paint a clearer picture of what transpired during the battle for possession of 450 varied art pieces and photos.
Eaton’s planned exhibit of the camp artifacts never materialized. After his death, the collection became the property of daughter Martha. Upon her passing in 2008, the items were willed to John Ryan, a family friend. But not without controversy.
An unknown fact uncovered by The New York Times was that Ryan’s father, Thomas, was the executor of Martha Eaton’s estate. Unhappy with the distribution, the Eaton family filed a lawsuit claiming the executor (Ryan) had taken “advantage and unduly influenced Martha Eaton, a delicate and fragile elderly woman living alone (who) was losing her physical and mental capacities.” In November 1990, a surrogate judge dismissed the claim. Son Ryan later explained a private monetary settlement ended the dispute.
It has been disclosed the financial status of the Ryan family made an outright donation unfeasible, giving way to approaching Rago Arts and Auction Center. (Whether pertinent or not, the Ryans had dealt with Rago before.) The auctioneer estimated its worth at $27,900.
Word of the private inquiry somehow leaked, resulting in sporadic voices of protest. CR2S chooses not to identify the many (prominent) individuals who voiced their dismay, but I believe Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation was the first to take direct, significant action. It quickly raised and forwarded a $50,000 offer to Rago/Ryan. And for good measure, a threat of legal action if auction proceedings continued.
The offer was inexplicably rejected, considering its Rago-estimated worth. But the growing storm of protest and potential lawsuit could not be dismissed. [Ryan has stated a “fear for his safety.” Based on what is unknown.]
It doesn’t take the Supreme Court to figure out what happened next behind closed doors. Rago ran for righteous cover and Ryan decided to rid himself of the hot potato by declaring JANM the chosen designee. Hurrah and huzzah. I’m told the audience at the museum’s May 2 social gala roared with approval when the surprise announcement was made.
A public (and magnanimous) statement from HMWF followed: “We are relieved that the auction and subsequent proposed competitive proposal process have been averted …” What followed dripped with disappointment and displeasure over the selection process. Maybe better described as “lack of.”
CR2S is (in)famous for guessing. Allow me the leeway for another guess at what probably happened: Despite being a latecomer to the East Coast brouhaha, JANM had no problem finding “someone” to pony up an unrevealed amount of loot to satisfy the Ryans. I don’t mean to be crass, but I can’t help but wonder how much money was involved. Probably something south of a Lexus and maybe less than the original HMWF bid. Whatever, a piddling amount considering the threatening words and challenges tossed about.
Despite being the best prepared and most formidable foe of the auction, HMWF unhappily wound up runner-up in the Ryan Derby. Which means “loser.” The roster of announced objectors was large and impressive. Too many to fairly acknowledge.
Social media and George Takei played important roles, to be sure. CR2S won’t question Takei’s @clout nor #minions, but I’ll join Heart Mountaineers in wishing Sulu remained in outer space.
As always, CR2S has a solution: Why not allow HMWF to display the collection during its most popular visitation period (summertime?) and return it to JANM for the rest of the year?
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.