The Hiroshima Children’s Drawings—A Story of Hope and Reconciliation
Judith Bauer, All Souls Church, Unitarian
Dr. Arthur Powell Davies, minister of All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington DC from 1944 until his death in 1957, was an outspoken advocate for permanent civilian control of atomic energy. A few days after reading “Salute to Bikini,” a Washington Post society column commemorating the November 6, 1946, celebration of the atomic bomb taskforce, he gave a sermon denouncing the insensitivity of the photograph that accompanied the article. The photograph showed two admirals smiling as a well-dressed woman cut a three-foot-high cake topped with angel-food puffs in the shape of the mushroom clouds that had appeared over Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the atomic bombs exploded.
The sermon, titled “Lest the Living Forget,” was widely publicized and came to the attention of Dr. Howard Bell, a civilian official with General Douglas MacArthur’s provisional government in Japan. Dr. Bell wrote to Dr. Davies to inform him of the sad situation of children in the schools of Hiroshima. He asked that American children clean out their desks and send their pencil stubs and leftover crayons to Japan. In response to Dr. Davies’s sermon of February 13, 1947, entitled “In Reply to a Letter from Japan,” the children of All Souls Church collected a half ton of pencils, crayons, paper, erasers, paste, and paper clips. The supplies arrived in Japan in December 1947 and were distributed to the Honkawa School, the Fukuromachi School, and the Ninoshimakisen Orphanage.
Letters of appreciation soon arrived from the children of Fukuromachi and Ninoshimakisen. The children of the Honkawa School responded with a gift of two portfolios, each containing forty-eight drawings that they had made using their new art supplies. In 1948, the drawings, filled with life and a vision of the future, were sent on a tour of the United States by the federal government. Unfortunately, only one of the portfolios was returned to All Souls.
For many years the drawings lay in the safe at All Souls Church along with valuables such as the church’s silver collection and membership books dating back to the founding of the congregation in 1821. Because most of the contents of the safe were in constant use, the drawings were continually shifted around. One of the trustees of the church took the drawings to her home to provide a more stable environment. A group of hibakusha 被爆者 (survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), hosted by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Committee, visited the church asking to see the drawings, which were then returned to the church and shown periodically to other groups of visitors from Japan.
Over time, the drawings began to deteriorate due to age and moisture. A group of church members formed the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings Committee in 2005 to consider how the drawings could be preserved and become truly a part of the ministry of All Souls. The committee initiated a search to try to locate any surviving children of the Honkawa School who had sent this gift to the children of All Souls more than fifty years earlier. It was the good fortune of the church that Shizumi Shigetsu Manale, a Japanese American artist and dancer accompanying a group of visiting hibakusha in 2006, saw the drawings and realized the potential of bringing the story of the drawings to a wider audience. She contacted documentary filmmaker Bryan Reichhardt, with whom she had made a previous documentary, and he too was intrigued by the story. The two of them then embarked on a journey to locate the surviving artists and to record the efforts of the All Souls congregation to share this story with the world.
The church committee obtained a $15,000 grant to restore the drawings from the A. Powell Davies Memorial Fund and the Beckner All Souls Advancement Committee. In 2008 the newly restored drawings were returned to the custody of the church and placed for safe keeping in an art storage facility. Bryan Reichhardt documented this event, as well as others significant to the project. Once again the beautiful colors of 1948 were revealed to the All Souls congregation. While the original drawings are normally kept in storage to preserve them for future generations, enhanced reproductions made in 2009 are available at the church.
In the meantime, Bryan Reichhardt and Shizumi Manale traveled to Japan to meet with the more than twenty artists that Shizumi had located. Relationships were established between the alumni of the Honkawa School and the congregants of All Souls, and the church decided to send a six-person delegation to Hiroshima with the original drawings made by the living artists. The drawings were exhibited during Peace Week 2010 in the restored original building of the Honkawa School, which had been bombed on August 6, 1945, killing over four hundred children and their teachers. The building is now a museum dedicated to peace. The trip, the art exhibition, and interviews with the surviving artists were documented by the filmmakers.
The completed film, entitled “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard,” will be released in spring of 2013. The trailer can be viewed at www.hiroshimaschoolyard.com.