Home Community Sansei Journal SANSEI JOURNAL: A Painting in Need of a Home

SANSEI JOURNAL: A Painting in Need of a Home

Scott Hattori and Ruth Nomura in Interiors magazine, July 1956 issue. Image: picclic.com

By David Yamaguchi

OCCASIONALLY, a story lead comes into the NAP office that reminds me of why we still need a bilingual community paper. The lead that sets today’s story in motion are the photos at right. They describe a painting that is on the market, whose owner “wants it to go to the right place.”  

THE PAINTING is of a Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, whose sculptures can be found in temples throughout Japan.  

It includes the artist’s signature in Japanese, at lower right. The kanji read ‘Hattori – 服部.

The back bears a label with the artist’s full name, Scott Hattori, the painting title—Kannon—and his address, 918 Spruce. This was across the street [north] from the Japanese Baptist Church gym door, just off Broadway.


As little firsthand information is available about the painting, I first turned to Google. There, we find seven key clues about it.

1. THE MOST INFORMATION on artist Scott Hattori comes from a Feb. 2010 article in the “Seattle Gay News.” It describes him as a half-Japanese (Swedish/Japanese) Nisei teenager who was traumatized by living in the Minidoka internment camp with his Japanese mother. His father, who was exempted from the relocation order, sent him pop music records to buoy his spirits, as other kids in the camp taunted him for being “half Japanese” (rare at the time). Later, Scott studied interior design at the UW. For employment, he worked as a waiter at the prestigious Olympic Hotel. He had a secret relationship with Farley Granger, an actor remembered today for starring in two Alfred Hitchcock movies.

Encouraged by a friend to explore his Japanese roots, Mr. Hattori traveled to Japan, where he fell in love with the country. He returned home to open a chic Japanese imports store, “Haru,” on Pine Street, with classmate Ruth Nomura in 1955.

Mr. Hattori died early, at age 31, of leukemia.

2. ANCESTRY.COM, drawing on the 1940 US census, lists an 11-year-old “Haruo Scott Hattori,” living on Fifth Ave S, Seattle, with head of household Umeno Hattori, 39, and 13-year old brother, Masao Hattori.

3. SCOTT AND RUTH, as co-owners of Haru, appear in a two-page spread about their shop in “Interiors,” a design magazine, one copy of which remains on sale today (picclic.com). They were young.

4. A LIMITING DATE on the Kannon painting’s age comes from its back label, documenting its submission to the 41st annual exhibition of Northwest Artists at the Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park, today’s Seattle Asian Art Museum. Comparison with the online resume of artist James Martin, who regularly submitted paintings to this exhibition, shows that the 41st exhibition was in 1955.

5. HARUO SCOTT HATTORI is listed on findagrave.com as having been born in 1928. He died in 1960. He is buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park, Bellevue.

6.THE SINGLE PAINTING by Scott Hattori that is mentioned on the internet is that of a male nude. It was acquired by the Seattle Art Museum, then later sold by them in June 2015. A photograph of it appears on the website of the art auction house Barnaby’s, where it was resold in Dec. 2015. The nude is exquisite.

7. SCOTT HATTORI was respected on the Seattle arts scene. Evidence for this comes from four exquisite Japanese and Korean antiques donated to SAM, visible on their website, in his memory by friends.

BEYOND THIS brief description of Mr. Hattori’s life, the internet trail grows cold.

Kannon by Scott Hattori Early 1950s casein on linen Images Debra Kahwaty


Of Mr. Hattori’s Kannon painting, appraiser Debra Kahwaty says, “This painting is so good… There’s something about it…. Everyone says it is beautiful.”

She adds, “I really think he would have been famous. He was very creative…. he had so much potential.”

On my part, I wonder if “Kannon” precedes the nude, as its art seems less developed than that of the nude, as if Hattori was still learning his craft.

Ms. Kahwaty has asked me two heart-felt questions, which I pass along to readers.

“Can anyone add to his (Hattori’s) story? Is he just forgotten?”

I relay these questions because since the time before the electronic internet, locally there has been something nearly as good. It is the highly interwoven web of shared Seattle Nisei life experiences. It runs through places like Bailey Gatzert Elementary, the Seattle Japanese Language School, Camps Harmony (Puyallup) and Minidoka, and the UW. In Mr. Hattori’s case, I would guess that many at the Japanese Baptist Church also knew him, as his postwar home faced it.

Mr. Hattori’s age peers would now be about 91. My guess is that people who knew him would remember him. The SGN article describes him as ‘charismatic.’ He stopped rooms when he stepped into them, ‘because he was so tall and handsome.’

WHATEVER READERS respond, I view this opportunity as a “win x five.” The sellers may find a fitting home for the kannon painting. The buyer gains a painting with a Nisei artist back-story. Older readers have a chance to contribute their knowledge to the written history of Seattle Japanese Americans. (This paper is archived in the UW library.) As a community, we benefit from the possibility of keeping a painting in Seattle that should logically stay here. Fifth, people of my vintage and younger profit through learning more about the talent that existed among Seattle Nisei.

Interested parties should email, write, or call the NAP office. In closing, I will note that the owner is keeping the painting at home, out of public view, to give NAP readers the first opportunity to comment on it and to purchase it.

David Yamaguchi is a local Sansei. He has written for the Post since 2006. Tweet him @davidyamaguch10