George Mukai

Obituary of George Mukai

George Taizo Mukai, of New York, NY, passed away peacefully on August 1, 2018 at the NY State Veterans Home in Oxford, NY. A memorial service is planned for Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at 1:30pm, at the Japanese-American United Church in New York City.

George was born in San Diego County in 1919. Most of his formative years were spent on a farm in Spring Valley, which his father managed to buy after immigrating to the US in 1904 as a laborer. It was at school that George was first exposed to great classical paintings and developed his love for art, which became his lifelong passion.

In 1941 George enlisted in the Army shortly before Pearl Harbor and was inducted soon after. During these years of anti-Japanese hysteria, his father was arrested without charges and sent to a federal prison in New Mexico while his mother and family were incarcerated in Poston Relocation Center in the Arizona desert. With the eventual formation of the segregated Japanese-American (Nisei) 442nd Infantry Regiment which incorporated the 100th Infantry Battalion from Hawaii, George served as a sergeant in Company M (heavy artillery), seeing combat in Italy and France. The segregated Japanese-American 442nd RCT/100th still remains today the most decorated unit in all US military history for the number of men and length of time served. At age 91, George traveled to Washington, DC, for the 2011 Congressional Gold Medal award to the WWII Nisei soldiers of the 442nd RCT/100th Infantry Battalion and the Military Intelligence Service. He was one of three brothers who served in WWII.

After the surrender of Germany in May 1945, George used a two-week leave to travel through the cities of Italy, taking in its art and culture, seeing great paintings. With the surrender of Japan on Aug 15, 1945, the family was able to return to the Spring Valley farm, which had been cared for by their loyal neighbors, the Crowningshield family. On the G.I. bill, George first studied at the Jepson Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1951 he arrived in New York to continue still life and portrait studies at the Art Students League. Finding that an artist's career is not easy, he had the fortune to meet Leo Gould, a dealer in Chinese art, who hired George and shared his studio space with him. George was thus able to continue painting and to study art. He resided in Greenwich Village for more than 50 years during which time he exhibited and sold many still life paintings and portraits in galleries and exhibitions. In 1976 he married his companion of many years, the contemporary artist, Eugenia Sumiye Okoshi; they were among the first residents of the Westbeth Artists Housing where they also shared an art studio. Dedicated to their work as artists, they enjoyed a full life in the company of many other artists and friends in their decades together.

In their elder years, George and Eugenia moved to Isabella House in upper Manhattan in 2006. Their last art show in 2007 was their only joint one, invited by the Asian Pacific American Institute of NYU. Eugenia died in 2008, and in 2011 George moved to Oneonta, NY, enjoying the company at Hampshire House. He spent his last years lovingly and expertly cared for at the NY State Veterans Home in Oxford, NY.

Remembered for his delightfully receptive and generous personality, a dutiful and willing character, and an upbeat, witty humor with never a harmful word, George Taizo Mukai was an encouraging force to everyone he met, especially to other artists. It was said by a one fellow artist, "When George enters the room, he clears the air." In Manhattan, he was an active presence at the Japanese American United Church of NY, and a member of the Japanese-American Citizens League, the Japanese American Association of NY, the Japanese Artists Association and other art associations. He was predeceased by his wife, Eugenia Sumiye Okoshi Mukai, and siblings Tom, Crom, Susie and Abe. He is survived by his brother Henry of Los Angeles, 18 inspired nephews and nieces and their children, and beloved friends of all ages.

Donations in his honor and memory are appreciated by the family, and may be made to any of the organizations above, including: The New York State Veterans Home in Oxford, 4207 State Highway 220, Oxford, NY 13830.

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