Silkscreen Shop

Photo courtesy Kirsten Leong. Wayside at the site of the Silk Screen Shop in Block 6E.

Although many of the WRA camps had war-related industries, Amache was the only camp with a successful silkscreen shop.  At the time, silkscreening was one of the best ways to crisply print in color, something required by the U.S. Navy for their training materials.  Established in June of 1943, the Amache silkscreen shop produced over 250,000 color posters under a contract with the navy. The staff of forty-five also created many prints for use in camp, including calendars, programs for camp events, even souvenirs for the yearly carnival. The Amache silkscreen shop produced a colorful and visually distinctive record of life at the camp.

A full range of educational programs was offered in the 8H barracks converted into classrooms at Amache. There were classes for children at all levels: nursery and kindergarten, elementary, junior high, senior high, and adults. When the schools were first started in the barracks, the level of education was poor. Students did not have desks or textbooks. They sat on wooden benches and copied information that teachers put on the chalkboard. School supplies were limited. Curriculum was outdated. There was a high turnover of teachers, many of whom were first year graduates of teacher training programs or transfers from Indian reservation schools. A few were inmates who had teaching credentials but no experience since they could not obtain teaching jobs in California. Gradually the system improved. Some of the teachers at Amache were excellent and a few even elected to live in Amache.  In June 1943, a new high school was completed. The high school included a gym, library, science labs, classrooms, and school offices. The high school served both junior and senior high school students. The gymnasium also served as a community hall for camp wide events such as funerals for Amache soldiers killed in combat in Europe. The elementary school children continued their education in the converted barracks of Block 8H.  The educational program was conducted in cooperation with the Colorado State Department of Education. The school staff was composed of a WRA appointed Superintendent of schools, three WRA appointed principals, 81 WRA teachers, and 44 inmate assistants. Courses of study were similar to those in neighboring schools although the curriculum would eventually be changed to a more progressive one that emphasized community involvement. In Amache it meant beautifying the barren grounds, improving the barrack interiors, working on the Amache farm, etc. The schools also offered a wide variety of extracurricular activities such as sports and school clubs. Commencement exercises were held, school newspapers were published, and high school yearbooks developed and distributed. Athletic teams were formed and on several occasions the Amache High School team played outside teams in such neighboring towns as Granada, Holly, Wiley, etc.

The silkscreen shop gained national acclaim when it was highlighted in a full page spread in the April 1944 edition of the national advertising magazine, ‘Signs of the Times.’

Signs of the Times article, courtesy Signs of the Times.

To learn more, visit the Densho article, Amache Silk Screen Shop or read an Atlas Obscura article on The Art—and Anger—of Japanese Internment Camp Silk Screeners.