By Krista Thom
Northwest Asian Weekly
Seattle has no shortage of people who are well known within the arts community. The International District in particular has a number of outstanding leaders in the Asian American community. But both these communities owe a debt of gratitude to Mayumi Tsutakawa.
“I hope that being named a pioneer is only a euphemism for noting that some of us have been doing this work for a long time … in support of self-empowerment for the API community … and that we encourage others to do it too!”
Tsutakawa has racked up a large number of achievements during a career spanning several different fields. Straight out of grad school, she became the first Asian American female reporter at a daily newspaper in the Seattle area. She later wrote and edited several anthologies, including the first anthology of Asian American women’s writings.
While raising her two children, she also found time to work for the Wing Luke Asian Museum and become a program manager for the Washington State Arts Commission.
For Tsutakawa, exposure to the arts has always come easily. Her mother Ayame studied flower arrangement and learned traditional Japanese dance from instructors interned alongside her during WWII. Her father was the renowned sculptor George Tsutakawa, best known for his fountains.
When Mayumi Tsutakawa was a child, her family often hosted Japanese artists of national treasure caliber at their house, where she and her siblings often got the chance to see them at work. Whether it was because of these influences or whether it ran in the genes, all the Tsutakawa children would grow up to become active in the arts.
Mayumi Tsutakawa’s older brother Gerard works as a sculptor and is best known for the baseball mitt sculpture at Safeco Field. Her middle brother, Deems, works as a jazz musician, and the youngest, Marcus, conducts the accomplished orchestra at Garfield High School.
Writing would become Mayumi Tsutakawa’s specialty. In college, she studied East Asian history and communications, which she eventually parlayed into a journalism career at The Seattle Times. Although she didn’t realize it at the time, Tsutakawa was making history by becoming the first Asian American female reporter at a Seattle daily newspaper.
After pursuing her career for several years at the newspaper, during which time she served as reporter and copy editor, Tsutakawa decided to turn her talents in another direction, which would eventually lead her to set another first for Asian American women.
Her first venture into the world of publishing came in 1982, when, during maternity leave, she co-edited the anthology “Turning Shadows into Light,” a book about early Asian American artists in Washington. For the next 12 years, Tsutakawa was involved in putting together six anthologies. Her most famous work was to come in 1993. “The Forbidden Stitch: An Asian American Women’s Anthology” has been reprinted several times and is still used in many college classrooms.
Ever since she left The Seattle Times, Tsutakawa has focused her energies on supporting the arts. While she does not consider herself an artist, she enjoys helping others share their views. “I am impressed with the growing number of outlets for creative work now,” she said. “We started with community-based publishing and art curating, and now the Internet has opened up a wide breadth of Web sites, blog, chat and communication among artists.”
One of her most recent projects was done in conjunction with the Wing Luke Asian Museum. She and her brother Gerard worked with the newly reopened museum to create the first exhibition featured in the George Tsutakawa Art Gallery, which will showcase works by contemporary artists. The opening exhibit, which runs until December, features the fountain sculptures of George Tsutakawa himself.
But Tsutakawa’s main job these days is at the Washington State Arts Commission, where she manages grants for organizations. Tsutakawa says she enjoys her work there and loves the opportunity to travel and get to know the many exciting art venues around the state. ♦
Krista Thom can be reached at email@example.com.