Excavations were conducted during the summer of 2010 at the site of the World War II Japanese Internment Camp in Kooskia, Idaho. Two porcelain potsherds, catalog numbers 10-2-1 and 10-2-159 were found where the camp incinerator was located, and were significantly different from the plain institutional wares that make up the majority of the ceramics found at Kooskia. The two potsherds contain the same decoration method, have the same glaze on the interior of the pieces, and are the same thickness. Therefore they are believed to be from the same piece of pottery, with 10-2-159 being a burned portion of the vessel (Priscilla Wegars 2012, pers. comm.). Originally, the potsherds were thought to be part of a porcelain ware that was decorated by hand either in the Kooskia camp itself, or at another camp and brought in. Internees within the camp spent leisure time on a multitude of things, some of which include arts and crafts and visitation with family and friends who traveled from other camps (Wegars 2010). It was for these reasons the sherds were believed to be hand decorated in a camp, either as a leisure arts and crafts activity or meant as a gift, either for, or coming from visiting family and friends. Further research of the decoration on the potsherds indicates that the vessel was not made in the camps but was rather exported from Japan.
In Japanese ceramic decoration, any kind of raised clay or enamel decoration is called moriage (Stitt 1974:126). The type of moriage used to decorate these pieces is known as slip-trailing (Priscilla Wegars 2012, pers. comm.). Slip-trailing consists of softened clay (slip) being trailed onto the ware in its biscuit state, through the use of a rubber tube, or traditionally a bamboo tube (Van Patten 1979: 17). The use of this method indicates that the vessel is a piece of Japanese Nippon era ware, made for export from 1891 through 1921, or a Made in Japan era ware, which continued from 1921 through World War II (Van Patten 1979). One of the most popular moriage designs of Nippon ware is the jewel-eyed slip-trailed dragon (Van Patten 1986). These potsherds contain a series of raised edges common in the dragon design, and comparison with pictures of the dragon design in Joan F. Van Patten’s Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain (1979, 1982, 1986) indicate what is believed to be a portion of the dragon’s wing on burnt sherd.
The top interior of the burnt sherd also exhibits brown luster, which is commonly used on the interior of the mouth of Nippon ware vessels (Priscilla Wegars 2012, pers. comm.). It is most likely that the vessel was broken during the internees’ time at the camp and was discarded there.
Uncovering these imported Japanese wares among the artifacts found at the site provides a peek into the importance that internees placed on vessels from home, and shows the greater amount of freedom over the everyday objects that the internees were allowed to bring with them, or have brought into the camp.
I would like to thank Dr. Stacey Camp from the Kooskia Internment Camp Archaeological Project for allowing me to be part of this project.
I would also like to give a special thanks to Dr. Priscilla Wegars and the Asian American Comparative Collection at the University of Idaho for her help while conducting my research and the resources they provided.
1974 Japanese Ceramics of the Last 100 Years. Crown Publishers, Inc., New York.
Van Patten, Joan F.
1979 The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain. Collector Books, Paducah, Kentucky.
Van Patten, Joan F.
1982 The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain. 2nd ed. Collector Books, Paducah, Kentucky.
Van Patten, Joan F.
1986 The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain. 3rd ed. Collector Books, Paducah, Kentucky.
2010 Imprisoned in Paradise: Japanese Internee Road Workers at the World War II Kooskia Interment Camp. Asian American Comparative Collection, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.