Utah Museum of Fine Arts receives grant to restore Japanese American artist’s masterpiece

The award from the Bank of America will support the conservation of a Chiura Obata screen painting.

(Utah Museum of Fine Arts) Kimi Hill, granddaughter of Japanese American artist Chiura Obata, with "Two Running Horses," a 1932 four-panel screen created by Obata that will receive conservation treatment thanks to a grant from Bank of America.

A massive screen painting by Japanese American artist Chiura Obata owned by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts will get some needed conservation work, thanks to a prestigious grant.

The grant, from the Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, will go toward the restoration of Obata’s four-panel 1932 screen painting “Two Running Horses,” the museum announced Thursday afternoon. The museum did not disclose a dollar amount for the grant.

UMFA hosted a traveling show of Obata’s works, “Chiura Obata: An American Modern,” in 2018. The exhibition included sketches and watercolors the Bay Area artist created while he and his family were held in the Topaz War Relocation Center near Delta, Utah — one of the internment camps that held thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. When the Topaz Museum opened in Delta in 2015, some of Obata’s works from that period were in the inaugural exhibition.

Last year, the Obata family gave 35 of his works to UMFA, and the museum also bought three others. All are now part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Conservation will occur at the Nishio Studio in Washington, D.C., known for its restoration efforts for Asian art, the museum said. The restoration is expected to be completed in early 2023, and the museum plans to make “Two Running Horses” the centerpiece of its Obata collection.

“We’re incredibly grateful to Bank of America for recognizing the critical importance of Obata’s art and helping us bring this masterful work to public view,” Gretchen Dietrich, UMFA’s executive director, said in a statement.

UMFA is one of 19 recipients of the Bank of America grant, and the only one in the Mountain West. UMFA also is a Bank of America ”Museums on Us” partner.

Other recipients included the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the fire-damaged Notre-Dame de Paris. Since the program’s inception in 2010, more than 6,000 pieces of art have been conserved.