Mittwer / Designer-Monk
Table/bench, designed and manufactured by Henry Mittwer, Los Angeles, CA 1952
Henry Mittwer was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1918. His father was an American in the film industry, who first traveled to Japan in 1898 as a sailor in the Spanish-American War. His mother was a former geisha in Tokyo. Henry's father left the family and returned to the US when he was 9.
Henry moved back to the US and located his down and out father in 1940. After the attack on Peal Harbor and a raise in anti-Japanese sentiment, it was impossible for him to get a job. In 1942, with few options, he was forced to enter into an internment camp. It was here where he met and married Sachiko. The couple had two of their three children while they were still in the camp. When the war ended, everyone in the family, except Henry, was released. He was being held due to his past refusal to fight in the war. Henry wasn't released until 1947 and not fully out of legal troubles until 1951. The family moved back to Los Angeles.
Mittwer attended John Muir College (now Pasadena City College), where he worked on his furniture design skills. His tables, which could also be used as Japanese-style floor sitters, were selected for MoMA's Good Design exhibition in 1952. His designs were also included in the Italian Esempi books and seemed to be warmly accepted by the design community. At some point he got a job in the American defense industry, a position he left in 1961. At that point, after meeting a Zen monk, he decided to move back to Japan without his family to become a Buddhist monk.
My narrow focus is on his short-lived design career. This is really just a blip in the life of Mittwer. He had a far more fruitful life as a monk in Kyoto. He also served as the president of the Kyoto Chapter of Ikebana International and wrote a book about cha-bana (flowers for tea ceremony). He passed away in June of 2012. More about Mittwer- here.
The Japanese sensibilities are hard to miss in his design aesthetic. Although I don't remember his name being mentioned in the Pacifica marketing push, the fact that Mittwer was half Japanese and designing furniture in the heart of that time period, it would seem like a natural inclusion.
Shelf, designed and manufactured by Henry Mittwer, 1952