50th Anniversary of Black Sun: The Art and Science of Isamu Noguchi

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 12.05.51 PM

Isamu Noguchi’s “Black Sun” (1969).  It’s 50th Anniversary is in line with the 50th Anniversary of Apollo XI, by the way, sure looks like a Black Hole, doesn’t it?   Some speculate that Soundgarden lead singer, Chris Cornell, came up with the name of the hit song  Black Hole Sun (1994) from the Black Sun sculpture in Volunteer Park, but I can’t find any firm information to back that up. The band however did take its name from the A Sound Garden sculpture near Magnusson Park (according to several online sources).  “Black Sun” stood in Volunteer Park, across from The Seattle Asian Art Museum .*  Originally just The Seattle Art Museum, now flush with wealthy patrons, the new museum was built on 2nd Avenue with the iconic (now) “Hammering Man”.

In 1947, Isamu Noguchi began a collaboration with the Herman Miller company,  when he joined with George NelsonPaul László and Charles Eames to produce a catalog containing what is often considered to be the most influential body of modern furniture ever produced, including the iconic Noguchi table which remains in production today.  His work lives on around the world and at the Noguchi Museum in New York City.

Mum and Dad had Miller furniture before they turned more baroque in their tastes as they aged. The Noguchi table stands out, as was the Ebony Black chair (I played soldiers in that chair as a punk kid).   Of course, Herman Miller sold well in Seattle, bringing some comfort to UW faculty families and modern industrialists who lived in Seattle, that we maybe in the frontiers of the far-west in 1950’s America, but Seattle had a “Herman Miller store on University Avenue” near the UW.

In 1969, Noguchi created the Black Sun – near the time of the Apollo XI landing on the Moon.  They share a common anniversary now, their 50th together.  There is more to Isamu’s art and life, and I hope readers will look into that. He was interned during WWII as an “enemy alien” in Arizona.*  Although born in America, he was nisei.

However, there is a lot in his Science, as well.  He created the first baby monitor in 1937-1938 for Zenith Radio, and its founder Commander Eugene McDonald at the R&D Lab atop Plant 1 off Austin Avenue in Chicago.

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 12.12.55 PMZenith Radio Nurse, 1938.  Can you see the pupils in the eyes? Pretty spooky for a baby monitor…

In my remaining year as a Machinist in that factory (about 1975),  I was allowed to see one of the original prototypes, as I was quickly escorted through to see the original, prototype laser disc – an LP-sized record cut and played by lasers with full-length movies on it.  I saw the first movie involving a long-stem rose.

Zenith Radio Nurse was the name given to McDonald and Noguchi’s baby and invalid monitor.  An original 1937 Bakelite model is valued at  USD12,000.

As Isamu said at the time, “By a curious switch, I thought of commercial art as less contaminated than one that appealed to vanity.”

*All Americans of Japanese ethnicity were interned for the war on the West Coast of the US, excepting Hawai`i.  This may seem counter-intuitive.  However, the American population was so minimal and rural on the territory and the U.S.  military having real defense to do, that the vast majority of Japanese-Americans were NOT interned after interviews. As explained by NPR,

Unlike the internment camps on the mainland, Honouliuli (now a National Monument) on O`ahu was principally an Imperial Japanese Prisoner-of-War Camp for captured soldiers, holding 4,000.  A few hundred of the 10,000’s of Japanese -Americans in Hawai`i were also interned.  Those targeted among Japanese-Americans were Shinto religious leaders and those who had attended school in Japan.”

A dakine example is helpful:  The M* Hotel was founded by Kinzo and Osame M*.   Mrs. M*, came to the territory of Hawai`i as a “picture bride”.  She met Kinzo in 1913.​  They were married at the Izumo Taisha Shinto Shrine in Honolulu.  Both wanted a fresh start and a new life!  In March, 1917 they established the M* Hotel after working for ‘The Wallace family’ as cooks.  The hotel was a low-key style that made it a favourite with kama`aina.  Locals came for the simple but spotless rooms. Many still recall stopping by the original hotel and dusting off coffee-farm dirt.  They’d wash their hands at the porcelain basin outside, before going into eat.  The hotel management was given up by Kinzo and Osame to their son and his wife, Harold and Nancy after the War.  Let’s hear the family experience on Kona from themselves. It’s much more lucid…

During World War II, we had to close the hotel to the outside public as U.S. soldiers began to patronize the hotel while being stationed on Hawai’i Island, because ‘as Osame explained,  ‘they did not have anywhere else to go when they were off-duty.’  They also ate at the restaurant when they did not want to eat at the camp.

Harold M* recalls his mother’s cleverness when the military began to arrive in Kona, “Osame made it a point to befriend the Military Police.” According to Harold M*,

U.S. Marines “came on sampan busses from Hilo, six or seven to a bus and seven or eight buses at time to stay at the hotel. And because the Military Police were always around, the troops were on their best behaviour.” 

Screen Shot 2019-04-14 at 11.22.31 AMHilo sampan bus

“Kinzo and Osame M* created a contract with the military to feed the troops. During the war, the M*s’ business flourished. Their success continued even after the war as soldiers continued to patronize the hotel and as the community in the surrounding area began to grow. Although Osame M* passed away on December 14, 1996, at the age of 101, the M* Hotel still remains in Kona, owned and operated by one of M*’s grandsons, Dwight M* and his wife Cheryl.  According to a brief historical summary on the hotel’s website: “Osame M* never dreamed that the original hotel with two cots plus futons would turn into 64 full rooms, and a new three-story wing overlooking Kealakekua Bay and the City of Refuge.” The hotel today represents the efforts of this entrepreneurial hard-working issei woman.”  – Authored by K. Y. Nakamura, University of Hawai`i


That is correct.  During World War II, the United States Army contracted Kinzo and Osame – two native-born Japanese American business people – to feed the US soldiers who patronized their restaurant.  After the war, Kinzo’s son, Harold, purchased the land beneath the hotel to expand in acreage and guest rooms.  No property was lost, as far as we know by the family, as happen on the mainland West Coast among nisei.



One Reply to “50th Anniversary of Black Sun: The Art and Science of Isamu Noguchi”

  1. First of all, I love your blog URL: “ireallyappreciatescience.com”, that is pure gold.

    Second, I came to your post here from an online search about “Black Sun” and its possible relation to Soundgarden. Many online point to that connection, but I haven’t found confirmation from any of the (surviving) members of the band. I found the following which suggests the inspiration for “Black Hole Sun” came from a different source:



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