Arkansas History Notecard: WWII Winter Crops in Dermott
War Relocation Authority photos and a photographer named Gretchen Van Tassel
Looking through some digital archives today, I happened upon this picture taken, strangely, on Jan. 18, 1944, in Dermott.
The National Archives calls the picture: Jerome Relocation Center, Dermott, Arkansas. Cutting cabbages which have been left for winter harvest.
The photographer is listed as Gretchen Van Tassel. She took several photos on Jan. 18 in Dermott like these two in the National Archives’ Central Photographic File of the War Relocation Authority, 1942–1945.
That led me down, of course, another rabbit hole. Who was Van Tassel?
Van Tassel was born in New York in 1918 to a well-to-do family. She studied at Bennington, an innovative, arts-oriented women's college and majored in art where she mastered photography and the art of navigating the magic of a dark room.
Graduating in 1939, Van Tassel worked in fashion and architectural photography in New York.
When World War II began, Van Tassel was hired by the War Relocation Authority “Reports Division” in Washington, D.C., where she worked from 1943 to 1946 and eventually went out on shoots like the one in Dermott.
In fact, she has a little over 200 images online at the Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive (JARDA) web site. In Arkansas Van Tassel shot many photos at Rowher and Jerome, which were the easternmost of the ten War Relocation Authority camps.
After the war, Van Tassel continued working in photography until she married. But even after marriage, she lived an adventurous life even becoming a sailor.
Here’s her obit from 2011 that I found, which tells a lot more about her life.
If you have never visited the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum in McGehee, Ark., you should. I was there last spring when Star Trek's George Takei attended the museum's 10th anniversary and snapped this picture.
Sometimes, it's good to search through digital archives on a cloudy, cold winter day. I used to do that as a kid with the World Book Encyclopedia. You never know what you may learn.
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