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Hideo Benjamin Noda



Hideo Noda (野田 英夫, Noda Hideo, July 15, 1908 – January 12, 1939), also known as Hideo Benjamin Noda[ and Benjamin Hideo Noda, was a Japanese-American modernist painter and muralist, member of the Shinseisakuha [ja] movement in Japan, student of Arnold Blanch, and uncle of Japanese printmaker Tetsuya Noda, as well as alleged communist spy recruited by Whittaker Chambers.

Noda was born on July 15, 1908, in Agnew's Village, as the second son of Eitaro Noda, who had emigrated from a small village in the Kumamoto Prefecture of Japan. He returned for some years to his home prefecture in Kumamoto, where he attended junior high school. Returning to California, he graduated from Piedmont High School in Oakland in 1929.


Noda soon attended the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA—now San Francisco Art Institute. There he met Arnold Blanch, who taught at the Art Students League in New York. Noda saw Diego Rivera paint The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, April–June 1931, at the school.


Later in 1931, he was studying mural-tempera painting there under Blanch, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and George Grosz. He lived for a time at the Woodstock Art Village with fellow students Sakari Suzuki and Jack Chikamichi Yamasaki.

In 1932, he won a prize from the Chicago Art Institute and exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Washington, DC. He was a member of the Mural Painters Guild and the Woodstock Artists Association.

In 1933, Noda became one of several assistants to Rivera on the artist's work for Man at the Crossroads in Rockefeller Center Plaza in New York City.[10] (Other assistants included: Lucienne Bloch, Stephen Pope Dimitroff, Lou Block, Arthur Niendorf, Seymour Fogel, and Antonio Sanchez Flores.) Photographer Walker Evans knew Noda in New York in 1933. Estelle Hama, wife of painter Art Hama, recalled of 1933-1934 "I met Art in New York at the John Reed Club. They had just formed. He was a protege of the artist Kuniyoshi. I knew Kuniyoshi. Well, everyone knew Yasuo in those days. They were friends Isamu Noguchi, Hideo Noda, and Eitaro Ishigaki."

In 1934–1935, Noda's work appeared in the Whitney Museum's "Second Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting" along with Kuniyoshi's. According to an entry, "Hideo Noda participates in Whitney Second Biennial; his painting 'Street Scene' is purchased by the museum."


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted, "Look for Hideo Noda's 'Street Scene.' Noda is a mural painter and a real modern, immensely responsive to the daily sorrows and beauties of people in 1935."

Noda was involved in a conflict over a mural he designed for Ellis Island in 1934–1935. In 1935, Noda's murals lost out to those of Edward Laning for Ellis Island:

It was a great relief to PWA, to the College Art Association, to Architects Harvey Wiley Corbett and Chester Holmes Aldrich and to Edward Laning last week to learn that Commissioner of Immigration & Naturalization Rudolph Reimer at Ellis Island had finally approved Artist Laning's designs for murals for the dining hall at New York's immigrant station. Cheered, Muralist Laning and his two assistants, James Rutledge and Albert Soroka, hustled to get his cartoons on tempera and gesso panels as soon as possible ...

No sooner was Muralist Hideo Noda's cartoon submitted to him than Commissioner Reimer blossomed out as a stickler for artistic detail. The Noda mural was promptly rejected because Negro cotton pickers were shown wearing turtlenecked sweaters and creased trousers, because the creature pulling a poor blackamoor's farm cart seemed to be a full-blooded Percheron stallion. Artist Noda threw up his hands and his job, went back to California.

In 1970, Laning told American Heritage magazine a somewhat different version of events: "Audrey McMahon told me that Hideo Noda, a young Japanese who had been assigned to make sketches for a long wall in the Administration Building at Ellis Island, had disappeared without leaving any word. Hideo, a gentle boy of poetic temperament, had found the resident commissioner of immigration impossible to cope with and in despair had run away. 'The commissioner is difficult,' Mrs. McMahon added, and I thought to myself that if she thought so, he must be a dragon."

Returning to California in 1937, he painted the mural School Life in the Piedmont High School.

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Diana Linden, review of The Other American Moderns: Matsura, Ishigaki, Noda, Hayakawa, by SiPu Wang,

Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 4, no. 2 (Fall 2018),


As with Ishigaki, Hideo Noda focused on the poor and disenfranchised and the conditions of African Americans, both in the city and the rural South. Noda’s paintings, using Wang’s terminology, are examples of the Other creating work of the Other in identification with that group. His Scottsboro Boys (Alabama) (1933; Mizoe Art Gallery, Fukuoka, Japan) is the subject of chapter three. Wang masterfully lays out the details and history of this infamous case of Southern injustice cited in the title. Scottsboro Boys was the young (early twenties) Noda’s first overtly topical work, along with his first work to receive critical attention. Noda painted it in New York City during the depths of the trials down South (75). He was fresh from assisting master Mexican muralist Diego Rivera in San Francisco and New York City—on the California School of Fine Arts The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City (1931) and the destroyed Rockefeller Center fresco, Man at the Crossroads (1933). Many talented artists helped Rivera, and it is most likely at Rockefeller Center that Noda met Ben Shahn. Indeed, Scottsboro Boys shows a strong stylistic awareness of Shahn’s work on prison reform; Shahn likewise was planning a series on the Scottsboro Case. Scottsboro Boys is stylistically curious and relatively obscure, representing several disparate moments of time. In Wang’s view, Ilene Susan Fort’s pioneering work on Social Surrealism is relevant to interpreting the style and composition of the work.3 Wang describes the work as Noda’s engagement in the debates among artists on the Left as to which subject matter and styles would best serve American artists’ dual objectives: “defining modernity in visual terms and effecting social change through art” (77). Noda’s personal history fascinates and helps explain his choice of artistic subjects. Reportedly, the painter was engaged in “underground work” for the Communist Party in 1935 and 1936, working as a Soviet agent. It is within this political context that Wang convincingly maintains that Noda’s painting of the Scottsboro case served to articulate and anticipate “[his] overarching political commitments and alliance with the Left” (91). Instead of just painting injustice, Noda took action, putting his art in the service of politics (89).


A conversation with curator Yamanaka Risako:

Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art curator Yamanaka Risako.

Noda Hideo (Hideo Benjamin Noda) was born in California in 1908 to a family of Japanese immigrants. His parents came from Kumamoto, and they sent him back there as a child to receive a Japanese education. After graduating from the equivalent of high school in Japan, he returned to California and attended Piedmont High School in Oakland. After Piedmont, he entered the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA—later becoming the San Francisco Art Institute until its closure in 2022), majoring in fine arts. In his late twenties, Noda produced a mural for his high school, entitled School Life (Piedmont High School mural). Yamanaka explains the background to this project.

“Noda apparently became involved in producing the Piedmont High mural as a result of meeting Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who created a large fresco at CSFA. Noda began working on murals, including serving as an assistant for Rivera’s mural at the Rockefeller Center in New York, which was destroyed after nearing completion. While he was pursuing his career in murals, he was persuaded by his high school art teacher to produce the mural at his old school.”

While working on a different mural, Noda is said to have fallen from his scaffold and sustained a head injury. He later died of a brain tumor, at that age of thirty-one, two years after completing his work at Piedmont High.

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Man at the Crossroads (1933) was a fresco by Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Originally slated to be installed in the lobby of the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center in New York City, the fresco showed aspects of contemporary social and scientific culture. As originally installed, it was a three-paneled artwork.

The New Deal art projects; an anthology of memoirs
Publication date 1972
Publisher Washington, Smithsonian Institution

Undoubtedly I was a very callow youth. Perhaps I hadn t suffered enough (there were those oil wells). About this time I met Ernestine Evans, who was the first person in the United States to write about the Mexican mural painters, Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. Ernestine was a revolutionary, too — a Mexican revolutionary! She introduced me to Diego Rivera when he came to New York in 1933 to paint the big fresco at the entrance to the rca Building in the new Rockefeller Center. Nearly every afternoon Ernestine and I would join Rivera’s wife Frieda Kahlo and the gang of friends and hangers-on in the living room of his suite at the Barbizon Plaza. Around four o’clock Diego would amble in from the next room, vast and sleepy-eyed, looking like a great unmade bed. Ernestine and I would bundle him into a taxi and take off for the rca Building. He blinked, wordlessly, as we drove through the New York streets. One day we took him to see my show. On the way Ernestine asked him what he thought of New York. “A great commercial city,” he mumbled. He looked at my paintings and muttered, “Very good.” Then night after night I stood below his scaffold watching him paint. I wanted to learn about fresco painting from someone who knew. I watched and I talked to his assistants and plasterers, principally a young Japanese, Hideo Noda.

Ben Shahn's New York : the photography of modern times
by Shahn, Ben, 1898-1969, Page 46

In March 1933 Rivera and his helpers furiously began work, hoping to unveil the mural on May Day. Shahn labored alongside Rivera’s other assistants, including Hideo Noda, Lucienne Bloch, Stephen Dimitroff, Ramon Alva, Art Niendorf, Clifford Wight, and Lou Block, a painter and photographer with whom he later collaborated in an ambitious mural proposal for the Hikers Island Penitentiary. As they worked, Shahn’s friends would come to Rockefeller Center to watch the mural’s progress. Walker Evans mentioned in a letter to his friend Hans SkoUe that he frequentiy visited Shahn at Radio City, while Lincoln Kirstein posed for the figure of a “typical American Jew.’’ Lucienne Bloch, who kept a diary during this period, recorded aspects of Shahn’s involvement: on one occasion Rivera painted from a newspaper clipping of a demonstration that Shahn brought him; Shahn and Block did extensive research for various scenes, even soliciting people on the sidewalks and workers in the building as models.

Portrait of America
by Diego Rivera

Publication date 1934, Page 26

Throughout the day our movements were closely watched. At dinner time, when our forces were reduced to a minimum—only I, my Japanese assistant, Hideo Noda, my Bulgarian assistant, Stephen Dimitroff, and the Swiss-American, Lucienne Bloch, were on duty— the assault took place. Before opening fire, and simultaneously with. the final maneuvers which occupied the strategic posts and reinforced those already occupied, there presented himself, in all the splendor of his power and glory, and in keeping with the best gentlemanly traditions of His Majesty's Army, the great capitalist plenipotentiary, Field-Marshal of the contractors, Mr. Robertson, of Todd, Robertson and ‘Todd, surrounded by his staff. Protected by a triple line of men in uniform and civilian clothes, Mr. Robertson invited me down from the scaffold to parley discreetly in the interior of the working shack and to deliver the ultimatum along with the final check. I was ordered to stop work.

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Shamokin News Dispatch - Wed - May 31, 1933

(Shamokin, Pennsylvania)

Diego Rivera, the celebrated Mexican mural painter and Illustrator, has run into fresh troubles In his work at Rockefeller Center in New York. His contract called for three murals. He has now been called off the unfinished job, paid up in full and dismissed. It is explained that his work did not fit in with the unified decorative scheme planned and that he was unable to compromise on "inconsequential changes"

This is the artist's second big controversy in the United States. He did some murals for the new Institute of Art in Detroit which created a storm of argument and protest a few months ago. However, the pictures were accepted by Edsel Ford, who was their donor, and have been allowed to stand.

These controversies cause an outsider-one not necessarily well versed In art—to wonder what was expected of Rivera in the first place. Was he engaged because of skill in handling paint. or because he has been recognized in his own and other countries as a great creative artist? He has done enough painting by now so that the type of work charaoteristic of him is fairly well known.

His political theories, too-it is said the Rockerfeller Center pictures contain Communistic propaganda-are well known and ought not to bob up as a complete surprise and an insurmountable obstacle after a picture is half done.

Artists are temperamental creatures and should not be engaged for work in places where their particular genius ls likely to prove embarrassing. Why ask a radical artist to decorate a capitalistic temple of entertainment? But on the other hand, why be afraid of a picture of Lenin in a mural artistically satisfying?

Shamokin News Dispatch -

Wed - May 31, 1933

(Shamokin, Pennsylvania)

Stories of Iconic Artworks:Diego Rivera's Rockefeller Mural
By Shira WolfeFrom


Sketch to Mural

Initially, Rivera presented a sketch that aligned with the theme and abided by the contract he had signed. His proposal was a 63-foot-long portrait of workers, embracing the multi-faceted components of modern life of industry, science, socialism and capitalism. In the original sketch for the mural, Rivera depicted three men clasping hands in the middle – a soldier, a worker and a peasant, representing the three elements that Rivera believed human society was fundamentally composed of.

However, the eventual execution differed markedly from this sketch. In New York, he was confronted and provoked by leftist organisations and communist groups, who disagreed with him taking on a commission for the Rockefellers, and who felt that by doing so he was betraying his communist sensibilities. The story goes that when the World Telegram ran the headline “Rivera paints Scenes of Communist Activity and John D. Jr. Foots the Bill,” Rivera had enough and decided to add a portrait of Lenin to the mural. “If you want communism, I will paint communism,” he said. On top of this, Rivera apparently added an unflattering portrait of Rockefeller which was deemed inappropriate. The Rockefellers were displeased and Rivera was given two options: either he removed the offending portraits of Lenin and Rockefeller, or the mural itself would be removed. Since Rivera had convinced the Rockefellers to let him paint a fresco, instead of painting on canvas, the mural could not simply be moved. Rivera declared he would rather see the work destroyed than mutilated by altering it, and he was fired from the commission. The building managers paid him his full fee of $21,000 and he was banned from the site. The mural was then hidden behind a drape, and the night before Rivera would have completed it, on 10 February 1934, the mural was chiselled off the wall. Rivera’s mural was replaced by a larger mural by Catalan artist Jose Maria Sert, titled “American Progress.” This mural can still be seen in Rockefeller Center to this day.

The new deal for artists
by MACKINZIE, Richard D

Publication date 1975, P112

The FAP muralist to bring the most favorable publicity to relief administration art was probably young Edward Laning, whose first triumph was getting mural sketches for the diningroom of Ellis Island past Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Rudolph Reimer. The latter had amused the country in 1934 by rejecting the sketches of PWAP artist Hideo Noda because they showed Negro cotton pickers in turtle-necked sweaters and creased trousers and a draft animal more like a Percheron stallion than a Missouri mule. Then FAP artist Laning presented sketches showing the construction of the Central and Union Pacific railroads by Chinese and Irish laborers. Among other changes, Reimer made Laning adjust the height of boots on Army officers, paint the rail ties round instead of square and reduce the size of rails to that of the capacity of nineteenth-century rolling mills. Reimer’s well-publicized demands for accurate detail, to which Laning acceded, drew attention to the work. 

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Whittaker Chambers
by Sam Tanenhaus

Page 100

(Unconfirmed facts about being a communist or spy, however, he worked for Diego Rivera who painted Lenin on the Rockerfeller mural in NY)

Sherman required a Tokyo assistant, an Anglophone Japanese Communist, preferably with access to “high Japanese circles.” The resourceful Peters promptly turned up a candidate, Hideo Noda, a young painter and protege of the great muralist Diego Rivera. Noda had won a Chicago Art Institute prize in 1932 and in 1933 assisted Rivera on the Rockefeller Center painting that had caused an uproar because it included a portrait of Lenin. Born in California, Noda lived in New York, Spoke fluent English and was a party member.

1951 - Hearings regarding Communist Espionage - hearings before the Committee on Un-Americ

Hearings regarding Communist Espionage : hearings before the Committee on Un-American Activities,

House of Representatives, Eighty-first Congress, first and second sessions

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Fredom of Information Act Noda Hideo.jpg
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