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Midori Kono Thiel: A Life of Art

The Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley (JAWAUCB) honored Midori Kono Thiel ’55, MFA ’59 with its 2022 Outstanding Alumnae Award.

May 3, 2022
by Josephine Thorton
Midori Kono Thiel at her Augmented reality exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, WA. Midori Kono Thiel at her Augmented Reality exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, WA. / Courtesy of Tamiko Thiel

The recipients of this award have distinguished themselves through their academic careers, contributions to their community, and career accomplishments.

Midori Kono Thiel has devoted her life to creating art. The award-winning artist is an avid Japanese American (Nisei) printmaker, calligrapher, textile artist, musician, dancer, and instructor in Japanese traditional arts. Her work has been displayed around the world, including exhibits at the Seattle Art Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and San Francisco’s de Young Museum.

Cal made me aware of greater possibilities in life.

Midori Kono Thiel ’55, MFA ’59
Midori during her Cal Berkeley student days in the 1950's.
Kono Thiel during her Cal Berkeley student days in the 1950s.

Kono Thiel attended UC Berkeley in the 1950s, when Berkeley was already known for student activism and engagement. “Cal made me aware of greater possibilities in life,” Kono Thiel explains. “I remember wandering into [the poetry magazine office] . . . which led me to getting involved with the poetry magazine for a while. I remember having coffee with the famous photographers Imogen Cunningham and her friend Rose Mandel. It was a hotbed of activity.

While at Cal, Kono Thiel also serendipitously met her husband, Philip Thiel. She was the president of the Student Art Association, and he was in charge of the art gallery where her exhibit would be held. “When I first walked in there, he was spraying some plants,” Kono Thiel recalls. “He asked me to hold the spray bottle while he straightened one of the paintings. And that led to the greatest collaboration of my life.” The two married in Berkeley in 1955 and had three children together. 

Midori at her exhibit in Port Townsend, WA.
Midori at her exhibit in Port Townsend, WA.

Kono Thiel’s current projects include Seattle’s annual Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival, where she serves as the exhibitions chair. The festival has brought together Japanese artists and cultural exhibits for more than 40 years, and attracts roughly 30,000 people each year. She is a founding member of the Puget Sound Sumi Artists Association and teaches a class in Japanese sumi-e painting. She sings and plays the shamisen for the Kabuki Academy, for which she also lectures on various aspects of Japanese arts. Most recently, Kono Thiel’s calligraphy was shown in Seattle and San Jose in multimedia installations, a collaboration with her daughter, Tamiko Thiel, an internationally renowned augmented-reality artist. 


The vision of the Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley is “to inspire and support Asian American women as learners, leaders and contributors to local and global communities in the spirit of our founding Japanese American alumnae.” To learn more information about the Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley, visit jawaucb.org.

To learn more about the Outstanding Alumnae Award, visit jawaucb.org/outstanding-alumnae

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