Wes Yamaka is recognized in Columbia most often for his brightly colored graphic silk screen designs punctuated by ageless quotations. But the gentle, soft spoken 82-year old who spent part of his youth in Japanese-American internment camps, is a man of many talents and accomplishments.
Yamaka arrived in Columbia with his wife Rose in January 1968 to be part of the newly formed ecumenical venture Columbia Cooperative Ministry (CCM). Yamaka had become a Methodist pastor in 1952, following his father and grandfather into the ministry, but in the late 1960s he was growing dissatisfied with the rigidity of church leaders. A new town exploring new ways to minister seemed a perfect fit. In Columbia, he said, he found his roots – a place where he was accepted, where there were no expectations, no walls to tear down, just to be built -- a place he could explore and be part of. He stayed with CCM for a number of years, helping to form new congregations. One of those new congregations was Kittamaqundi Community, an unaffiliated Christian congregation whose founding members included Columbia’s founder Jim Rouse and his first wife Libby and John Levering, employed by The Rouse Company as the Manager of Columbia Association and then Director of Institutional Relations, and his wife Dede. Yamaka found a place at Kittamaqundi not only religiously, but artistically, and equally important in meaningful relationships and friendships.
Yamaka had a love affair with art his whole life. At the newly formed church he was asked to create bulletin covers for each Sunday service. He taught himself the technique of silk screening and turned out weekly pieces of art on construction paper. His relationship with Rouse and Levering also blossomed. Yamaka was hired by The Rouse Company as a writer for the Marketing Division creating the copy for many early newspaper ads. Before long he and John Levering realized that they shared a love for people, for art and for ministry and both decided to leave the corporate world and in 1971 launched the Eye of the Camel, an artistic venture that became an institution in Columbia.
John Levering, who had come from a financial background as vice president of Monumental Life Insurance Company before joining Rouse, was an untrained, but skilled, sculptor and artist who worked in many medium including watercolors and woodblocks. The Eye of the Camel Studio showcased the work of both men. Yamaka turned out hundreds of silk screened prints that became very popular in Columbia. Yamaka called his time at the Camel his “Camelot” years. “It was a delicious time of being totally free to indulge in art work and to work with John Levering who was total joy.” In 1977 the pair decided to close the door on the studio to pursue their art and spiritual growth in other ways. In 1979 Yamaka left Columbia and returned to the ministry in California where he and his wife Rose remained for 9 years. In 1988 he returned to Columbia when he was hired to be part of the United Methodist Church’s social justice ministry headquartered in Washington, DC. In 1997 Yamaka retired from the ministry and returned to the West Coast settling in Keizer, Oregon where he still resides with his wife.