Search Malamalama

November, 2003 Vol. 28 No. 3
Read more from this issue

UH Hilo Porfessor of Art Wayne Miyamoto

Art Professor Wayne Miyamoto

Choosing Art

UH Hilo's Wayne Miyamoto pursues his passion

by John Burnett

Hardly a day goes by when Wayne Miyamoto's prints and paintings aren't displayed somewhere in the world or selected for inclusion in private and institutional collections. Works by the prolific University of Hawai'i at Hilo department chair and professor of art are in the Hawai'i State Art Museum's ongoing inaugural exhibit, and The Global Matrix, an exhibition featuring 67 artists from 19 countries is traveling the mainland.

"I'm really lucky I work with printmaking--it?s on paper, I can roll it up," Wayne Miyamoto says self-deprecatingly. "I just sent a print to India, another to Taiwan. I have a couple coming back from Bulgaria. I can just put 'em in the mail and then hang out in Hilo, go paddling with the UH Hilo canoe club."

The 56-year-old father of three sons is always on the move. He's played basketball in Hilo intramural and business leagues for over two decades. "Most of us are in our 50s; Jimmy (teammate Jimmy Yagi, former Vulcan basketball coach) is pushing 70," he says. "Our motto now is 'we're old, but we?re slow.'"

The UH alumnus (BFA BA '70, MFA '74 Manoa) taught at Manoa, Central Florida University and California State-Sacramento. After a couple of brief stints, he joined the Hilo faculty full time in 1981.

Miyamoto credits Palolo Elementary teacher Violet Wun with igniting his interest in art. "Our lunch was a quarter. She used to foot the bill for ice cream, which was six cents more. She would have 'contests' just to make us draw. What she was doing was paying us for art." In fourth grade, Miyamoto had a painting selected for a children's art show at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. "It was my first excursion to the Academy of Arts. I didn't know what else was there. Not 'til many years later." He graduated in 1965 from Waipahu High School. A counselor Miyamoto calls "unobservant and unimaginative" directed him toward a technical vocation. As a junior majoring in math at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, Miyamoto spent several weeks in the infirmary.

The illness was an epiphany. "I had high fevers and I was having incredible dreams," he recalls. "I guess it sounds strange, but all of a sudden I knew I had to change what I was doing. I was a spectator. I wasn't passionate about what I was doing. I was just killing time until I could get someplace else."

Miyamoto transferred to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. His family, while supportive, worried about his future. "All the aunties in the family made sure to give me their advice. I said I wanted to study English (and it seemed I had a choice here) or art. They all said, 'Study English.' Why? 'Because you can teach.' The next day, I met Shunzo Sakamaki, then dean of summer session. Great guy. He asked, 'What kind of course do you want to take?' I said, 'Sign me up for art.'"

Wayne Miyamoto teaching art at UH Hilo, with students gathered around

Wayne Miyamoto teaching art at UH Hilo

Teaching was something he had to grow into, but Miyamoto is proud of the art graduates coming out of UH Hilo. One alum's story makes Miyamoto especially proud. "He was being interviewed for a job teaching art in Hong Kong. Three very serious Chinese men in white shirts and ties gave him a pencil and paper and asked him to draw for them. He answered, If you gentlemen want me to draw you a picture, I can do that. But what I would like to do for you is teach your students how to think for themselves. Because that's what they teach at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo.

"He got the job."

John Burnett (AA '81 Leeward, BA '94 Hilo, MEd '00 Manoa) is a Big Island writer.