Preservation effort for Isami Enomoto murals receives national award

University of Hawaiʻi-West Oʻahu
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Greg E Wiles, (808) 689-2604
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Posted: May 8, 2019

Dr. William Puette of CLEAR at the mural's dedication ceremony in February 2018
Dr. William Puette of CLEAR at the mural's dedication ceremony in February 2018

An effort to save five ceramic murals by ceramist Isami Enomoto and install them on the UH West Oʻahu campus has been awarded a 2019 Modernism in America Award.

Docomomo U.S. a non-profit organization committed to preserving modern architecture, landscape and design, bestowed the “Advocacy Award of Excellence” honor to its Hawaiʻi chapter, the Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR) at UH West Oʻahu, and CLEAR Director Dr. William Puette. The honor was one of 10 Modernism in America Awards announced by Docomomo US last week.  

The preservation of the Enomoto murals “highlights the important linkages between art and design in the modern era,” said Todd Grover, Docomomo U.S. director, in announcing the awards.  “The disappearance of these works diminishes the significance of the interior in addition to the overall understanding of the project and the artists that created them. They should not be left out of the preservation discussion.”

The five murals created in 1961 revolve around a distinct labor theme, with each mural depicting people in different sectors at work – small business workers that populated Kapahulu Avenue: agriculture, construction, financial and transportation. Enomoto, who passed away in 2016, was a noted mid-century ceramicist who produced the abstract design wall tiles for the International Concourse at  Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, and was the ceramic technician for artist Jean Charlot’s on several projects, including murals on the United Public Workers building on School Street.

A several-year effort to rescue restore and install Enomoto’s labor murals culminated in late 2017 with the installation of the five murals in the area of the James & Abigail Campbell Library housing the Center for Labor Education and Research. The works were commissioned by Bank of Hawaiʻi for its Kapahulu Branch in 1960 and hung on a wall above teller stations. The bank reached out to Docomomo US/Hawaii Chapter when it decided to close the branch in 2015.

Previously the effort to save the murals won a Preservation Award in 2018 from the Historic Hawaiʻi Foundation for Docomomo US/Hawaii, CLEAR, and Bank of Hawaiʻi.