FRED H. ROSTER
Master sculptor and professor of art Fred H. Roster, an influential force that enriched Hawaii’s art community, passed away peacefully at home on December 19. He was 73.
Born in Palo Alto in June 27, 1944, Roster was raised in Northern California and received an MA in ceramics from San Jose State University in 1968. Roster and his former wife Laila honeymooned in Hawai‘i in 1969 and decided “Hawai‘i seemed like the future.” He was awarded an MFA in 1970 from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and joined the faculty the following year as a sculpture professor.
With a 45-plus year career, Roster’s impact is far reaching through his dedication to art-making and teaching. He was known for his mixed-media narrative sculptures that were often meditative, introspective and enigmatic; wry observations of the human condition; while possessing an elegance of form and poignant presence. In 1984, he created “A Letter to Myself,” simple mangoes, stems and leaves transformed by his inventive lyrical configurations—his personal alphabet.
A 2010 career retrospective at the Honolulu Museum of Art School demonstrated Roster’s seamless command over all the formative processes. His adroit juxtaposition of media: stone, wood, clay, bronze, steel, fine metals, and found objects like a natural tree branch was his signature. Although his works spoke of environmental and global concerns, they were also deeply reflective of his personal life experiences. Roster invited the viewer to interpret and interact with his evocative symbols of wheels, canoes, fishes, human figures, monkeys, his beloved dogs, and birds.
Volleyball intramurals, running and cycling displayed Roster’s life-long athleticism and competitiveness. Intense bicycling training along Kalanianaole Highway, climbing Tantalus and even racing to Mount Haleakala summit, he beat younger colleagues Jon Hamblin and Michael Harada. His love of cycling, boating, and fishing influenced the use of large-scale wheels and canoes, metaphorical components for the passage of time and a carrier of dreams as one journeys through life. The tactile marks of the maker’s hands were purposely recorded on rough-hewn wood carvings; kinetic metal gears, wheels and cogs; and gestural figures and animals in clay and bronze—Roster’s eloquent gift.
His profound contribution was mentoring and inspiring generations of undergraduate and graduates, encouraging and challenging them to embrace their research and creativity to build their future careers. Respected for his insightful guidance and feedback, students were drawn to his dry wit and unassuming demeanor. However, students soon realized it was necessary to carefully listen to Roster’s words to glean the true messages, which fostered conceptual and critical thinking.
Roster lived what he taught, teaching extracurricular activities that involved creating opportunities for others helped to maintain a vibrant community. Seminars with innovative assignments that reached a wider audience—the development and coordination of professional juried exhibitions, managed by his students, provided invaluable experiences. Through Roster’s teaching philosophy “watch one, do one, teach one,” he reinforced the cycle of learning, while building skills and confidence and passing the tradition to a new generation. His legacy continues through his students who he treated as respected colleagues—professional artists, teachers, designers, and museum and gallery professionals.
While Sculpture Program chair, Roster expanded classes and facilities and founded the annual BFA exhibition. His classes ranged from metal fabrication, large-scale casting, carving, small-scale jewelry, mixed-media, installation, and performance. In 1982, Roster co-founded the International Shoebox Sculpture Exhibition with colleague, emeritus professor Mamoru Sato, in collaboration with University of Hawaii Art Gallery’s emeritus Director Tom Klobe. Featuring internationally prominent artists as well as a significant contingent of local artists, it was a “flagship show for our whole state.” Over 27 years, the triennial exhibition traveled to museums and galleries in South Korea, Taiwan, Guam, Japan, Canada, Mexico, and throughout the United States.
Each summer Roster returned to Angels Camp, to rejuvenate at the family’s property, the environment that fostered his life-long love of the creative process and natural materials. A creative dwell time, he explored the mountains and streams for stones and wood for future projects and carved what he found in the studio barn using tools from his childhood. Further travel fueled his research, teaching exchanges to Boulder, Colorado in 1985 and Tasmania in 1996; sabbaticals to Tasmania in 1991, the most recent in France and Belgium in 2012 and vacations to Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Japan, Turkey, and Switzerland.
The Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts has significant holdings of Roster’s works, including commissioned portraits of Governor John A. Burns, Queen Ka‘ahumanu and Mataio Kekuanao‘a and other large-scaled public works located at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Athletic Complex and the Hawai‘i State Art Museum. His works are also in the Honolulu Museum of Art and many other private collections.
Roster was diagnosed with a malignant glioblastoma after suffering a seizure March 2016 and retired that summer to battle the brain tumor with much grace, reflection and preferring quality of life. Roster’s colleagues, former students and friends would often visit him to reminisce, share gratitude and support. The Sisters of St. Francis kindly loaned back a commissioned ¾-scale monkeypod carving of St. Francis of Assisi, to comfort its maker through his many months of cancer treatments.
Roster is survived by his wife Lynette, her daughter Rachel; his son Cade from his first marriage, daughter-in-law Waileia and twin grandsons Jax and Vaughn; older sisters Pat Dickerson and Joyce Helmbrecht and younger brothers Bill and Curt. Service will be private. Donations may be made to Hawaiian Humane Society or Hawaii Craftsmen or Hawaii Bicycling League.