Preservation of Isami Enomoto murals wins a 2019 Modernism in America Award

Dr. William Puette of CLEAR addresses guests who helped in preserving and installing the Enomoto mural in the library.

Dr. William Puette of CLEAR addresses guests who helped in preserving and installing the Enomoto mural during a dedication ceremony

Work to save, preserve, and install five ceramic murals by ceramist Isami Enomoto has captured a 2019 Modernism in America Award for Docomomo US/Hawaii, Dr. William Puette, and the Center for Labor Education and Research at UH West Oʻahu.

The national award was one of 10 given by Docomomo U.S., a non-profit organization that committed to documenting and conserving buildings, sites and neighborhood of the modern architecture and design. The awards honors efforts to preserve, restore, and rehabilitate modern heritage sensitively and productive.

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 a press release 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.”

Photo of a man speaking at a lectern. He is wearing a black shirt and has a green and orange lei draped on his shoulders.

Dr. William J. Puette

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.

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.

The group temporarily stored the murals and had them cleaned and conserved while looking to find a permanent home. Puette, CLEAR director, worked with the chapter to raise almost $50,000 to move and install the murals that weigh up to 650 pounds each. A number of Hawaiʻi labor groups contributed to the effort along with individual donors.

The effort won Docomomo US/Hawaii, CLEAR, and Bank of Hawaiʻi a Preservation Award in 2018 from the Historic Hawaiʻi Foundation.

“The connection between landscape design, art, interior design and architecture was a defining feature of modernism, yet oftentimes all but the latter are the first to go,” Docomomo US said in announcing the awards. “The Gateway Arch (Museum), Pond House and Isami Enomoto murals are excellent examples that such efforts are no less worthwhile than saving the building itself.”

An “Advocacy Award of Excellence” from the 2019 Modernism in America Awards program will be presented to Docomomo US/Hawaii, Puette, and CLEAR during a ceremony on Wednesday, June 19 in New York City.

Images courtesy of UHWO Staff and Dr. William J. Puette