The Honolulu Museum of Art is saddened to announce the passing of Philip H. Roach, Jr.
Phil will be remembered for his dedication as a volunteer in the Robert Allerton Library in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. At that time, the library housed a significant collection of Japanese woodblock prints and woodblock-printed books. Realizing their art historical importance, Phil assisted in transferring the works to a climate-controlled art vault and spearheaded a project to catalog the artworks. Developing the museum’s first computer database, he added to it extensive information on museum exhibitions, artist biographies, and notes on individual works in the Japanese print collection. Today, with the support of the Robert F. Lange Foundation, the Asian Art Department continues to honor Phil through further development of HoMA’s in-house art database and its online extension, eMuseum.
Phil’s vision as a collector of Japanese prints and his generosity as an art donor were equally astounding. He was introduced to Japanese culture in 1945, when, as an ensign in the US Naval Reserve, he visited the country after the Pacific War. Phil’s passion for Japanese art, however, was sparked about five years later, when he was working as an architect in New Orleans. Near his office, he happened upon an antique shop that offered a set of 19th-century Japanese prints for five dollars. Realizing that the linear perspective seen in the prints might be valuable visual references for his own architectural drawings, he purchased the folio. Within the next few decades, he went on to amass a collection of about 1,000 prints, which he sold to the Tokyo National Museum. He later acquired more than 1,800 additional prints, which he generously donated to the Honolulu Museum of Art between 1986 and 2014. Most of those works date to the late 19th and 20th centuries, and in that way, they greatly complement the ukiyo-e prints from the Edo period (1615-1868) donated around that time by James A. Michener (1907-1997).
Several exhibitions at the museum have featured works from the Philip H. Roach Jr. Collection. Undoubtedly, the most popular of these was Taishō Chic, a survey of paintings, prints and decorative arts from the Taishō period (1912-1926) that toured several museums throughout the United States, Japan, and Australia between 2001 and 2008. Warmly remembered among Phil’s contributions to that show was Tipsy (1930), a whimsical portrait of a cheerfully inebriated, bob-haired “modern girl” by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1889-1948). Other exhibitions have spotlighted Phil’s rare collection of kuchi-e – woodblock-printed frontispieces for Japanese novels and literary magazines published from the 1890s through the 1910s. Scholars such as Nanako Yamada and Amy Reigle Newland praise Phil for his visionary appreciation of this long-ignored genre of Japanese art.
Above and beyond his contributions to the field of art history, Phil will be remembered for his cheerful personality, his kindness to colleagues, and his ever-present smile. Up until his final days, Phil remained a vital, beloved member of the Asian Art Department ‘ohana.
Philip is survived by his wife of 64 years, Charlotte Gilbert Roach; his children, David Thomas Roach, Léon Talichet Roach II, Marguerite (Zite) Roach Hutton, and Madeleine (Mimi) Gilbert Roach Jordan; as well as numerous grandchildren.
Photo credit for portrait of Phil Roach: Shuzo Uemoto