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
Philip was a beloved friend for over 50 years and I am still learning new and amazing things about him. Along with all the wonderful qualities expressed in your beautiful tribute to him, I might add that he was also a very modest, unassuming and honorable man. – Dorothy Furlong-Gardner
Thank you so much for including me in your distribution of the tribute.
It does him justice, and embodies the affection that he evoked; and Shuzo’s
portrait is remarkably beautiful and perceptive.
I was terribly saddened to read the news about Mr. Phil Roach. He was known throughout the United States as a pioneer in his collection of and scholarship about Japanese woodblock prints. He offered me a great deal of advice when I began my research about Professor Helen Merritt (another scholar of kuchi-e). I can’t help but praise the keen eye for artistic quality to which his collection of contemporary woodblock prints and kuchi-e attests. I am comforted to know that he is finally able to rest and focus upon his love of woodblock prints without further distractions.
It is sad to know that our long-time member and stalwart Asian Art supporter, Philip H. Roach, Jr. passed away on April 28. Although I did not have the opportunity to know him on a personal basis, I did notice that he was one of those members who did not come to meetings but would renew his membership year after year. And I did remember the Taisho Chic exhibition and that gorgeous bob-haired modern girl.
With much aloha and mahalo to Philip and his family,
I was so saddened to read of Phil’s passing–he seemed such a kind, gentle soul–but feel honoured that I had a wonderful time with him when I visited the museum to research his kuchi-e prints in 2012. Thank you again for making me feel like one of the ‘family’ and for letting me know. Everyone at the museum must be devastated, and my thoughts go out to his family and all in the Asian Art department.
Thank you for this wonderful piece dedicated to Phil Roach. Phil was a great man and will be greatly missed.
Robert F. Lange Foundation photographer, Honolulu Museum of Art, 2004-2009
I was introduced to this wonderful family just a few years ago. Had I known then of Philips’ dedication to Japanese print work I would have made a point to share my very small collection with him. For over 35 years I have adorned my bedroom with geisha and landscapes…along with my own original interpretations of Japanese art on canvas.
His memory will be forever close to me through my collection.
I met Philip only in correspondence around 2000, during which time he stunned me with a surprise package in the mail, a generous gift of his draft of ‘Japanese Woodblock Print Artists’ along with a thank you note for several small prints I had sent him. His generosity overwhelmed me and I hoped one day to adequately repay his kindness. I am so sorry I have missed that opportunity. A wonderful generous man!