I wanted to say this in black and white using five mangos, four leaves and seven stems.—Fred Roster 

The HoMA community is profoundly affected by the loss of our colleague, friend, and mentor, Fred Roster on Dec. 19. In 2010, the museum had the privilege of hosting his self-curated retrospective, It Seemed Like the Future: Works by Fred H. Roster 1969-2010, at the Art School Gallery. Roster produced his own 32-page exhibition catalog that was designed by then Art School graphic designer Alban Cooper and featured a pensive introduction by Marcia Morse. Roster distributed the catalog to many of his students at the University of Hawai’i. This modest piece of ephemera, not much larger than a sheet of paper folded in half, offers an economy of language that succinctly expresses the unquantifiable impact of Roster’s work as an artist and educator.


via Alban Cooper

The exhibition catalog.

The geological process that gives birth to stone, the grain of wood that speaks of cycles of growth, the reach of memory and imagination into past and future—perhaps we know time best through the artifactual evidence it has left behind, and through the metaphors we create to understand this elegant and elusive force that frames our existence.—Marcia Morse

Roster’s three-dimensional compositions of wood, stone, and cast metal are at once playful and somber explorations of temporality and relationships between life forms, the natural world, and the built environment. Dogs, monkeys, and other animals appear frequently in his sculptures, sometimes accompanied by kinetic elements—other pieces feature wheels or windmills, often adorned with human forms or plants. The bronze and wood miniature schnauzers of his Jax series continue to evoke memories of The Contemporary Museum, where Jax Bench (1990) greeted visitors for more than a decade. Today, Hilo Dog Bench sits next to the pool at Spalding House.

Installation view, It Seemed like the Future, 2010.

A view of the 2010 exhibition It Seemed Like the Future: Works by Fred H. Roster.

If time is a river, moving in consonance with while also shaping the terrain through which it passes—but always from source to destination—Roster has given us vessels with which to navigate that journey. If time is a spiral, moving ever forward as it circles back on itself, Roster has given us the wheel on which to ride that circuitous path.—Marcia Morse

Originally from California, Roster first came to Hawai’i on his honeymoon in 1969 and, noting that “Hawai’i seemed like the future,” he remained here for the rest of his life. After completing his MFA at UH Mānoa, he joined the faculty of the Art Department in 1971, and taught there full-time until 2016. His influence is apparent in the work of several generations of Hawai’i artists including John Koga, Juvana Soliven, Art School assistant director Pearlyn Salvador, and the museum’s director of learning and engagement, Aaron Padilla, who first met Roster while completing his MFA at UH in the late 1990s. “If you worked in three-dimensions, you were affected by Fred Roster,” says Padilla.

Installation view, It Seemed Like the Future, 2010.

The entrance to the 2010 exhibition It Seemed Like the Future: Works by Fred H. Roster.

These are sculptures of an actor/dancer choreographing while performing to the music of life.—Fred Roster

Over the past several days, our conversations and social media feeds have been flooded with an outpouring of grief, love, and gratitude for every sphinxlike phrase or sideways glance offered by this taciturn mage. Virtually everyone who passed through the UH Art Department during the last half-century—and by extension, many museum staff—has been touched by Roster in some way.  

How lucky we all are.