The Honolulu Museum of Art mourns the loss of former museum trustee Wesley T. Park, a great man and arts supporter, who died on July 14. After serving on the museum board of trustees for 34 years, he became an emeritus trustee in 2015. (He is pictured above at his home in 2016.)
“Wesley made a mark on the museum with his unique perspective, keen sense of troubleshooting and giving heart,” says HoMA chair Kitty Wo. “Many sought his advice and council—the museum benefitted greatly having him as a dedicated trustee.”
Park’s long history with the museum began when he was just a boy. “I first learned about the museum in second grade, when I attended Lincoln Elementary—which is now the museum’s Art School—in the 1940s,” Park said in 2011 when asked why the museum is important to the community. “I was motivated by all the artwork and returned many times with various classmates.”
After serving in the military, Park realized he didn’t know much about his Korean heritage. “I was raised mostly by Polynesians,” he explained. “The museum helped me again—the director even took me to the basement to show me all the Korean works in storage. After that, I became interested in collecting Korean art and started reading books on the subject. The museum has played a huge role in my education and my life.”
In the meantime, Park, who battled polio as a child growing up working class in urban Honolulu, applied his innate business smarts to become known as a turnaround king, transforming businesses and nonprofits such as Hawaii Dental Service and Lili‘uokalani Trust from troubled to thriving. The disarmingly straight-talking, no-pretentions Park (his pithy, and hilarious, wisdom is collected in two books) also served as dean of the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Continuing Education and vice president of the East-West Center, and was a consultant with First Hawaiian Bank.
In 1981, Park started to play a huge role in the museum’s life when then museum chair Sam Cooke invited his good friend to join the board. His impact was immediate.
“I needed his profound judgment and I needed a representative of that part of the community, which [the museum] had never seen before,” Cooke told the HoMA blog in 2015. “The first thing Wes did for me was take me through the museum and tell me that it was a lovely museum but was way behind the times in physical terms. He suggested that we put in a new floor, put air conditioning in the galleries, and install security measures in each gallery.”
Park’s advice planted the seed for what would become the museum’s Renaissance Campaign, launched in 1997 to raise $30 million to address his suggestions and modernize the institution. Forever after, when Cooke saw improvements at the museum, he thought of Park.
Park served on the board Nominating and Collections committees, and made it a mission to carry forward the art inspiration the museum instilled in him. “Wesley was truly an art lover, educating and inspiring many of his friends to appreciate art and to support local artists,” says fellow trustee Donna Tanoue.
In addition to collecting Korean art, Park was a champion of Hawai‘i artists, collecting contemporary works by such luminaries as Satoru Abe, Bumpei Akaji and John Koga.
“He was a super strong supporter of the arts in a very humble way,” says Koga. “Whenever I got a call from Wesley to go to lunch he was generous with his time and humor. I’ve been very blessed that he was a collector of my work but it was more about our relationship that was endearing and meaningful. He was blessed with good fortune, but never took anything for granted in his approach to and understanding of people and art. He understood the value in having art—it wasn’t an extravagance, but something to be enjoyed as part of life. That is a real gift. To be part of their family collection is an honor.”
The museum sends its deepest condolences to Park’s wife Daphne, his sons Wintehn and Ku‘uhaku and the entire Park family.
Photos: Shuzo Uemoto