Joined: Jul 03, 2003
From: Sakatamata Island
|Posted: 2004-07-15 4:10 pm  Permalink|
I read this great article from the LA Times recently about Oceanic Arts. Can't say that I've had the pleasure of stopping by, but if I ever find myself lost in Whittier, you'll know where to find me @;-).
BYLINE: Steven Barrie-anthony
CREDITLINE: Los Angeles Times
HEADLINE: 'Authentic' Hawaiiana may be from California
Blissfully splayed out on a Hawaiian beach, sipping rum from a
pineapple, it's hard to imagine that the rough-hewn, authentic-looking thatch
umbrella shielding you from the sun was likely made back home on the
mainland. Ditto for many of the tiki decorations at resorts, bars and even
tiki museums in Polynesia and the rest of the world.
If something looks Polynesian, chances are that LeRoy Schmaltz,
co-owner of Oceanic Arts in Whittier, Calif., had a hand in making it.
"It's super ironic," says Greg Escalante, a Polynesian art expert and
curator of the Copro/Nason Gallery in Culver City, near Los Angeles.
"The biggest existing tiki statue in Tahiti was made by Schmaltz, in
Whittier. Even in Tahiti, they somehow rely on Schmaltz."
Trader Joe's, Islands restaurants, Disneyland and many Nevada casinos
buy tiki decorations from Oceanic Arts. Schmaltz, 69, has helped design
dozens of TV and movie sets, including "Gilligan's Island" and "Forrest
Gump." He lays claim to overseeing the production of thousands of
tikis, and a similar number of totems, luau signs and pretty much any other
decoration loosely associated with the South Pacific.
He is considered royalty within the tiki art movement's three schools:
authentic archeological artifacts from the Pacific; Americana,
post-World War II interpretations in restaurants and bars; and new work by
artists such as Shag, who combines island motifs into retro-style
Schmaltz "is the king of the second school," says Doug Nason, co-author
of "Night of the Tiki: The Art of Shag, Schmaltz and Selected Primitive
Oceanic Carvings" (Last Gasp, 2001) and co-owner of Copro/Nason
Gallery. "Many people can't afford to go to the islands . . . and this
Americana movement is a substantial movement in itself. In that way, it's just
as important as ancient archeology."
Schmaltz, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, of course, strolls proudly through
his 10,000-square-foot workshop and warehouse, filled with
Polynesia-inspired objects that he built or refurbished. Everything is for sale or
rent. Shelves brim with tropical mats, thatched umbrellas, grass skirts
and carved wooden signs announcing "Aloha!" and "Welcome to the Luau!"
Leis spew from barrels everywhere.
He gestures toward hundreds of palm and redwood tiki statues and
totems, ranging from pocket size to more than 10 feet tall. "They have a
Polynesian flair," he says, "but they are imagination, fantasy."
Ersatz, indeed, but art nonetheless, according to Schmaltz -- a
distinction he has been trying to make since he was a senior in art at
California State University, Los Angeles, in 1956. After Schmaltz began
restoring Samoan tiki statues for a local importer, his professors were
reluctant to give him class credit for his tiki time.
"They told me that this is way below my station in life -- told me that
I wasn't worthy of being an art major. They didn't want me at school,"
Schmaltz recalls, still rankled.
A few classes short of his degree, Schmaltz left academia behind. He
and a college buddy, business major Robert Van Oosting, pooled what money
they had and set off for the South Seas in search of their own
Polynesian muses. In Tahiti, they met villagers "who hadn't seen white guys,"
Schmaltz remembers. "Kids cried."
The pair traveled to Fiji, to New Guinea. They were besieged by stormy
weather and almost shipwrecked, he says, but visited sites, museums and
shops with everything from drums to letter openers. When Schmaltz
returned home, his head was swimming with Polynesian imagery.
Schmaltz put chain saw to lumber and began constructing island objects
while Van Oosting handled the business side. At first, they filled
small orders, doing Hawaiian-themed signs for local bars, restaurants and
retailers, but in the 1960s Sea World, Epcot Center and companies around
the world put in big orders. The Rolling Stones hired Schmaltz to
decorate for parties, and Bob Dole hired him to carve signs for his
Converting a log into tiki can take a day, or a week if it's 7 feet
high. After the design is chalked onto a log, the chain saw is powered up.
Power tools and grinders are used to make finer points before the
indentations are chiseled out.
He plans to chisel out a few more good years. "Tiki is a form of
escapism," he says. "As long as the world is in turmoil, people always turn
to peaceful, pleasurable worlds -- and this is one of them."
Jamio Designs (jamio.com)-Taboo Tiki and Kustom Kulture Art