Apr. 11—Duane Preble and Tom Klobe, longtime University of Hawaii art professors whose influence reached far beyond the islands' shores, have been awarded the Preis Honor from the Hawai 'i Arts Alliance.
Preble, who taught an immensely popular introductory art history course and authored a textbook on art that is recognized worldwide, and Klobe, who pioneered the concept of the art installation as an art form in and of itself, will be recognized April 24 in a virtual ceremony for the prestigious honor, named for the architect Alfred Preis. Best known for designing the USS Arizona Memorial, Preis also spearheaded the creation of the state's Art in Public Places legislation—the first law of its kind in the U.S.—and founded the Hawai 'i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and the Hawai 'i Arts Alliance itself.
Previous recipients of the Preis Honor include visual artist Satoru Abe, drama instructor Ronald Bright, Hawaiian cultural practitioner Nona Beamer and longtime Hawaii Opera Theatre artistic director Henry Akina.
Duane Preble Preble, who taught at the University of Hawaii for nearly 30 years and became known as "Mr. Art Education, " is the 2020 Preis Honor recipient (due to the pandemic, his recognition was delayed a year ). Preble has Alzheimer's disease, so his wife, Sarah, related his story.
A California native, Preble came to Hawaii in 1961 after serving in the Army Medical Corps to attend graduate school. The University of Hawaii was undergoing major construction at the time, so Preble wound up lecturing at a nearby cinema, the now-closed Varsity Theatre. It sat about 850 people, but soon was overflowing with both students and outsiders.
"Some (students ) brought their boyfriends or girlfriends—or their mothers, " Sarah Preble said. "The demand was so great, they opened up a second section."
Although students were not required to have any previous art training, Preble required all of them to do some drawing in the course, bringing in models to pose in the nude and requiring students to do a self-portrait. Some students would blend the two and wind up drawing themselves in the nude, including a nun. "She did herself—naked, " Sarah Preble said. "I think ultimately she left the convent."
Preble started the photography program at UH and ran the school's drawing program for community members for many years, retiring from UH in 1991. He also ran a summer program for local public school teachers and served on many boards of local arts and cultural institutions.
Among Preble's most notable exhibitions at UH was a walk-through installation in the 1960s called "The Street, " which Sarah Preble described as "an intense reconstruction of urban chaos " that featured a scaled-down apartment setting and sound effects.
"It was a creative environmental installation, " she said. "He got a lot of street furniture from the city and county, and he picked up a lot of stuff from a dump. There were small chickens in there and it was very noisy. ... You stepped on certain places on the floor and that set off some of these sounds."
The installation didn't appeal to some of the more staid faculty members, with one telling Preble, "OK, you get an 'A, ' now get me out of here, " Sarah Preble said with a laugh.
Preble's large classes were seen as lucrative territory for publishing houses looking to sell their textbooks. But he was unhappy with their offerings and kept switching books. Several publishing houses approached him about writing his own, resulting in his seminal textbook "Artforms : An Introduction to the Visual Arts, " first published in 1978.
"It's philosophy, theory, elements and principles of art, " said Sarah Preble, who is a ceramicist and became a collaborator on revisions of the book. "Duane realized ... students didn't know history well enough to have any framework to hang stuff on. And they didn't know geography either, so Duane felt that the textbook he wanted would have some of each."
Early editions of the book focused on Western art, but later editions added Asian and African art. A 13th edition of the book, now titled "Prebles' Artforms, " by longtime collaborator Patrick Frank, is being planned.
"At one time we saw the list and it was being used by 300 colleges and universities, " Sarah Preble said. "When we were in India we were befriended by a couple and we ended staying with them in Madras. They took us to a bookshop and, lo and behold, there was an edition of 'Artforms.'"
Tom Klobe Tom Klobe, who is the 2021 Preis Honor recipient, approaches his work presenting art with a collective, community-minded approach. It's an impulse that stems from his upbringing in rural Minnesota and was reinforced by his time as an undergraduate at UH and later as a Peace Corps volunteer working in Iran.
He remembers events like "thrashing day " in Minnesota, when a multitude of community members—blacksmiths, fellow farmers, horse and buggy owners—would come by to help harvest grain. "The women would come and help my mother prepare the meals, " he said. "What I loved was this communal feeling, everyone working together to make this happen."
After a family vacation to Hawaii to visit relatives, Klobe recalled thinking about returning. "In the back of my mind I thought, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if they loved it and wanted to go back ?' And they did, " Klobe said. His family moved to Hawaii in the 1950s.
He then enrolled at UH as an art student, where he got involved in student projects like the Pan Pacific Festival and homecoming events. It provided a counterpoint to the often-introspective, isolationist mentality of an artist.
"I loved the sort of intuitive and emotive aspects of the arts, " he said. "I also have a very rational side, so I realized that it wasn't totally good for me to develop the intuitive individuality of being an artist. Career-wise, I needed to interact with other people."
Distressed over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Klobe entered the Peace Corps and was sent to Iran to work in community development, where his experience working with university organizations came in handy in building schools and other public works projects.
"What was important for me, and for really all my life, was when people worked together to achieve something bigger than any one of us, " he said.
It was an attitude that fit perfectly with art installation, a concept then in its infancy. Art installations were often designed by curators knowledgeable in history or culture, but with little training in presentation. Klobe, then working as a sculptor and teaching in Southern California, would travel to galleries around the area to help install exhibitions. "I loved working with other people and seeing how they did things, and learning from them, " he said.
He eventually returned to UH, where he specialized in exhibition design and created more than 200 art installations in local galleries. He was the founding director of the UH Art Gallery, a position he held for 29 years, and even in retirement, he authored the book "Exhibitions : Concept, Planning and Design, " which includes sections on the development of dozens of exhibitions Klobe installed in Hawaii.
He is particularly proud of his 1995 installation "Okage Sama De (I Am What I Am Because of You )" at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai 'i, which explored the Japanese experience in Hawaii, and 1994's "Keia Wai Ola (This Living Water ), " the inaugural exhibition at the Maui Arts & Culture Center, which featured family favored objects like a laundry stone, an old saddle and a car built in 1911. Both exhibitions required extensive collaboration with the community, Klobe said.
Among all his installations, many of them prizewinners, he considers his crowning achievement the organizing of the 2008 symposium for the Textile Society of America, held at the Sheraton Waikiki. Despite a worldwide recession, the symposium nonetheless attracted members from Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, as well as the mainland U.S. When the society planned symposia in later years, Klobe got calls seeking advice.
"I had people on that committee tell me, 'The reason I wanted to be on that committee was that I had heard how you made things happen and I wanted to see how it was done, '" he said. "To see everyone working together, that is when I get excited."—Preis Award Presented by the Hawai 'i Arts Alliance—What : A virtual ceremony streamed on Zoom—When : 7 p.m. April 24—Cost : $25-$35—Info : To purchase a ticket, payable via Paypal, visit hawaiiartsalliance.org /preis-honors-2020