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About the artist.


Fred H. Roster's childhood was filled with the constant sounds of labor and the sight of working hands. The smell of fresh lumber, fir and knotty pine, the moist earthy smell of mud, and sticky clay imprinted vividly on his senses. A lifetime of memories endure: a six-year-old's accomplishment of creating a pine truck, a father's gift of handmade toys, a teenager's construction of an eight-foot sailboat, an adult building a barn with his brother. Roster spent endless youthful summer days molding mud balls, elaborate waterways, and sculpted ponds with his brothers on their neighbor's hillside spring. These were formative years, surrounded by family where making things was fostered. For Roster, wood is the "keystone, a touchstone, a cornerstone material" and clay the material that gave his hands a voice, the foundations of his life as a sculptor.

Born in Palo Alto in 1944, Roster was raised in Northern California by parents that experienced a world formed by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the Midwest. His father carried the worries of the entire family, often working multiple jobs, from an electrician at the Naval shipyard in South San Francisco to a fireman at the community firehouse. The family built poultry houses on their property to raise chickens for their eggs, eventually creating a ranch business that supported the family, including two younger brothers and two older sisters. Roster recalls his mother's desires for larger homes as the family grew in both number and size. His mother would design and his father would set out to build them, a total of four different dwellings. With constant construction, the "raw materials--cement, piles of bricks, trucks of lumber, and mountains of machinery" were like his friends.

Roster received an MA in ceramics from San Jose State University in 1968 and moved to Hawai'i the following year to continue his graduate work in sculpture. He was awarded an MFA in 1970 from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and joined the faculty the next year as a sculpture professor. His dedication and success as a teacher continues through the lives of his students. Roster's teaching philosophy "watch one, do one, teach one," reinforces the cycle of learning, while building skills and confidence and passing the tradition to a new generation.

With a career spanning 40 years, Roster is accomplished in both subtractive and additive processes: carving, modeling, mold-making, casting, welding, forging, lathe work, and fabrication. He usually combines multiple techniques and utilizes an adroit assemblage of media for the creation of his sculptures. Stone, bronze, steel, fine metals, plastics, and found objects bring a wealth of content to his works.

Often Roster visualizes his forms as expressions in wood, the mass of a tree trunk, a twist of a branch, the potential that can be carved from a drying block of wood. But, it is clay that he feels an affinity for, "a sketching medium; a conceptualizing and transitional material." Although the final work may be articulated in bronze, with clay there is a "synthesis of myself, the subject being modeled and the resulting object, all three entities working together in order to replicate." It is a dynamic and fluid phenomenon, where Roster's hands and eyes become one to capture the creative idea, to give life to the new form.

Roster's work ranges from the quiet, introspective, and enigmatic, to wry observations, all while possessing an elegance of form. His environment and interests inform his visually complex vocabulary of shapes and structures. He addresses the social and human condition, as parts of global concerns. But inevitably, these works are also deeply reflective of his personal life experiences. A simple mango that Roster encountered years ago developed into an extensive "Mangonese" alphabet, imbued with meaning through a visual construct of stems, branches, leaves, and fruits. A visual code, it was a personal language that he hoped others would be able to understand.

Some of Roster's imagery is derived from his athleticism--a love of bicycling, boating, and fishing. Wheels, boats, and fish become metaphorical components for his carefully crafted narratives of life and time. Roughhewn wooden figures are integral spokes on a kinetic wheel, flung by life's frantic centrifical force, while a bird sits calmly in the "Eye of the Storm." A naturally distressed tree branch evocative of a figure carries the wheel of humanity as it steps gracefully into the wind, with a stone as an anchor. A cast silver male figure is the lure chased by the cantilevered carved fish, a symbol of the collapsed ecological cycle caused by mankind.

Perhaps the greatest impact on Roster's work has been his history of travel. He recalls childhood cross-country drives from California to the Midwest where countless days were spent gazing out moving windows, daydreaming and imagining the histories of the traversed landscapes. Roster suspects that his fascination with the North American Indian canoe is derived from these early dreams. As a vessel, it has held "many spirited things ... as well as the weightiest notions of the heart and mind...." The canoe is a reoccurring symbol, a poetic expression of his connections; a carrier of his dreams as he journeys through life.

Recently, Roster created a witty body of work that requires audience interaction. In one example, the audience participated by embossing images onto paper after selecting a sculptural metal stamp that Roster produced. For his most recent work, the audience is encouraged to walk his "Bella Guide" dogs throughout an exhibition. Two fiberglass resin dogs mounted on oversized skateboards critique artworks with the wag of their spring-loaded tails.

Every summer is a time of rejuvenation and homecoming as Roster returns to California, to the environment that was so important to him. He assists with house building and general farm work on the family property. Roster also searches for hunks of wood or hikes the dry high mountain streams looking for stones for future projects. It is a special time, one of great focus where he reconnects while working in the studio barn carving with the tools from his childhood. For Roster, the thrill of bringing something physical of his own into the world has been "a lifelong form of excitement," the "energy and gratification generated by the process as much as the product."
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Title Annotation:ARTIST PORTFOLIO; sculptor Fred H. Roster
Author:Yoshihara, Lisa A.
Publication:Bamboo Ridge, Journal of Hawai'i Literature and Arts
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2008
Previous Article:Portfolio.
Next Article:The Phone.

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