The artist, known as ‘Palani’ among his Hawaiian friends, was named a ‘Living Treasure’ for his paintings and murals showing Hawai‘i’s culture; the architect was identified as “the man who changed the face of the Pacific”. They got together in 1956.
Let’s look back …
The artist, Louis Henri Jean Charlot, descended from “sundry exotic ancestors,” was born in Paris. His father, Henri, was a French businessman; Anna, his mother, an artist and a devout Catholic, was the daughter of Louis Goupil, a native of Mexico City.
Also living in Paris was Jean Charlot’s great-uncle, Eugène Goupil, a collector of Mexican works of art. Jean, who began to draw around age two, grew up surrounded by pre-Hispanic antiquities. (Thompson)
In his teens, Charlot had become one of a Catholic group that called itself Gilde Notre-Dame (“Parisian adolescents (who) used to gather in a crypt”) made up of sculptors, stained glass makers, embroiderers and decorators.
“My life in France was on the whole rational, national, obeying this often heard dictum that a Frenchman is a man who ignores geography. There were though, simultaneously, un-French elements at work. Russian, sephardim, Aztec ancestors, warmed my blood to adventure.” (Charlot; Thompson)
After a Mexican trip, in 1928, Charlot and his mother moved to New York where he rented a small apartment on the top floor of 42 Union Square from the artist Morris Kantor. The apartment was unheated, which probably contributed to the death of his mother from pneumonia in January, 1929.
On a brief trip to Mexico in 1931, Charlot met his future wife, Dorothy Zohmah Day. During a visit to Zohmah in Los Angeles in 1933, Charlot met the printer Lynton R Kistler and produced Picture Book, “a repertory of motifs I had used up to then.” Returning to New York, teaching and lecturing occupied much of Charlot’s time.
In May 1939, Jean Charlot and Zohmah Day were married in San Francisco. “It was a long courtship,” commented Charlot. “Eight years. We were always in different places”.
The years from 1941-44 were spent as artist-in-residence at the University of Georgia, Athens, and instructor in art history at the University of California, Berkeley and artist-in-residence at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. (Thompson)
Then he had a chance to come to Hawaiʻi – and he stayed. An invitation to create a fresco at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, brought Charlot to Honolulu in 1949 where he painted Relation of Man and Nature in Old Hawai’i at Bachman Hall.
He accepted a position as professor of art at the University, and Hawai’i became the Charlot family’s permanent home. Attracted to the culture of the native Hawaiian, just as he had been interested in the folk aspects of the residents of rural France and the indigenous peoples of Mexico, he studied Hawaiian history, customs and religion, and learned the Hawaiian language.
From 1949 to 1979 Charlot created almost six hundred easel paintings, several hundred prints, and thirty-six works of art in public places in fresco, ceramic tile and sculpture. He taught summer sessions at several schools. (Thompson)
The architect, George James ‘Pete’ Wimberly, was born on January 16, 1915 in Ellensburg, Washington. He earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1937 from the University of Washington.
He served as a draftsman/designer in Seattle, Los Angeles and Phoenix, and in 1940 was in a civil service position as “journeyman architect doing naval work at Pearl Harbor.”
“At the end of World War II, there was a great backlog demand for buildings of all sorts. During the four years of war, only essential or defense-oriented projects were allowed.”
“Most of the architects at the time were not hurting because they were all doing defense work, either as private practitioners or as direct employees of the Armed Forces. (W)hen V-J Day was announced, I left the Navy Yard and never went back, except to pick up my pay check.” (Wimberly; WATG)
“I had an agreement with Howard (Loren) Cook (who was working on Tripler Hospital) that I would set up an office and we would split the take, his salary and my fees 50/50.”
“Fortunately, there was a great deal of work out there. Furthermore, I had the fortune to know Gardner Dailey on the mainland. He selected me as the local architect for the remodelling of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. (1946) … With this prestigious commission, we suddenly had credentials and were able to pick up other worthy jobs.” (Wimberly; WATG)
The artist and the architect got together in the design and construction of Charlot’s ‘dream house.’
It was part of the expansion of KahaIa in the 1950s. Before the expansion, Kahala was used mostly for beach homes along the shore, with another row of houses on the mauka side of Kahala Avenue. Bishop Estate opened up the balance of the area for residential and related development.
In recognition of his work in Hawaiian culture, Bishop Estate gave Charlot one of the first choices of the new lots. He picked the end lot of the three on the little appendix to Kahala Avenue, fronting the Wai‘alae Golf Course, the house sits on a flat lot bordered by the golf course on the north and a canal on the west.
The house was completed in 1958 as a true collaboration between Charlot and Wimberly. Charlot’s art and therefore his dream house had to fit its site. Wimberly also emphasized a ‘sense of place’ in his architecture and went on to build many structures that exuded this appropriateness to the lifestyle and climate of Hawai‘i.
Fitting into Hawai‘i’s lifestyle and climate is demonstrated in its open plan (the master bedroom overlooking the living room, only bedrooms and bathrooms are fully walled in,) blurred definition between the interior and exterior (the built-in dining table that connects to the exterior …
… the two story height glazed sections that connect to the lanai area, and the lanai with the same flooring material as the drawing room), incorporation of native arts (mural, petroglyph tiles), use of native materials (hapu’u) and siting by tradewinds. The house is an intensely personal one, yet a characteristic of Charlot’s art is its emphasis on appropriateness. (NPS)
It had a uniquely artistic flair, incorporating the openness and lanais of island homes with the vertical emphasis of traditional French rural ‘architecture and the brick floors and back courtyards of Mexican houses. (NPS)
Here, Charlot conducted most of his work in this house and more particularly in his 2nd floor studio. This was the final period of Charlot’s life, when he reached the peak of his artistic powers and was able to synthesize the esthetics of Europe, Mexico and Pacific Islands, the places he lived and influenced his art. His career spanned these places. Charlot remained active as an artist and a scholar until his death on March 20, 1979.
Wimberly also went on the great things. He invented a style of resort architecture that was creative, exotic and imaginative. His landmark projects helped define Hawai‘i tourism and created a Hawai‘i-based business designing resorts around the world.
Wimberly “established himself as perhaps the most successful resort architect in the world” and that his “Honolulu-based firm of Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (also known as WATG) designed many of the Pacific Rim’s pace-setting hotels and is the world’s largest ‘niche’ architecture firm, specializing in the $4-trillion-dollar travel industry.” (Honolulu Weekly) Wimberly died December 30, 1995.