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George Tsutakawa, sculptor of Waiola Fountain

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Over on the Locating Tiki thread about the Ala Moana shopping center in Honolulu, Sabu posted an image of the Wailoa Fountain, a modernist sculpture with echoes of Hawaiiana. This was installed by artist George Tsutakawa in 1966, and still stands today. I posted some recent pics over on that thread, like this one...

Since I'm a fan of his style, here is some more info about George Tsutakawa. There is an interesting parallel between his life and Isamu Noguchi. Both were born in the US, taken to Japan when they were young, and returned in their teens. This gave them both a feeling of displacement from either culture, and their respective works shared some common themes.

Many of Tsutakawa's fountains derive from concepts he first explored with a series of abstract wood sculptures he called "Obos". This name comes from a Himalayan word for the vertical piles of rocks that are traditionally left at the top of a pass to celebrate reaching it. Tsutakawa was interested in symmetry and balance without necessarily implying uniformity, saying, "...to me, it's the hardest thing to do to make something symmetrical and beautiful at the same time." Here's one of his early sculptures, called "Obos #9" from 1957...

Another fountain with a similar feeling to the Wailoa one appears on the UCLA campus, installed in 1969, and titled Obos69...

A couple more examples of his fountains. This one is called East Cloister Garth (?)...

At the dedication of the Fountain of Good Life in Kansas City, 1964, this shows George with his wife Ayame, and two others.

He also worked in other media, including sumi ink paintings, and other styles of sculpture. Here is one from 1966, the same year as the Waiola fountain. This is called Eternal Laughter...

And here is Tsutakawa in his studio with an assortment of his models for fountains and sculptures, from 1989...

Cool story here about his granddaughter Zana Tsutakawa, who was running a fashion design shop in Hawaii at the time of this article in 2005.


Cool post,Thanks.

Amazing sculptures!

One of Tsutakawa's fountains from the Lloyd Center in Portland OR before they remuddled it in 1990. I remember throwing pennies in this as a kid.


Nice work Randy, another of your usual excellent posts - great subject, informative, lots of eye candy and your always great photos! Plus it inspired me to get outta my apartment, especially since UCLA is only 12 miles away.

I’d say UCLA is allowing Obos69 a little more water pressure than the Ala Moana shopping center is giving the Wailoa Fountain. :lol:


Thanks Boris! That's great to know it's still there and gushing. I got the picture from a book, so I slightly hoped one of YOU PEOPLE in socal might check out the UCLA campus sometime. Hope it was easy to find!

It's interesting that the plaque was added after his death in 97, and that they go out of their way to say he was American.

Also sputnikmoss, enjoyed seeing your flickr shot and the links to others too, thanks!


It was cool Randy, you could hear the fountain before you saw it. I just Googled "George Tsutakawa UCLA" and it showed up as being in the sculpture garden, when I clicked it there was a map. It couldn't have been easier.

I'm sure the plaque was always there but updated after he passed away.

I'm hoping to get a list together and seek out some of his other sculptures if I'm in their areas.

Fresno's Fulton Mall has one of the Obos fountains - I've seen it for years and never thought about the artist. This is a great thread, a real eye opener.


Here's an interesting story from Seattle - '70s George Tsutakawa fountain finds its way back to Seattle (beware - my browser recognized something from the original page as a bad site, so this link is the google cached version).

Original installation in Indianapolis where it lived for 35 years :down:

With the buyer after the move and under restoration (had been sitting on a farm) :down:

Original asking price of a cool million!

Also, this gallery has some works by both George Tsutakawa and his son Gerard. Dunno if that means some of his work is actually obtainable (for the well-heeled), but pretty cool.


I was at the Ala Moana shopping center last week and thought I'd add another shot of the Wailoa Fountain. The bird on top was in no hurry to move. :)


I think Tsutakawa's work is largely invisible to a lot of people as it's associated with the International Style, particularly 1960s municipal and commercial architecture which has mostly come to be regarded as boring and is often torn down to make way for something "better."

The old downtown Seattle Public Library was such a building and had a Tsutakawa fountain, Fountain of Wisdom, in an outdoor plaza. The building was torn down in 2001. Surprisingly the Tsutakawa fountain was reinstalled by an entrance. It's one of the few genuine features of the new library building which is a large, flashy, glass spectacle.

Image by Chuck Moody

There's also a Tsutakawa fountain on the Seattle waterfront near the ferry docks. The waterfront is being heavily redone right now and hopefully the fountain will stay there. Though I love Seattle's gray and rain this fountain on a sunny summer day is really fantastic.

Image by Jefree Stewart

(The picture shows the fountain as I last saw it with some damage; one of the "petals" was bent down.)

There are other Tsutakawa pieces around Seattle, a couple of which are shown in this historylink.org article.


Please excuse me bumping such an old topic, but if anybody visits Seattle and wants to find all the Tsutakawa sculptures and fountains, including a couple by his son Gerard, I'll be happy to point them out here. I love sculptural fountains - Seattle has lots of good ones - and I love Tsutakawa's work. In fact, Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, etc. have examples of nearly every fountain style he made; his very first (two) and last fountains are here; and all three of his quiet, introspective 'rain fountains' are in this area, including the only suspended fountain sculpture I've ever seen.

Obos fountain sculpture restored in downtown Fresno. It's in a less grander pool because it's now on the side of the restored Fulton Street. The pedestrian mall has been removed and all the sixties artworks have been restored - but pushed to the sides of the street.

[ Edited by: Fres-tiki 2017-09-23 16:04 ]


Thanks for the additions of more works by Tsutakawa since the last time I've visited this thread! Great to see the images in Fresno and Seattle! And speaking of Seattle...

On 2009-11-28 03:43, TorchGuy wrote (on the Canlis thread):
I've never been here, and I'm 30 and have lived my whole life in Seattle. Always meant to go. Well into the early 90s it held a lingering reputation for being Seattle's most expensive/exclusive restaurant. And, until the Space Needle's restaurant was rebuilt a few years ago into SkyCity and the food improved dramatically, it was the only spot with a great view and (I'm told) great food.

I've walked around the place after closing just to look around the outside, but I'll have to go again and look for tikis. They still have doors decorated (or was it door handles? I saw them on my night visit) by late, great Japanese artist/sculptor George Tsutakawa, who graced Seattle with many wonderful fountains.

We were recently in Seattle and saw the door handle at Canlis. It looks in such great condition it's hard to know if it's an original by Tsutakawa, but it definitely looks like his style! Two pics (also posted over on the Canlis thread)...


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