Hap Sakwa (Born December 6, 1950) is an American sculptor and commercial photographer. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was a leader in the modern wood turning movement that revolutionized the craft, elevating it to an art form, creating narrative sculptural objects using polychromed wood and found objects. From 1988 until 1993 Sakwa turned another artistic corner producing a series of pop art mosaic assemblage, juxtaposing Americana imagery, word play and bright colorful patterns in ceramic tile. Beginning in 1994 he turned his attention to photography becoming one of the country’s most distinguished jewelry photographers with images featured on the covers and in editorial compositions of leading books and periodicals regarding the art and craft of jewelry.
Life and Works
Hap Sakwa was born in Los Angeles, California. Following the death of his parents in 1954, he moved to Maryland with his two brothers. During the 1960’s he attended the Milton Hershey School, a boarding school for orphans in Pennsylvania and graduated in 1968. It was there he learned the value of self-motivation that would later be of enormous value as he pursued a life as a craft artist. Sakwa attended the University of Maryland drifting aimlessly in academia never able to focus on a particular field of study. He dropped out of the university in 1970 after attending the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in the summer of 1969. It was there that the he was first inspired to search for an alternative life style as a craft artist.
Traveling across the country in 1972 he settled in the small southern California town of Isla Vista. There he was introduced to the works of an emerging class of artisans, like Bob Stocksdale and Art Carpenter, who were revolutionizing the field of American woodworking. In a small shop of merely one hundred square feet, Sakwa made small lathe turned vessels and carved figurative sculpture utilizing the labyrinthine structure of native California root burls.
In 1977 Sakwa was featured in an early issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine and in the same publisher’s first Biennial Design Book. This national recognition and the advancement of the craft show movement, that provided an exhibition space for new and innovative design, enabled and motivated him to expand his visual language. This was the beginning of a journey to discover a relevant and compelling artistic pursuit.
1980-81 were pivotal years with a purchase by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a chance meeting with Henry Hopkins, the then director of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. At this time Sakwa transitioned from the intentional use of the woods’ natural tones, grain patterns and character, as the medium, to a more current, relevant and colorful body of work influenced by contemporary Italian design and especially the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico.
In the late 1980’s Sakwa began composing pop art assemblage sculpture, juxtaposing cartoon imagery, popular American iconography and word play embedded in ceramic tile. These playful narratives were the final effort of Sakwa’s twenty-year endeavor to enhance the visual landscape with objects, at the same time both compelling and culturally significant.
Then, in the 1990’s finding he had lost his voice as an artist, Sakwa turned his focus to photography and embarked on a 20-year photography career. Largely self-taught, he became one of the country’s preeminent jewelry photographers. Images appeared regularly in noteworthy publications such as Metalsmith, Ornament, Modern Jeweler and Jewelers Quarterly; images were also featured on numerous book covers including Art Jewelry Today, 500 Rings: a showcase and Masters: major works by leading jewelers.
Following his retirement as a full time commercial photographer in 2014, Sakwa returned to sculpting and is now constructing objects in wood, revisiting old forms and concepts in the hope of once again producing a body of work that would be personally and artistically meaningful.
In “The Cutting Edge,” a book on contemporary wood art, Kevin Wallace described Sakwa as part of a generation of woodworkers, including Mel Lindquist, James Prestini and Bob Stocksdale, who re-imagined the craft, turning it from what had simply been a means of creating utilitarian objects, into a form of self-expression.
Museum of Modern Art – New York, New York
Museum of Art and Design – New York, New York
The De Young Museum of Art – San Francisco, California
The Oakland Museum of California – Oakland, California
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art – Los Angeles, California
Minneapolis Art Institute – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Yale University Art Gallery – New Haven, Connecticut
Carnegie Museum of Art – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art – Logan, Utah
Mint Museum – Charlotte, North Carolina
The Center for Art in Wood – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fine Woodworking Biennial Design Book 1 – Taunton Press -1977
Fine Woodworking Biennial Design Book 2 – Taunton Press -1979
American Crafts – 1981
Woodworking the New Wave – Dona Z Meilach – Crown – 1981
Small Wooden Objects as Functional Sculpture -Dona Z Meilach – Crown 1981
Contemporary American Craft Art – Barbara Mayer – Gibbs Smith 1988
Expressions in Wood – Oakland Museum -1996
The Artful Teapot – Garth Clark – Watson Guptill – 2001
Scratching the Surface – Michael Hosaluk – Guild – 2002
Teapots: Makers and Collectors – Dona Z Meiach – Schiffer – 2005
The Art of Yale: Collecting for a New Century – Yale Press – 2007
Shy Boy, She Devil and Isis – MFA Publications – 2007