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Artist reunited with painting at JABSOM she hadn’t seen in ages, just shy of her 101st birthday

Date: November 28th, 2018 in JABSOM News    Print or PDF

Pictured: The late “Aunt Minnie” stands in front of her painting, “Awa Kumolu,” hung at the JABSOM Kakaʻako campus.

The display caught the eye of an MD student that happens to be the artist’s grand nephew.

By Deborah Manog Dimaya, UH Med Now

Michael Fujita, an MD 2020 candidate at the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) was walking out of a classroom at the Kakaʻako campus when an abstract artwork caught his eye. Beyond the geometric shapes and the gorgeous melding of blue and green colors, it was actually the small bolded black text print next to the painting that made him stop in his tracks. The words read “Minnie Fujita,” the name of the artist, which also happened to be the same name of his great-aunt, whom he calls, “Aunt Minnie.”

Michael Fujita quickly snapped a photo and sent it to his mother, who eventually confirmed his hunch. He had serendipitously found a gem in the hallways of the UH medical school, a piece of art created by the hands of a family member, two generations ahead of him.

News of Michael Fujita’s discovery was a surprise to the artist, Aunt Minnie, herself. Aunt Minnie’s painting, “Awa Kumolu,” is temporarily installed at JABSOM as part of the Arts in Public Places Collection, which includes art pieces that are intended for rotation among state buildings throughout Hawaiʻi in order to allow a wide audience to have access to view these works.

Aunt Minnie's painting, full view.

A close-up of Aunt Minnie’s painting.

When Aunt Minnie created her art piece, she had no idea that it would one day adorn a wall of where her grand-nephew would be attending medical school. She needed to see it for herself.

On the second floor of the JABSOM Medical Education Building, Aunt Minnie slowly rose from her wheelchair to stand in front of the Awa Kumolu. She posed for a photo, with her crown of short white strands framing a gentle face and a grand smile.

“I think that she was very happy to see a part of herself and her legacy rooted in and connected to the community that meant so much to her,” Michael Fujita said.

This particular painting features a sailboat and other vessels floating upon the bluish-green ocean waves and tied to a wooden pier. As written in the artwork’s description, “Both dynamic and inert, the painting jointly satisfies the quests for rest and adventure.”

Aunt Minnie’s quest for everyday adventure kept her busy as she earned her BA from UH Mānoa and studied at Yale School of Fine Arts. She spent the bulk of her career as an art teacher in public schools, first on her native Kauaʻi and later, Oahu. Since 1969, Aunt Minnie served as curriculum specialist in art education for Hawaiʻi’s Department of Education, Honolulu District. In addition, she taught art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts in the children’s section for fifteen years.

As an artist, Aunt Minnie drew her inspiration from the allure of her surroundings throughout the Hawaiian islands.

“I find myself constantly drawn to the vastness, the wonder, and beauty of nature. There is a constant dialogue between human thought and nature, being surrounded by the beauty of nature here in Hawaiʻi,” said Aunt Minnie, in the painting’s description.

In memoriam of Minnie Fujita
This story is written in honor and memory of the late “Aunt Minnie,” whom would have celebrated her 101st birthday on Nov. 28. She passed shortly after returning to the medical school to see her artwork in October.

“I think that my great-aunt was a very strong individual. She lived her life as a faithful self-advocate (i.e. living true to the life she wanted to have for herself) while also devoting so much of herself in the service of others,” said Michael Fujita.

He adds, “For example, when my great-grandmother fell ill, she dedicated herself towards nursing her mother 24/7 365. But I feel as though describing her actions in such a simple, compact fashion does not truly do her justice. She was willing to sacrifice herself, her time, her desires, the opportunity to further her career, all for the love and care of her ailing mother. I think that that is an incredibly rare trait in a person. That we would all live to believe that when push comes to shove, we would all be able to perform such altruism. But my auntie showed us the kind of person she was, the kind of person she wished to be, without asking for help, or assistance, or a relief from her duties. She wholeheartedly wanted to support the mother who had cared for her and took the actions to make that a reality, despite the sacrifices it represented for her.”

Aunt Minnie had several family ties to JABSOM and the local health care community. Her brother, Sydney Fujita, MD, was an OB-GYN on Oahu and his son, Jon Fujita, MD, is also an OB-GYN and completed his residency through UH. Her niece is Dr. Jan Fujita, JABSOM MD 1991. Her niece in law (Michael Fujita’s mother) is Dr. Brenda Nishikawa, JABSOM MD 1988. Also, Minnie Fujita’s grandniece and grandnephew Drs. Aaron and Naomi Karlen were the first pair of MD siblings to graduate from JABSOM in the same year (2012).

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