Wright ‘Elemakule Bowman, Sr.
Photo by CRAIG T. KOJIMA, Star-Bulletin Photographer
A Remembrance (from Starbulletin.com, Sept. 9, 2001, and Imua, KSBE, April 2004)
After retiring from Kamehameha Schools in 1974, Bowman was instrumental in the resurgence of interest in canoe building and voyaging. As a consultant to KS’s extension education services, he shared his canoe building expertise with many individuals and community organizations. He was a consultant in the building of the voyaging canoe Hokule'a, giving advice and crafting crucial parts that no one else knew how to make.
Wright, Sr. passed away on Dec. 30, 2003 at the age of 96. He was a Kamehameha Schools 1928 graduate and former industrial arts teacher.
Bowman’s association with KS began in 1914 when he enrolled in the Kamehameha Schools for Boys where he excelled in woodshop. Then school President Frank Midkiff persuaded Bowman’s father to allow Wright to continue his education at General Electric Vocational School in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Although he was trained as a machinery pattern maker in the General Electric apprentice program, Bowman was fascinated by canoe carvers when he was growing up on the Big Island and eventually took up wood working on his own during the Depression.
On his return to Hawai‘i, Bowman started his own furniture shop, but was lured back to Kamehameha to teach by President Harold Kent in 1950.
KS students fortunate enough to have been in one of Bowman’s industrial arts classes between 1950 and 1973 invariably remember how much they enjoyed learning how to use saws, chisels, vices, sanders and varnish to make wooden bowls, pig-shaped chopping blocks, salad forks, spoons and poi pounders.
They also remember Bowman’s patient encouragement, helpfulness, praise and humor.
Over the years, Bowman earned the reputation as a master artisan in woodworking – crafting exquisite koa cabinets, bowls, tables and o‘o (digging sticks) – many of them made specifically for Kamehameha Schools.
His contributions to KS and the wider community were recognized by the institution in 1974, when he was honored with the Order of Ke Ali‘i Pauahi medal, the institution’s highest honor.
Ka'ili Chun, who became an apprentice to Wright, Sr., says, "He has so much knowledge, not just about making rocking chairs and canoes, but he has seen Hawaii as it used to be. To learn from Mr. Bowman is learning from a Hawaiian about Hawaii in a Hawaiian way."