RON HO, 1936 - 2017
Born Ronald Tau Wo Ho in Honolulu, Hawaii, on November 1, 1936, Ron Ho, an internationally respected art jeweler, died at his Seattle home on September 7, 2017. He is mourned by family, friends and the arts community.
In 1878, at age twenty, his paternal grandfather had emigrated from Kowloon, Hong Kong, to Hawaii to work in the cane fields due to hard times in China. After several years, he was able to lease land for his own farm on Maui and asked his parents in China to arrange a marriage for him. His “picture bride” was born in a village adjacent to his own. They eventually had eight children.
Ron’s father quit school in the fourth grade to help on the farm, where they grew corn and lima beans during World War I, earning a remarkable ten thousand dollars annually for several years, which he accepted in gold coins and buried around the farm. He discovered after depositing them in a bank that in the early 1930s he had the means to buy the leased farm. But, because he was not a U.S. citizen, he could not buy it, so he moved to Honolulu, where he was able to buy a house for eight thousand dollars cash. There he met Ron’s mother, who was from Canton and spoke a different dialect, so they only spoke English at home. The couple had two other children, Natalie and Ray, and adopted a third, Tim. Natalie and Tim both survive Ron.
Showing an aptitude for art in his childhood, Ron also took accordion lessons and his music teacher introduced him to crafts, making shell earrings and working with copper. He recalled, in an oral history interview for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art that “I began to feel this was quite wonderful to be able to make something with your hands.”
“On my mother’s side of the family, we were the first ones who actually went to college,” he said. Earning a bachelor’s degree at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, he was hired to teach art in Hoquiam, Washington; then in 1960 Ron was hired to teach in Bellevue, also enrolling at the University of Washington for a Masters of Art Education degree. There he met Ramona Solberg, who became a full-time professor at the university, teaching jewelry. He recalled, “Ramona was a person who literally changed my life. Because at that point I didn’t know I was going to be a jewelry artist, because I wasn’t very good at it.
“We became quite good friends, and because she traveled around the world, she ended up picking up a lot of indigenous artifacts which she incorporated into her jewelry. And I, at that point, had never thought about the fact that you could actually use foreign found objects. She gave me a domino, an old bone domino, so I created this necklace which became the first piece that actually set me on my way as to the direction that I began to work with found objects.”
He continued to use found objects—largely Chinese—in jewelry, as evidenced by the 1995 exhibition at the Honolulu Museum of Art, “On Becoming Chinese” and his retrospective exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum in 2006, “Dim Sum at the On-On Tea Room: The Jewelry of Ron Ho.” He also found time to create two public art projects, at Bailey-Boushay House and the Wing Luke Museum.
Teaching during the day and making jewelry after work was rewarding for both pursuits. He was recognized in 1988 as Asian Artist of the Year by the Wing Luke Asian Museum and given a solo exhibition. A year later, Pacific Regional Elementary Art Educator of the Year by the Washington Art Education Association, and in 1990, one of “100 Outstanding Alumni” at the centennial of Pacific Lutheran University, which recognized him again in 2004 with a Distinguished Alumnus Award.
In 1990 the Bellevue Arts Commission recognized him with their Outstanding Achievement in the Arts award. Northwest Designer Craftsmen named him a Lifetime Award Member in 2006, and a year later the Seattle Metals Guild gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. Finally, capping his growing recognition, the American Craft Council inducted him into its College of Fellows in 2010. He was recognized for his creativity as an artist-jeweler in numerous publications, and his work is in the collections of many museums internationally.
—Lloyd Herman is the Founding Director of the Renwick Gallery.
See Ornament Vol. 11, No. 4, 1988: “Ron Ho’s Transformations: Found Objects Into Jewelry,” and Vol. 30, No. 1, 2006: “Ron Ho: Sought and Found.”