The dazzling murals, oil paintings, and watercolors of Robert Lee Eskridge (1891-1975) closely resembled those of other leading Art Deco painters: bright and stylized in design, and enlivened by a rhythmic scheme of opposing, interwoven contours. The Philadelphia native cultivated a worldly perspective across the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles College of Fine Arts, the salons of Paris, and a four-year sojourn in Tahiti and Mangareva, settling in Hawaii on a whim in 1932; courtesy of the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA), his arrival coincided with a deluge of mural commissions that were particularly well-suited to his decorative style.
Catapulting to the forefront of Hawaiian Modernism in 1933, Eskridge was prestigiously invited that same year to design and execute a mural program for the Hawaiian Pavilion at the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago, a World’s Fair. This triumph, in turn, precipitated Eskridge’s grandest undertaking in Hawaii, the McCoy Sports Pavilion at Ala Moana Park. Boasting banyan trees, a water garden, and a graceful, low-slung structure possessing “true Pacific flavor,” the project aspired to a serene urban respite. Paired with the lauded sculptor Marguerite Blasingame, Eskridge derived captivating scenes from ancient Hawaiian sporting contests and the makahiki harvest festival. Today, the completed pavilion is considered the WPA’s finest impact on public art in Hawaii.