Nurturing a lifelong passion for art


With 51 student works earning awards in the Hawaii Regional Scholastic Art Awards program, and nine medaling at the national level, all eyes are on Leilehua High's art department and its head, 38-year fine arts teacher Larry Taguba. "Winning is not the goal, but improvement is."

​​​​​Larry Taguba has watched as accolades for Leilehua High’s student artworks piled up during the 38 years he’s been teaching there.

But awards are incidental. Taguba, who is the head of Leilehua’s fine arts department, defines success as nurturing his students’ artistic talents and igniting a lifetime interest in art.

According to Taguba, the “secret of success” is in juried competitions such as the Scholastic Art Awards. They expose students to their artist-peers and evaluation by the art community, and he often sponsors students’ entry fees for competitions so they gain that experience.

“Winning is not the goal, but improvement is,” Taguba said.

Students guided by Taguba are responsible for developing their talents. "Even though I know something (about art), I'm not the one who needs to apply pencil to paper and then seek validation in art competition."

His philosophy and approach result in outstanding and award-winning performances by his students. In 2016, 51 student works from Leilehua were honored at the Scholastic Art Awards statewide competition — the most by far of any school. Nine students medaled at the national competition.

His students have qualified for national competitions for 16 years running, yet Taguba doesn’t accept praise — “too much of the credit goes to the teacher,” he said.

For his students, Larry is real — he is an artist like them who continues to add to his portfolio of comic book illustrations, which he started in high school. “I have an old school approach (to art). I am not for everyone,” he says. ​

Leilehua junior Christina Masutani describes Taguba’s impact on her growth as an artist: “(He) really opened my eyes to what I was capable of, and … to find meaning and depth in my artwork. Drawing and painting has become my outlet to creativity … and my own pleasure.” (Masutani's When it Rains, It Pours pictured, above right.)

His influence goes beyond Leilehua, as several of his former students study in top art schools in California and New York and pursue careers in art.

Among Taguba’s favorites in this year’s Scholastic Art competition:

  • Scarlet Roberts’ illustrations portfolio Oh Boy! This Country Boy (pictured above), depicting simple joys of family life.
  • Carina Kusaka’s photography portfolio Mixed Plate (pictured below), capturing the energy and diversity of Chinatown.
  • Christina Masutani’s illustrations of rain on the faces of her subjects in Dancing in the Rain and When It Rains, It Pours show maturity with its “consistent and solid” representation, Taguba says.
  • Carina Kusaka’s drawing, Don’t Bottle It Up (pictured right), is a whimsical treatment of the human form as Coca Cola bottles as she experiments with the use of color pencils.

The illustrations reveal the artists’ “command over the subject and medium,” Taguba says. Their work and other winners of the Hawaii Regional Scholastic Art Awards can be seen at the Hawaii State Art Museum through April 15.

As Christina Masutani says, artists combine "form and color and value to create an image that expresses an innovative way of seeing the world around us. It expresses our emotion, meaning, and sensation.”

Leilehua’s fine arts department — comprised of Taguba (drawing & illustration), Keith Sasada (photography) and Maha Weeks (ceramics), long supported by principals past and present (Norman Minehara, Aloha Coleman, and Jason Nakamoto) — has grown and flourished, and is an essential cornerstone of the school’s well-rounded curriculum.

Contact Information

Communications and Community Affairs Office

Phone: 808-586-3232


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