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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Whittier’s Oceanic Arts, the delight of tiki lovers around the world, is closing

Since 1956, LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting have been carving and selling Tiki- and Polynesian-inspired art and decor to restaurants, hotels, and movie studios, especially Disney. But those days are coming to an end.

They are closing their Whittier-based company, Oceanic Arts, located at 12414 Whittier Blvd., announcing that it is time to retire.

“We’ve been doing it for 65 years and we’re getting old,” Van Oosting said in an interview at the store on Tuesday, November 30. “We’re both 80. That’s the main reason.”

Still, they are sad to leave the business.

“We love business and are great friends,” Van Oosting said. “So many of our customers have become personal friends.”

Although their retail store is now closed, they still have lots of artwork to sell and back orders to finish. They think they will be completely out of business by March or April.

Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri said he was happy for both but was sorry they were closing.

“They are a specialty business in Whittier that has brought in people from all over the world, including Hollywood,” Vinatieri said. “It’s been a big part of our community over the years.”

Schmaltz got his start in the arts in a Whittier high school art class taught by Yosh Nakamura, also known as one of the last survivors of the famed all-Japanese-American World War II combat team, which would later I taught at Rio Hondo College.

“He has been my mentor,” Schmalz said of Nakamura, who taught at Whittier from 1952–63.

Nakamura said that he has been following Schmalz’s work since graduating from high school.

“I’ve been really proud of him since he dropped out of high school,” Nakamura said. “He did a great job.”

Schmalz and Van Osting first met at Mount San Antonio College. Schmaltz was an art student who carved wood and became interested in making tribal masks, while van Osting was a business student.

His business took off after returning from a nearly four-month trip to the South Pacific.

His work – which includes fiberglass tikis, outrigger canoes, tropical shells, puffer fish, tiki lights and bamboo and reed fencing – has been seen on the big and small screens. His artworks have been featured in the films “Pirates of the Caribbean” and TV series such as “CSI: Miami”.

They are located in several locations, twice being coerced by the iconic domain, making room for the 605 Freeway and Ralph’s Marketplace in Whittier. They moved to their present location in 1990.

As soon as the news that they are closing, they are receiving hundreds of emails that they are sad that Oceanic Arts is closing.

“It’s been a paradise,” Van Oosting said. “Everyone who buys from us is so sad we’re leaving. We were having a lot of fun.”

World Nation News Desk
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