The Luau explores the historical and social intersections of the Shell Oil Company, US Navy and NASA through the lens of a family history and archive. Returning from the Pacific Theater in World War II, US Navy Personnel appropriated Pacific Island cultures through hosting Luaus. These gatherings of nuclear American families were moments of postwar nostalgia and revelry as marines and sailors began life again as citizens. In their floral prints with bowls of rum punch, In this cold-war, space race era, the experience of military service abroad lead to jobs in international corporations or positions in other fields and branches of government. The “exotic” tropes of floral prints and bowls of rum punch become manifestations of US Imperialism; the performers of the Luau link both of the private sector and oil industry to the history of American militaristic and scientific feats.
In 1970, the Eagleton family relocated from New Canaan, CT to Nassau Bay, Texas, a suburb of Houston. This move was caused by the father, John Eagleton’s job as a pilot with the Shell Oil Company. At the time, the corporation was the largest producer of jet fuel in the world and was relocating from Rockafeller Center, New York City to Houston. The Eagletons moved in to a quaint family home in Nassau Bay and soon met the neighbors, The Cernans. The father Eugene was an astronaut at NASA and a pilot himself. The families would often gather for dinner or to play in the yard. And then in 1972, the Cernans invited the Eagletons to the launch of Apollo 17, the last NASA mission to put a man on the moon. Eugene Cernan was the commander of the successful mission, the last of its kind, and from space sent a telegram wishing Betty Eagleton, my mother’s mother, a happy 41st birthday.